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Face Mask Causing Breakouts? A Derm's Tips for 'Maskne'

Face masks have become a new way of life - and an important way to reduce the spread of infection. They’re also contributing to “maskne” - breakouts of pimples and clogged pores that form on the chin and lower cheeks after wearing a mask. My patients have been asking me about this common problem every day. Why does it happen? When fabric or gear presses or rubs against the skin for a prolonged period, it can cause pimples from heat, friction, sweat, bacteria, or irritation - a condition (also common in athletes) that dermatologists call acne mechanica.

Skipping a mask isn’t a good idea right now, but certain steps may help to alleviate any breakouts it may cause.

Cover wisely, but don’t squeeze too tightly. Healthcare workers, individuals at high risk of infection, and certain others may need to wear a tight-fitting, medical-grade mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that the rest of us wear a cotton or other soft cloth face covering to help slow the spread of viruses when we’re out and about. These masks, bandanas, or barriers should fit snugly over the cheeks, nose, and chin, but they don’t need to squeeze or press so tightly that they leave indented marks behind. The more heat, rubbing, friction, and pressure against our complexion, the greater the chance of breakouts.

Wash or replace your mask. Bacterial buildup inside a warm, damp mask are part of this problem, which is one more reason to wash (or replace) a mask regularly. Experts recommend washing your mask after every use to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Cleanse regularly. Remove any makeup, dirt, oil and bacteria from the skin by washing the face once or twice daily with a mild cleanser. If you don’t have immediate access to a bath, shower, or sink, a cleansing swipe with a sensitive skin wipe may help to reduce breakouts.

Target Bacteria.  Cutibacterium acnes is a bacterium on the skin that’s known for causing pimples. Fight it with an over-the-counter ingredient, such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, sulfur, or tea tree oil. Suds up with a wash containing one of these ingredients once a day, or apply a cream or gel version for more powerful effect. Start sparingly, and with caution, since any of these ingredients could be irritating or cause redness or allergies. (And before you ruin your favorite t-shirt, remember that benzoyl peroxide bleaches fabric, too.)

Get going with a vitamin A cream. A nightly dab of adapalene gel has been proven to shrink and prevent blemishes. This vitamin A-derived ingredient is the most powerful retinoid available without a prescription. Find it in La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel, Differin Gel, or ProactivMD Adapalene Gel 0.1%. When you get started with this ingredient (like its stronger, prescription cousins, tretinoin, tazarotene, and trifarotene), it can cause side effects, including dryness, peeling, redness, or irritation, which is why it’s important to apply only a thin layer to clean skin at bedtime, with a plain moisturizer on top. Start just twice a week and gradually increase to using it every night, if your skin tolerates it. Any irritation tends to go away with continued use.

Handle skin with care. Avoid rubbing, picking, or overscrubbing your skin. Exfoliate no more than once or twice a week, protect from the sun with broad-spectrum SPF, and soothe your complexion with a moisturizer once or twice daily. 

Check your products. Scan your makeup and skincare products to make sure the term “non-comedogenic” is on the label. This will help to ensure that whatever you put on your skin won’t contribute to clogged pores and pimples.

Visit your dermatologist. If these strategies aren’t enough, your doctor can customize a more powerful prescription regimen to clear your skin.


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