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Skip the Maskne — Not the Mask

Published in Skin Care, For the Health of It Author: Christina Anderson,MD

For most people, wearing a face mask is a harmless inconvenience, but wearing the coverings may cause skin problems for some.

It’s been called mask-acne or “maskne.”

In general, three types of issues can develop due to mask use.

  1. Acne from clogged pores inside the mask area.
  2. Skin irritation from the mask.
  3. Allergic reactions to detergent used to wash a fabric mask or dyes or other substances in surgical masks.

If your skin is red, burning or itchy, it may be an irritation or allergy. If there are little pustules or blackheads or whiteheads, or an inflammatory papule, it’s most likely maskne.

I advise using a gentle cleanser when you wash your face and using a non-comedogenic (specially formulated so as not to cause blocked pores) sunscreen-moisturizer combination product to create a barrier between your skin and the mask. When you take off your mask, wash your face and use moisturizer. If you are getting pustules, then a benzoyl peroxide cleanser is recommended. 

It is important to wash fabric masks every day. Laundry detergents can be a common cause of allergic reactions, so I suggest using fragrance-free detergents.

Irritated, red, itchy or burning skin could be allergic or irritant contact dermatitis and a trial of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream once or twice a day could help. 

If wearing makeup under a mask, be sure it is non-comedogenic and oil-free. 

For acne, use an over-the-counter cleanser containing glycolic acid, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Also, adapalene, an over-the-counter topical retinoid (Differin 0.1% gel), is an acne treatment that can be used as a pea-sized amount on the whole face excluding eyelids at bedtime. It takes a few weeks to work, so don't give up on it too soon. Also, it is not intended as a spot treatment but rather a long-term solution for acne. If it doesn't get better, consider seeing a dermatologist. 

Despite possible skin issues, I urge everyone to wear a face mask during the pandemic. Every day, there are studies demonstrating the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

If you keep your mask clean, follow daily proper skin hygiene and use the appropriate products, you should be able to control any skin irritations and acne while continuing to protect yourself and others from the virus.

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