Maskne: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Medically Reviewed By Reema Patel, MPA, PA-C
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“Maskne,” or mask acne, is a term that became popular in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is part of a larger group of dermatological conditions called acne mechanica, meaning acne that results from pressure and friction on the skin. Oil, sweat, and bacteria trapped in the moist environment under a face mask can irritate hair follicles and pores, triggering inflammation and causing acne or other infections.

Wearing a face mask for long periods has become routine due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. However, mask-wearing can cause the bacteria that usually live on your face to change — especially when wearing reusable masks or those made from different textures and fabrics.

Read on to learn more about maskne, including how to treat and prevent it.

What are the causes of maskne?

A person wearing a mask
Cinema Tigers/Stocksy United (person appearing is a model and used for illustrative purposes only)

Wearing a face mask can change the environment on the part of your face that the mask covers. Masks create a warm, moist, enclosed area. Your mouth and nose can introduce new or changed bacteria into this area. Having poor hygiene or wearing a mask that does not ventilate well can also lead to skin problems, such as heat-related dermatosis. 

Your skin typically has oil, sweat, and certain native bacteria that live on it. Usually, these bacteria are not harmful and can even be beneficial. However, new or altered bacteria resulting from a face mask can lead to irritation, inflammation, infections, and acne.

In addition, introducing fabrics, dyes, or textures unfamiliar to your skin can exacerbate the problem. Pressure from the ear loops of face masks can also cause pressure-induced dermatosis.

Other factors may also affect the condition of the skin under a face mask, including the following:

  • Using hand sanitizers to clean or disinfect your mask can irritate the sensitive skin on the face.
  • Using traditional acne treatments in an enclosed environment can irritate the skin.
  • Prolonged contact between sensitive facial skin and cloth can increase the risk of maskne.
  • Mask-wearing can exacerbate other skin conditions, such as chronic dermatosis, perioral dermatosis, rosacea, and eczema.

What are the symptoms of maskne?

A woman pulling down her mask to reveal an acne breakout
Mask-wearing can cause breakouts on the lower part of the face. Image credit: Boy_Anupong/Getty Images

Most types of acne mechanica, including maskne, can appear as a few different types of blemishes. These include:

  • small, rough bumps
  • pimples
  • cysts, which penetrate deep into the skin and can be painful

In addition, maskne might occur with other skin symptoms, including:

  • rashes
  • flaking
  • itchiness
  • dryness
  • fungal or yeast infections
  • inflammation and flushing

What are the treatments for maskne?

Many of the treatments for maskne involve maintaining your skin’s protective barrier. A dermatologist can help you determine the proper treatment plan. Your skin care regimen, the types of face masks you choose, and how you wear and care for your masks can all affect maskne development and the appropriate treatment options.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association has some tips to decrease your risk of maskne or reduce the symptoms:

  • Clean your face daily. Use gentle, fragrance-free cleansers.
  • Moisturize your face daily, especially after washing it. Moisturizers with ceramides, dimethicone, and hyaluronic acid can be especially beneficial.
  • If you use petroleum jelly on your lips to prevent chapping, be sure to avoid getting the jelly on other parts of your skin. Petroleum jelly can encourage breakouts.
  • If you wear makeup under your mask, stick to noncomedogenic makeup. This type of makeup will not clog your pores and is less likely to lead to breakouts.
  • Avoid trying harsh skin care products, such as retinoids, exfoliants, or chemical peels.
  • Some of your usual skin care products may start to irritate your skin under a mask. If this happens, you may need to avoid using those products.
  • Make sure your mask fits snugly but comfortably. A mask that is too loose or too tight can irritate your skin.
  • Choose a soft, breathable mask fabric.
  • If it is safe to do so, take your mask off periodically to give your skin a break.
  • Wash cloth masks after each use.
  • Follow your dermatologist’s treatment plan.

Use caution with acne medications in pill or tablet form. Talk with your doctor before beginning new oral remedies for acne, other forms of dermatitis, or skin infections.

The face mask you wear and how you care for it can also affect your chances of developing maskne. Try the following tips:

  • Buy masks with smooth fabric surfaces.
  • Try to avoid masks with folds.
  • Buy masks with latex-free ear loops.
  • Choose drawstring ear loops so that you can adjust your mask more easily.
  • Avoid masks with metallic nose bridges, especially if you have a nickel sensitivity.
  • If you use a cloth mask, wash it in hot water daily. Use a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free detergent.
  • If you cannot wash your mask every day, apply a hot iron to both sides of the mask to eliminate bacteria.
  • Consider biofunctional textiles for your masks.
  • Wear natural fibers — such as silk, cotton, or linen — for a more breathable mask that pulls moisture away from the face.
  • Pull your mask down under your jaw when you remove it to drink, eat, or exercise instead of allowing it to hang down from one ear.
  • If you remove your mask, place it in a paper bag instead of a plastic one.
  • Wash your hands after handling a used mask.

Can I prevent maskne?

Although it is not always possible to prevent maskne, keeping your face clean and moisturized and wearing face masks made from breathable fabrics can help prevent blemishes and irritation. Follow your dermatologist’s treatment plan, especially if you have another skin condition, such as rosacea or eczema.

Frequently asked questions

Here are a few other commonly asked questions about maskne. Reema Patel, PA-C, has reviewed the answers.

How do I know if I have maskne?

Maskne will appear on the parts of your skin that your face mask covers. If you wear masks and are experiencing breakouts, inflammation, or dry skin on the lower part of your face, it could be maskne.

Which masks are best for preventing maskne?

To lower your chance of developing maskne, choose face masks that fit snugly but not too tightly and fabrics that do not irritate your skin. If you use cloth masks, wash them daily.

Is maskne a type of hormonal acne?

While masks themselves do not cause hormonal changes that lead to acne, masks can make hormonal acne worse by rubbing against your skin.

Summary

Maskne became a common complaint during the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks create damp, warm, closed environments that can cultivate bacteria and encourage acne breakouts. The friction between a mask and your skin can also lead to other skin conditions, such as rashes, discoloration, and flaking.

Your skin care regimen, the type of face mask you wear, and how you handle and care for your masks can all affect your chance of developing maskne.

Talk with a dermatologist about how to prevent or treat maskne.

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Medical Reviewer: Reema Patel, MPA, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 10
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.