It’s hard enough having to wear a mask, even worse getting acne from it.
Mask acne, or “maskne” is a big deal. There’s a medical term for it, acne mechanica.
It’s not only affecting acne sufferers but many people who’ve never had acne or breakouts before. For many of you, it’s a whole new beast to tackle.
My skin is sensitive to anything rubbing on it or covering it, even just wearing a protective face mask for a few hours. I’ve got a bunch of tips and suggestions how to decrease skin irritation and allow your breakouts to heal. Plus, what you can do to try and prevent mask acne in the first place, and keep your skin balanced and healthy while wearing a protective mask.
If you have to wear a mask a few hours a day, you will probably need to adjust your skin care routine in one way or another.
Masks create a warm humid environment that breeds bacteria and increases skin sensitivity. The constant rubbing of a mask can also cause dermatitis, redness, lesions, and chafing.
In today’s video and blog post I go over some suggestions I have on selecting and caring for your masks to prevent breakouts, what you can adjust in your skin care routine to prevent sensitivity, how your diet and lifestyle can support your skin health. Plus, I have some recommended products that help clarify congested skin, clogged pores, and pimples.
I’ll tell you right now, less is best. I have found that the less products you are putting on your skin while wearing a mask, the better. And whatever skincare regimen you were on before might not be compatible with wearing a mask, especially if you are starting to have issues and breakouts. Small adjusts can make a big difference.
Selecting a mask for acne prone and sensitive skin
Whether you use a disposable or reusable mask, all masks to some degree are going to trap heat and moisture and can rub on the skin. But some do it more than others.
If where you live, or your work or school requires you to wear masks for long hours, you might have to experiment with a few different types of masks to find one that feels comfortable for you.
If you are going to use reusable masks made of fabric, I recommend masks made of natural fibres like silk or cotton.
Avoid fabric masks made of synthetic materials like polyester, rayon, or nylon which traps heat, moisture and humidity a lot more than natural fibres. The friction from these fabrics rubbing against your skin can cause irritation and sensitivity.
Silk is a lot more lightweight than cotton and is naturally antibacterial. If you are having breakouts and irritation from masks rubbing on your skin, silk would be the best option.
But besides the type of mask you are using; the frequency of cleaning your masks, what detergent you are using, and how often you change your mask is as important.
Mask hygiene to prevent breakouts
Because your mask is placed right over your mouth and face, it’s getting soiled and dirty quickly. The humidity inside the mask from breathing creates a breeding ground for bacteria to grow.
It’s really important that if you are getting pimples and breakouts from wearing a mask, that you change your mask frequently.
Don’t wear the same mask all day, or day after day without washing it in between uses.
You wear fresh clean clothes every day, you need to do the same with your mask.
And the longer you wear a mask during the day, the more often you should change it throughout the day.
If you are required to wear a mask all day or most of the day, I recommend changing your mask every 3-4 hours (max).
So if you are at work or school for 8 hours and need to wear a protective mask the whole time, I recommend changing it 2 or 3 times during the day so the mask you’re wearing is clean and dry.
Buy plenty of masks so you have a bunch of clean ones available every day in between laundry days.
I also recommend using a fragrance-free detergent (like an eco or Free & Clear detergent) to wash your masks. And no fabric softener or bleach on the masks.
Residues from detergent, perfumes, fabric softener and bleach can all irritate your skin, especially when it’s covering and touching your face all day. For a lot of people, this one detail could be what’s causing skin irritation, sensitivity and pimples.
Adjusting your skin care routine
Along with changing your mask regularly throughout the day, and not washing you masks with strong detergents, bleach or fabric softeners; we have to make sure your skin care routine is gentle and compatible with wearing a mask.
Your skin care routine needs to be very mild and minimal.
We have to remember that skin care products are not designed or tested for use on covered skin. Once you apply a product on your skin and then cover it with something, that product can be a lot stronger and even damaging to your skin.
So, the less products you have on your skin while wearing a mask, the better.
If you can go without putting anything on your skin while wearing a mask, that would actually be the best.
Wearing a mask creates a humid environment over your face. That heat and moisture can breed bacteria, and can also makes your skin extra sensitive. A mask that is touching or rubbing your skin can increase sensitivity along with skincare products you’ve applied to your skin.
How I see it, if you were to be going into a steam room, would you be slathering your skin with rich moisturizers, vitamin c serums, or an acid toner? No way! Because we all know that the heat and humid environment isn’t conducive with such products and ingredients. It would set you up to skin irritation and products moving around on your skin.
This is the same sort of situation with the masks. Because inside the mask is warm and every time you breath, moisture and heat is being emitted from your mouth, getting trapped inside the mask. So if you wouldn’t put certain skincare products on before going in a steam room, don’t put it on under your mask.
Gentle skin care routine when wearing a mask
I recommend just washing your face with a mild cleanser, and if you need a moisturizer, apply it at least 30-40 minutes before putting on your mask so it has time to absorb and completely dry down.
Don’t use toners, essences, mists, serums, or treatment products before putting a mask.
The less on your skin when you wear a protective mask, the better.
You also want to be careful with what cleansers and moisturizers you’re using while wearing a mask. Avoid products containing AHAs, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, vitamin c, fragrance, and essential oils when using face masks.
These ingredients are fine to use on uncovered skin. But once you cover your skin with a mask, these ingredients can become very sensitizing and too strong.
When you are wearing a mask, especially when it’s for an extended period of time, keep your skin care routine simple.
Best to use mild, lightweight, fast absorbing products.
Don’t use anything that sits on your skin or leaves a residue because once you put on the mask, it will start melting and moving around, potentially trapping debris and bacteria.
For some of you, you might have to buy a lighter moisturizer for when you use a mask, or use something that is oil-free or without heavy residues. Or even skip it completely.
I would also avoid using any makeup on the part of your face that is being covered by a mask. If you desperately need a lip balm, apply it an hour before the mask and wipe off any residues right before putting on your mask.
And remember, these are guidelines when you are wearing a mask. You can always use your favourite skin care products at night and on days when you’re at home and not using a mask. But I will say for some of you who are getting a lot of sensitivity, irritation and acne – even your nighttime and non-mask skin care routine will need some adjustments too.
Example skin care routine before wearing a mask:
- Wash your face with a mild cleanser
- Moisturize with a lightweight fragrance-free moisturizer (optional)
Skin care routine – when not wearing a mask
If you are just getting a pimples or two from wearing masks, you can continue with your regular nighttime skin care routine. You can add a spot treatment to your skin care routine to speed up the healing of pimples and breakouts, but I don’t recommend going overboard with acne treatments.
Best to just stick with a cleanser, moisturizer, and a spot treatment applied just on the pimples. Once or twice a week, you can use a clarifying facial mask to help exfoliate your skin and dissolve build up in pores. This can be useful for a more deeper cleanse, and preventing clogged and congested skin. (List of recommended products at the end of the blog post).
If you are getting a lot of acne breakouts, irritation, redness and sensitivity; I recommend a very gentle evening skin care routine and avoid all strong products. This would include taking a break from retinol, strong exfoliating acids, and any treatment serum you were previously using before using a protective mask. We have to remember that strong skin care products can sensitize your skin making it less resilient. Even if you’re using the product at night, your skin might be too sensitive the next day and a protective mask could increased irritation and aggravate your skin.
Since the start of regularly wearing face coverings and masks, many people have reported that their skin can’t tolerate the same skin care products or skin care routine they once used. The combination of wearing face masks regularly for long periods of time while using strong active ingredients is a recipe for disaster. It’s breaking down people’s protective skin barrier and making the skin more susceptible to breakouts, infections, and sensitivity.
Skin care routine when skin is not covered with a mask (at night or days when at home):
- Cleanse with mild cleanser
- Moisturize (cream, lotion or facial oil)
- Spot treatment
- Deep cleansing treatment mask 1-2 times per week (only if skin is not sensitive or irritated). When you have active pimples and acne, avoid all facial masks that have a gritty or scrub-like texture.
I’ve listed recommended products at the end of the post, click here to jump to that section.
How your diet and lifestyle can help maskne
When I mention improving diet to help clear up maskne, most people respond by saying “It’s the mask causing the acne, not my diet”. And yes, I agree. But, if your diet and lifestyle aren’t supporting your health, your skin just won’t repair and heal as well as it could.
When we are healthy and eating nutritious food, your body is better equipped to fight off illness and infections. It has the resources to heal.
Same with your skin. It’s an organ and it’s constantly repairing itself.
If your body is overwhelmed by things like stress, lack of sleep, junk food, too much sugar, alcohol, processed food, etc., it’s just not going to heal and repair as quickly or efficiently as you probably want it to.
So if you want the pimples and acne to heal and clear up faster, take care of yourself. Your whole self. The inside and the outside. You’ll get much better results.
What you can start doing now to support your skin health
- Increase green and colourful vegetables in your diet (add them to all your meals)
- Eat 1 large green salad with homemade salad dressing every day
- Replace sugary/sweet drinks with plain water
- Decrease sugar and processed food in your diet
- Make more homemade food
- Decrease or eliminate alcohol
- Reduce stress and take time to do things you enjoy
- Get more sleep
- Move around and exercise more
Recommended Skincare & Treatment products
Below are recommended gentle skincare products, as well as spot treatments and clarifying masks that can help balance out, clarify, and soothe your skin.
- INDIE LEE Purifying Face Wash
- INDIE LEE Brightening Cleanser
- VERDURA NATURALTERNATIVES Bamboo Diva Facial Cleanser
- DRUNK ELEPHANT Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser
- Honey (for instructions how to use honey as a facial cleanser, click here)
- ANNMARIE SKIN CARE Aloe Herb Cleanser
- INDIE LEE Active Oil-Free Moisturizer
- ODACITE Oleosomes Time Release Delivery Creme
- DRUNK ELEPHANT Lala Retro Cream
- INDIE LEE Squalane Facial Oil
- VERDURA NATURALTERNATIVES Blue Fairy Concentrate
- INDIE LEE Banish Solution
- INDIE LEE Overnight Banish Gel
- INDIE LEE Banish Stick
- LIVING LIBATION DewDab
- LIVING LIBATIONS Zippity DewDab
- Tea Tree Oil
Clarifying Facial Masks:
- INDIE LEE Clearing Mask
- INDIE LEE Resurfacing Mask
- VERDURA NATURALTERNATIVES Fruit Complex Facial Mask
- TATA HARPER Purifying Facial Mask
- MAY LINDSTROM The Problem Solver
References for this article
Mills OH Jr, Kligman A. Acne mechanica. Arch Dermatol. 1975 Apr;111(4):481-3. PMID: 123732.
Draelos, Zoe Diana Acne Mechanica Acneiform Eruptions in Dermatology (pp.125-128) DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4614-8344-1_18