7 Best Ways to Avoid Maskne, According to Dermatologists

Updated: Aug. 13, 2020

Follow these dermatologists' tips to avoid face mask acne, so you can stay safe, healthy, and have a clear complexion during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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close up profile of man wearing a face maskkrisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images

Yes, it has a name, and, from the looks of it, you’re going to be dealing with it for some time—face mask acne, also known as maskne. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to strongly recommend that everyone wear face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. As you venture outside, whether for work, school, or a walk around the block, wearing a face mask is good for your health but can also spell trouble for your skin.

Technically, maskne is called acne mechanica, a form of acne caused by friction against the skin.

“Our face was not meant to be covered by fabric which traps heat, moisture, makeup, dirt, and oils—all of which can lead to acne, rosacea, and other rashes,” says dermatologist Jennifer Krejci-Manwaring, MD, assistant professor in the division of dermatology at UT Health San Antonio.

Here’s how to keep a clear complexion while staying safe and healthy.

Wash your face twice a day

The first step whenever you’re dealing with breakouts—whether they’re caused by wearing a mask or not—is to develop a solid skincare routine. And that always starts with washing your face properly.

“I recommend washing the face twice daily with a gentle cleanser,” says dermatologist Andrew Alexis, MD, director of Skin of Color Center at the Mount Sinai Health System. If you’re not doing that already, you’ll need to implement an AM and PM skincare routine stat.

Most of us probably don’t have time to wash our face more than that. “For busy people, it’s impractical to wash our faces more than twice a day, especially for frontline workers,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. “I recommend carrying fragrance-free baby wipes, wet facial wipes, like the Neutrogena Make-Up Remover Facial Cleansing Towelettes, or acne wipes for a quick wash during the day.”

Choose your face masks wisely

“The masks that completely seal around your nose and mouth like N95 and respirator-style masks are going to lock in the most moisture and have the most contact with the skin,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. “While they are the most protective to the person wearing them, they are also the most potentially irritating.”

A light, soft cloth mask can help prevent the spread of the virus and other germs to the people around you and are the most well tolerated, says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. (Find out if a homemade mask can protect against coronavirus.)

Bottom line: If you’re not wearing a medical mask, stick to cotton. “Avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and rayon—they tend to trap sweat underneath the mask, which can lead to breakouts and irritation,” says Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD. “If you’re creating your own coronavirus face mask, use a thicker weave on the outside and a softer blend on the inside to protect your skin.”

Wash your face mask more often

Pop quiz: When was the last time you washed your mask? “Cloth masks should be washed daily, and medical masks should be changed daily,” says Dr. Khetarpal. And, of course, if there’s visible dirt inside your mask, it’s time to wash it or ditch it for a new one. According to the CDC, cloth face masks should be washed after each use. Also, you should toss them in the laundry with your regular detergent at the warmest appropriate temperate (read your mask’s label) to disinfect them.

Or, you can disinfect by hand by DIYing your own disinfectant using four teaspoons household bleach per quart of room temperature water, according to the CDC. Soak your cloth face mask for five minutes, rinse it thoroughly with cool water, let it dry completely, then you’re ready to go.

Give your face a mask break

Every dermatologist we spoke to said that yes, it’s a good idea to take a break from wearing your mask so your skin can breathe but only do so if you’re in a safe, socially distanced environment.

Dr. Alexis suggests taking 10-15 minute mask breaks every four hours, if possible. And Dr. Krejci-Manwaring says, “I wear a cotton medical mask when seeing patients and I remove it in between each one to get some air. And I avoid the mask when I’m home or in my car.” (Here are 10 stylish face masks you can buy for work.)

close up of woman holding moisturizer lotion in jarRidofranz/Getty Images

Try a barrier lotion

Some lotions can help create a barrier between your skin and the mask, potentially reducing breakouts. Dr. Alexis recommends a noncomedogenic facial lotion (which means it’s been formulated to not clog pores) with ingredients such as ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid. And keep in mind: “If your skin is already breaking out from a mask, some lotions may worsen this,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. “Avoid anything with strong fragrances. Mild emollients that soften the skin like Vanicream Moisturizing Lotion is a good choice because it’s low in ingredients that can cause allergies. Cetaphil is another good choice. If your skin is dry, Vaseline or heavier emollients may work well to protect the skin.” (Here are the 8 best hand sanitizers for people with dry skin.)

Skip makeup under your face mask

You know no one’s going to see it, but if you’re used to doing a full face, it’s time to switch things up. By all means, go to town on your eye makeup if you’d rather not leave the house barefaced, but skip the all-over foundation and blush on your cheeks. Not only will it decrease your risk of acne, but it could impact your mask’s effectiveness.

“You should skip makeup to ensure a proper seal of the mask,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring, who says she only wears eye makeup and a little powder on her forehead and upper cheeks. (Also, check out these face mask tips to prevent your glasses from fogging up.)

Talk to a dermatologist

If your acne or rosacea flare-ups are becoming more severe and at-home treatments don’t seem to be working, check in with a dermatologist for additional help.

“If you’re really breaking out, a board-certified dermatologist is the best place to go for prescription medications that can help,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. “However, Differin is a retinoid that is now available over the counter along with acne products that contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.”

Many derms are still offering virtual sessions in addition to in-person visits, so don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment. (Next, check out the 17 skin care tips dermatologists follow themselves.)