Maskne – Do face masks irritate the skin?

Male putting on a disposable face mask

Maskne – you’ve heard of it!
Over the past year, masks have played an important role in limiting the spread of COVID-19. People have been required to wear masks in many public places, such as retail shops, on public transport, walking in and out of restaurants and bars, cinemas and lots of other places (unless exempt). Although they help to keep individuals safe from COVID-19, they have been known to cause facial irritation, also known as “maskne” (mask & acne).

Although this is not a real health condition, the effects of wearing a mask for long periods of the day can have serious impacts on people’s skin, from sore rashes to worsened acne.

What is maskne?

The term “maskne” has been used to reference the appearance of acne and skin irritation after wearing a mask for a prolonged period of time. “Maskne” covers a range of skin conditions that are caused by wearing a mask, including:

  • Acne – Acne can develop on the skin when the pores become clogged with dead skin cells, oil and dirt. This can develop on people of all ages and can be very painful if it is severe.
  • Folliculitis – Folliculitis is the infection of hair follicles, and this can cause small, inflamed bumps that can be painful and itchy.
  • Atopic dermatitis – This is one of the most common types of eczema and it can cause itchy dry skin which can bleed, crack and in the worst case, become infected.
  • Contact dermatitis – Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that can cause blistering and irritation when the skin is sensitive to a material (such as a mask).
  • Perioral dermatitis – This skin condition causes a rash around the mouth which can be intensified when wearing a mask.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis – This skin condition causes flaky, inflamed and itchy skin.
  • Rosacea – Rosacea results in swelling, redness and breakouts that are similar to acne. This skin condition affects millions around the world.

How do masks irritate the skin?

There are multiple ways that wearing masks can irritate the skin and cause/develop skin conditions. Facial rashes and acne can be caused by the mask trapping moisture and sweat against the skin, combined with movement and friction of the mask material.

The damp environment can trap sebum and oil which can encourage new acne and aggravate existing breakouts. The sweat and heat can be drying on the skin causing it to become inflamed and itchy.

Some people may also be allergic to the materials used in some masks which can encourage skin irritation. If the mask has been washed with scented detergent, this can also be irritating against sensitive skin.

How to avoid breakouts from wearing masks

Apart from taking care of your skin with regular cleansing and moisturising, there is a range of other ways to limit breakouts and keep skin irritation to a minimum.

Mask size – Making sure your mask fits properly is important in keeping irritation to a minimum. Make sure it fits snug to your face without any gapping or areas it can move. You also have to make sure your mask is not too tight that it is restrictive and uncomfortable. Masks with adjustable ties are a good way to find the perfect fit so it causes little irritation.

Mask material – Some masks can be treated with disinfectant which can be irritating and could trigger a breakout. Also, synthetic materials can be an issue for those with sensitive skin. Choose a natural fibre cloth mask to help prevent sensitivity and skin irritation.

Cleaning – Oil, sweat, bacteria from your nose, saliva and much more can get caught in your face mask whenever you wear it. Be sure to wash your mask after each use with a gentle, fragrance-free detergent. Store the clean masks in a bag or an area where they can not get dirty. This will prevent any acne from developing further from the bacteria held on the masks.