May 12, 2020

‘Maskne’ is real! How to fight breakouts if your mask is causing acne

Wearing a mask can get under your skin.

Ever since face coverings became a mandatory part of life, a nasty side effect has broken out in its wake: “Maskne.” The new phrase — which combines the words “mask” and “acne” — has recently sprung up all over social media as people suffering from the new kind of blemish are venting their woes about the skin care snafu.

“Shout-out to my fellow nurses as well as other health-care workers who are back in their teenage years covered with mask acne. I feel you,” writes Kayla Pyrah in a May 6 Instagram post.

Another user laments that “my mask is causing me to break out” and that maskne has become a “problem that I never thought I would have,” in an Instagram post from April 30.

But the problem isn’t just affecting hormonal teens, acne-prone adults or health-care workers wearing heavy duty N95 medical masks for hours at a time. Skin experts are noticing a major zit spike in clients who have never battled pimples in the past.

“The fact that we’re keeping something on such a sensitive area of the face . . . even people who haven’t suffered with a skin situation before are now dealing with the implications of that,” says New York City aesthetician Sofie Pavitt, who has been conducting dozens of remote acne consultations for clients while her Canal Street studio is closed due to the stay-at-home order.

Maskne — which is referred to as acne mechanica by derms — is caused by the combination of rubbing from the mask, which irritates the skin barrier, as well as the hot moisture trapped inside, which dilates the pores and allows bacteria and oil to clog them up. Once the follicles are trapped with gunk, they become inflamed, leading to nasty breakouts.

“We’ve seen it a lot with athletes . . . [like] people wearing a helmet, a baseball cap or even with certain instruments that rest against the chin area,” says Upper East Side dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe. If left untreated, the mask, “which is a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria . . . could lead to infections that then require a prescription medication to clear it up.”

But before you even worry about tackling the bacterial buildup beneath the mask, make sure yours is clean.

“If you’re wearing a cloth mask, you want to wash it frequently . . . especially if you’re exercising,” says Bowe. If you’re using a disposable surgical mask, she suggests letting it dry out for 24 hours before wearing it again.

A diligent skin care regimen will help the skin bounce back from mask-inflicted congestion. Bowe advises you wash your face before and after wearing a mask, and choose a gentle skin cleanser that is free of harsh sulfates which can strip the skin of its protective oils.

“Massage it in with fingertips only — no loofah or abrasive scrubs right now,” says Bowe. “Then you want to pat dry with a clean towel.