With more and more people wearing masks regularly, resultant acne and skin irritation are starting to come up as frequent complaints amongst friends and patients at the dermatologist’s office. Mask-ne is actually better described as a category of another well-known and described condition called acne mechanica. Acne mechanica is a form of skin irritation that is caused by excess pressure, heat and rubbing against the skin.
There are some easy things that you can do to avoid or treat mask-ne. For starters, you need to wash or change your masks frequently. A lot of mask-ne is caused by reusing the same mask for several days. The masks are collecting oil, sweat and dirt from the constant contact with your face.
It is helpful to regularly use a gentle non-soap cleanser and a plain, unscented facial moisturizer. In particular, strong soap cleansers can dry the skin worsening any underlying skin irritation caused by the mask. A moisturizer can help prevent and treat skin irritation and also provides some barrier protection between your skin and your mask.
It is important to recognize that the mask will increase the potency of any skin care products you apply to your face by a mechanism of action known as occlusion. If you use medicated skin products on your face, such as those containing salicylic, glycolic, alpha or hydroxy acids, or retinoids, this can substantially magnify the irritative mask effect. For that reason, the fewer skin products you use under your mask during the day the better.
Unfortunately, makeup can also worsen mask-ne. Consider avoiding the use of makeup underneath your mask or removing it prior to putting on a mask. It is also useful to keep in mind that heat causes the pores in your skin to open up. This makes it easier for bacteria and dirt from your mask to collect inside your pores and eventually clog them. Avoiding prolonged heat and removing your mask when it is not needed will help reduce the risk of developing mask-ne.
Like other forms of acne, there are good treatments (and generally the same ones). A nightly over-the-counter salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide wash can help. Sometimes prescription creams or oral antibiotics will be necessary. Not all facial eruptions caused by masks are acne. Allergic contact dermatitis and infections are also quite common. You should speak with your board-certified dermatologist if you are experiencing an unexplained skin rash or one that does not respond to over-the-counter treatments.
Brandon Kirsch, MD FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist, as well as the founder of Kirsch Dermatology in Naples, Florida and the Chief of Dermatology at the Naples Community Hospital.