Battling “Maskne” During the Attack on COVID-19

How to protect your skin when wearing a face mask for extended periods of time

Reviewed by: Adewole Adamson, MD, MPP
Written by: Ashley Lawrence

Now that several states across the country have mandated the wearing of face masks in public spaces, we are collectively helping curb the spread of COVID-19. However, wearing your face mask for extended periods of time can put you at the mercy of — yes, you guessed it — maskne. While some of us may have thought our days of battling blemishes and breakouts were long gone, many of us have found ourselves seeking out ways to keep the acne developing around our nose and mouth at bay.

“During this pandemic, maskne, or the acne that results from too much face-to-skin contact with your mask, has become a problem particularly for those individuals who have to wear a face mask for longer periods of time,” explains dermatology specialist Adewole Adamson, MD, MPP, in UT Health Austin’s Dermatology Clinic.

To help prevent maskne:

  • Wear a breathable mask. A more breathable face mask can help reduce the amount of buildup that occurs underneath.
  • Use a slightly looser fitting mask. While your mask shouldn’t be loose enough to fall off your face, it also shouldn’t be tight enough to leave imprints on your cheeks.
  • Clean your face mask often. Oil and sweat are likely to build up underneath your face mask, so it’s important to clean your mask after each use.
  • Wash your face in the morning and evening. Get into the routine of washing your face twice a day to help remove impurities from your face that may clog your pores.
  • Avoid wearing makeup. The oil in your makeup can clog your pores; however, if you do choose to wear makeup, try to minimize the amount of makeup or look for products that are labeled “non-comedogenic,” or oil-free.

“If you’re wearing your mask briefly or intermittently,” reveals Dr. Adamson, “acne usually isn’t a problem. But there are other manifestations that can occur from face-to-skin contact with your mask. You can also experience what is called allergic contact dermatitis, which is caused by an allergic reaction to the material on your mask, or irritant contact dermatitis, which is caused by the rubbing of your mask on your face over time. Your skin’s defense mechanism against contact dermatitis often involves your skin creating thicker skin, which can manifest in the form of a bump or rash. This can also occur in the areas around your ears.”

Signs of contact dermatitis may include:

  • Dry, cracked, scaly skin
  • A feeling of itchiness that you cannot control with moisturizer
  • Swelling, burning, or tenderness that increases in pain
  • Spreading of the bumps or rash beyond the bounds of your mask
  • Puss bumps or blisters

“To treat contact dermatitis,” says Dr. Adamson, “you can use a gentle moisturizer or a topical steroid, which can be found in an over-the-counter cortisone cream. If neither of these make a difference, you should make an appointment to see a dermatologist, who can determine if you need a stronger prescription or if there’s something else going on with your skin that is being exacerbated by your mask.”

To help prevent contact dermatitis:

  • Use a soft, cotton mask. Cotton face masks tend to be both more comfortable and breathable, minimizing irritation to your skin.
  • Moisturize your skin. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and follow with a moisturizer, allowing it to dry completely before putting on your mask. This also helps minimize the friction between your skin and mask.
  • Take breaks when and where you can. Find time throughout the day to return to your car, visit the bathroom, or take a walk outside where you can safely remove your mask and give your skin some air.

To help prevent irritation around the ears:

  • Alternate between masks. Take breaks from using masks with straps that hook behind your ears by using masks with straps that tie behind the back of your head.
  • Modify the straps attached to your mask. Change out the material of the straps attached to your mask or cover the straps in a softer fabric.
  • Dab Vaseline behind your ears. Use a small amount of Vaseline behind your ears to help minimize friction between your skin and mask, making sure to wash those areas of your skin as well as your mask upon removal of your mask.

“Hand dermatitis, or eczema, can also be caused by frequent handwashing,” cautions Dr. Adamson. “Dyshidrotic eczema often occurs when an individual washes their hands more than five times a day. While it’s important to practice good skin hygiene, you want to make sure you aren’t stripping your skin completely of its natural oils. To help with this, seek out moisturizer with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or dimethicone listed in the ingredients, and if you find that your hands are still dry after using a lotion-based moisturizer, you may want to try a thicker cream- or gel-based moisturizer.”

To help prevent hand dermatitis:

  • Apply moisturizer after washing your hands. After you wash your hands, be sure to apply moisturizer to replenish your skin’s hydration.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer can kill microbes on your skin without removing all of your skin’s natural oils.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation, and information will be updated as it becomes available. You can stay informed by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

To learn more about UT Health Austin’s Dermatology Clinic or make an appointment, please call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin, the group practice designed and managed by the faculty and staff of the Dell Medical School, focuses the expertise of a team of experienced medical professionals to deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality. Our experienced healthcare professionals treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.