August 2020

Type “maskne” into Google, and you’ll find over 1 million hits. So, what exactly is maskne? It was initially coined as a term to describe the development of acne after wearing facial masks (mask + acne), it is now used as an umbrella term to cover all manner of facial rashes that can happen due to our increased use of face masks, which in the UK are compulsory on public transport, shops, hotels and many other settings. With this in mind, it is important to address maskne, its possible causes and what can be done so that we can uphold compliance with face coverings.

Why do masks cause skin rashes?

Masks can cause facial rashes for a number of reasons. The friction caused by tight areas of the mask rubbing repeatedly against the skin, for example over the nose, cheeks and ears can result in redness, flaking and peeling skin and in some cases even sores. This can be worse if you have an underlying skin condition like eczema.

Masks create a humid and occlusive environment underneath them. They can trap moisture and sebum, both of which can aggravate pre-existing acne or cause new breakouts by clogging pores. The combination of masks and warm, humid summer weather can certainly make things worse for skin conditions such as rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis and perioral dermatitis. However, it can be tricky to tell these skin conditions apart from acne so if in doubt make sure to see your health care provider.

What can you do to prevent maskne? 

Maskne prevention really depends on which skin condition has been triggered. Frictional skin damage requires careful treatment to restore the skins natural barrier function. Application of a rich emollient at sites of repeated trauma can help to reduce friction, but if masks are being worn for long periods of time, it’s important to reapply throughout the day.  Consider choosing soft fabrics such as cotton, which is gentler on the skin and is less likely to cause friction than synthetic fibres such as polyester.

For true mask acne, use a gentle skin cleanser twice daily and look for active ingredients such salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide which have been proven to address acne. Avoid wearing makeup under masks as this can exacerbate things further and always look for products labelled “non-comedogenic”. When you are able to take your mask off, for example in the privacy of your own home, remove it and wash your face carefully. If your acne is persistent or affecting your confidence or mood, don’t wait to seek medical help as topical or oral prescription treatments may be necessary.  If you are using cloth masks, make sure to wash them regularly with a mild fragrance-free detergent to remove traces of sebum, dirt and bacteria that build up throughout the day.

Dr Thivi Maruthappu, Consultant Dermatologist

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