Updated June 25, 2020
During the coronavirus pandemic, wearing a face mask has become as normal as wearing clothes (or at least sweatpants, for those sheltering in place). Some people wear one only to grocery shop or take a walk; others, such as healthcare workers, wear one all day long. While a mask helps protect other people from infection if you have COVID-19 and don’t know it, wearing one for long periods can wreak havoc with your skin, leading to pressure marks, irritation, rashes, acne breakouts (dubbed “maskne”) and even skin infections.
One problem is the pressure of the mask. Worn properly, a mask hugs the skin, covering the nose and mouth and leaving little room for air to enter around it. Over time, the pressure can cause chafing, temporary red marks and even bruising or sores. Masks also allow oil and sweat to build up, and they trap your breath, creating a warm, humid environment. These conditions can lead to acne, a rash or even an infection if the skin is broken.
For anyone who wears a mask all day, there’s no surefire way to avoid skin problems, but these measures can help:
- Wash your face with a gentle cleanser before putting on the mask. This removes dirt and excess oil. “Brands I like include Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, Vanicream Gentle Skin Cleanser and EltaMD gentle cleanser,” said Beth Mitchell, Certified Physician’s Assistant (PA-C) at Water’s Edge Dermatology. Use lukewarm water, not hot, and apply the cleanser with your fingertips, not a washcloth. Gently pat the skin dry with a clean towel.
- Apply a moisturizing cream, face balm or ointment. Let it absorb into the skin before putting on the mask.
– Creams: Creams that contain ceramide, such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, help shore up the skin’s barrier function by holding skin cells together. Other ingredients to look for include glycerin and nicatinamide (a form of vitamin B3), found in brands such as Eucerin and Aveeno. La Roche-Posay has a moisturizer (Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer) that’s great for sensitive skin, according to Mitchell, and it contains all three ingredients.
– Balms: One balm Mitchell recommends is Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm.
– Ointments: Good ointments to try, according to Mitchell, are Aquaphor Healing Ointment and Vanicream Moisturizing Ointment. Use ointments on raw skin, not all over the face.
- Skip the makeup. Eye makeup is fine if it gives you an emotional boost, but don’t wear makeup under a mask. Give your oil and sweat pores a break.
- Ensure the mask is properly fitted. “If you have an ill-fitting mask, it will move and slide on the face, causing more irritation as you are constantly readjusting it. It will also not be working effectively to protect you,” said Mitchell.
- Wash your face after removing the mask. Be sure to wash your hands first so you don’t contaminate your face with any virus particles. When you remove the mask, avoid touching the front.
- Put retinols on pause. If you normally use an anti-aging skin product that contains retinols, you might want to put it aside for now. These products can work well for staving off wrinkles, but they can also make your skin more prone to irritation from a mask.
- Use a calming skin product at night, especially if your skin is irritated. Try an ointment, like Aquaphor Healing Ointment or Vanicream HC (it contains hydrocortisone to help with inflammation). Use ointments sparingly and for a short period. Or use a balm. Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm, according to Mitchell, is “especially helpful.”
- To prevent or treat maskne, use an acne face wash that contains salicylic acid. If you have dry skin and you’re experiencing acne breakouts, follow up with a light moisturizer such as Vanicream Light Lotion or Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion. You might want to also use an acne spot treatment containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Another good acne spot treatment option is adapalene, a 1% retinol gel that is now sold over the counter under various brand names. “Adapalene is a great treatment for acne and is used regularly in our dermatology practice as a first-line therapy. Apply a pea-size amount nightly to acne-prone areas,” said Mitchell. For persistent acne, a healthcare provider can prescribe a prescription-only product.
- Change and wash cloth masks regularly. A dirty, sweaty mask will contribute to maskne. Wash cloth masks after each use, either in a washing machine on the warmest setting appropriate for the fabric or by hand washing following instructions from the CDC. Don’t touch the front of the mask when you remove it, and wash your hands after handling it.
Not sure exactly what’s happening with your skin? Get a diagnosis from a dermatologist. If you have a pressure ulcer or infection, you may need a prescription. A dermatologist can also prescribe products to help with acne, rashes and inflammation.
An office visit may not even be necessary. In most cases, you can get a diagnosis and even a prescription from the safety of your home through a virtual teledermatology visit.
Book an appointment with a Water’s Edge Dermatology certified provider by calling (877) 544-3880 or clicking here.
Article Written By: Marianne Wait, an award-winning health and wellness writer based in New Jersey.
Medical Review By: Beth Mitchell, PA-C