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9 Tips for Avoiding “Maskne”

How to cope with unwanted breakouts while wearing a face mask.

Adapting to the “new normal” has meant lots of changes for our skin. Whether you wear makeup or not, you might have encountered some new skin issues as of late – namely, breakouts! Enter “maskne”: the 2020 term for mask + acne.

If you’re an essential worker, entering a public place, or are wearing a face mask for any reason, you’re likely wearing it for a good portion of the day. Subsequently, people are beginning to notice a correlation between wearing a mask and acne. We know how frustrating breakouts can be – especially if your skin just got back on track after a quarantine-caused purge.

Take a look at how a few changes to your routine can help mitigate new pimples from wearing a face mask. The material of your mask might also play a role in your breakout – we’ll explain later!

Why (and How) Masks Might Cause Breakouts

You’ve found yourself with newly formed acne after wearing a face mask for a few days, but why? There are a wide range of possible causes, but the most likely culprits are poor hygiene and adjusting to the ever-evolving mask etiquette.

1. Face Touching

We touch our faces more frequently now – whether putting our face mask on, taking it off, or adjusting it. Long story short, our hands come into contact with our face more often. Though we’re washing hands more, we’re still touching other surfaces and objects. Our hands transfer dirt, grease, and sweat onto our face throughout the day. This leads to clogged pores, blackheads, and breakouts.

2. Heat and Sweat

There’s no ventilation under your face mask – that’s part of what makes them effective at mitigating the spread of germs. Then comes the heat, which leads to sweat, but… where does that sweat go? There’s nowhere else for it to stay but underneath your face mask.

The sweat that stays trapped next to your skin mixes with dirt and oil, leading to clogged pores. Heat can also ramp up your oil production, triggering acne breakouts. Humidity – heat mixed with your breath – can breed acne-causing bacteria.

3. Bacteria

Bacteria is one of the main causes of acne. It triggers an inflammatory response in your skin leading to the red, tender bumps you know

as pimples. Sweat can help transfer bacteria from your mask, your hands, and your saliva. This bacteria can stay trapped underneath your face mask; this is especially true if you use a cloth mask. Cloth can often trap bacteria more effectively than other types of materials (more on this below).

4. Hair

Sometimes we put our masks on in a hurry, and hair can’t always clear the way before we put it on. Accidentally trapping hair behind your mask can lead to clogged pores, because our hair is full of natural oils. If you style your hair every morning, you can add oils and emollients to that pore-clogging mix. If we get these oils on our skin, they can be trapped inside pores.

If you can, the easiest solution is to keep hair pulled behind your ears with clips, bobby pins, or headbands. Of course, styling your hair in a bun, ponytail, or other up-do can reduce this risk too.

How Different Masks Can Affect the Skin

The type of mask you wear can also affect how your skin reacts. There are 3 different factors to take into account:


Certain shapes provide less air flow and ventilation than others. Think of face masks with surgical or metal nose clips, and the N95 respirator ‘cup’ with straps at the back of your head. They’re made to fit more tightly, possibly irritating your skin and not allowing as much fresh air to circulate. This feature is also what makes certain masks more effective at preventing the spread of germs than others.

Bandanas, sleeves, and homemade cloth masks with ear bands likely fit more loosely. Just make sure they’re not ill-fitting, where they either provide no protection or chafe your skin. They’re also often made with softer materials, leading to less friction and damage to your skin barrier.


Face masks made of natural materials, like cotton, tend to be gentler on your skin. Synthetic fabrics, like microfiber, nylon, and polyester, may prove to be a little rougher. Paper material, like that of surgical masks, can feel coarse on your skin.

The irritation from a low-quality material can damage your skin barrier, leading to inflammation and moisture loss — and subsequently, acne.

PRO TIP: The bottom line: choose the best mask based on fit and function – we’ll help you handle the acne part!

Filter Vs. No Filter

Filters are meant to protect you from virus particles that your regular face mask material may not keep out. However, a face mask with a filter often leaves skin without less ventilation. Adding a filter often means adding multiple more layers to a mask, meaning less breath-ability for your skin.

As we mentioned, less ventilation often leads to trapped humidity, dirt, and sweat, which can all exacerbate or cause breakouts.

Keep in mind that we do not recommend one type of mask over another, nor do we think a potential breakout should stop you from wearing a mask. We want to empower you to ease the effects that your skin may or may not encounter from the necessity of wearing a mask, in order to protect yourself and others. We recommend following the direction of your local health officials to learn how and when to safely wear a mask.

1. Wash your face when you get home at the end of the day.

This can help remove any environmental debris from the air as well as any sweat build-up or pore blockages. Removing the grime and aftermath of a long day feels cool and refreshing, and will help keep your skin clear. Use a gentle face cleanser when you get home for the day, instead of waiting for bedtime.

2. Avoid washing your face frequently.

The icky feeling of sweat and oil build-up might make you want to wash your face a ton throughout the day. Doing so, however, might strip your face of its natural oils and leave your skin dry and irritated.

3. Clean your face mask after each use.

If you use a cloth mask, the CDC states that you can “include your face covering with your regular laundry.” Using warm to hot water is best for killing bacteria. Easy peasy!

4. Rotate your cloth face masks throughout the week.

If you can, buy or make a couple of masks. Instead of washing one mask every day, you can clean them all at once 1-2 times a week. You’ll have a clean mask every day, and less laundry to do.

5. Opt out of heavier, oil-based products.

The oil can mix with your natural sebum, sweat, and bacteria – a recipe for clogged pores. This goes for makeup especially. You want to give your skin a chance to breathe, especially if you’re using a tighter face mask.

6. Wear less makeup on the bottom part of your face.

You may want to go without foundation altogether, and opt for just the eye makeup. Try a tinted moisturizer instead of a heavy duty foundation, or just spot correct with concealer.

7. Avoid touching your face with dirty hands.

You may need to touch your face when adjusting your mask, putting it on, or taking it off. Try to ensure your hands are clean while you do so. Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands before reaching up.

8. Hydrate skin.

Moisture loss is one of the biggest causes (and effects) of irritation. As we know, irritation can cause and worsen breakouts. Spritz rose water or aloe vera juice on thirsty skin throughout the day. Use hydrating serums before and after wearing a face mask.

9. Use a moisturizer before leaving your house.

If you know you’re going to be wearing a mask for an extended amount of time, it’s important to moisturize beforehand; you might not be able to throughout the day. Use a nourishing ingredient, like shea butter or sea buckthorn oil, to seal in hydration and soften skin. Lightweight moisturizers are our personal favorites, to keep skin from feeling too hot and heavy inside your mask.

Whatever shape, material, or filter you use, adapting to a face mask means changes to your skin care and makeup routine. To ease and avoid breakouts, these changes might make your morning more minimalistic as you cut products out of your routine. These changes might mean using lighter products that suit your skin better during this time.

You may have to compensate with more hydration and less occlusive ingredients. Whatever the case, breakouts don’t make you less worthy – so treat yourself and your skin gently!


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