For the acne-prone, face masks may mean breakouts

Dermatologist Lauren Kole, M.D., offers expert advice to help keep your complexion clear while protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.

Conceptual of problems on woman skin.Dermatologist Lauren Kole, M.D., offers expert advice to help keep your complexion clear while protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.Face masks and coverings are encouraged or required for people everywhere to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus. The masks help prevent the transmission of COVID-19 from infected people, by reducing the amount of virus released into the air.

Essential workers, health care providers and others are discovering that wearing a face mask for many hours can trigger breakouts. For those who are prone to acne, can wearing face masks aggravate their skin? 

Yes, says University of Alabama at Birmingham dermatologist Lauren Kole, M.D. People with chronic skin issues or sensitive skin may be more susceptible. 

“Wearing a mask can exacerbate acne, causing a condition called acne mechanica, in which repeated mechanical and frictional pressure leads to obstruction of the pores and an acne flare,” Kole said. “Masks also increase the heat and humidity around the nose and mouth, which can also lead to irritation and worsened acne.” 

How can I prevent an acne flareup from wearing a mask?

Unfortunately, the best way to break this flareup is to eliminate the cause, Kole says; but with the current viral pandemic, that is not really an option. “I recommend that they make sure they are always wearing a clean mask, and the mask should be removed as soon as reasonable. Wash your hands before donning or doffing a mask, and always wash your hands before touching your face.”  

What about wearing makeup under masks? Does that aggravate skin?

It may be difficult for some people, but wearing a face mask may mean simplifying your daily beauty routine. “Wearing makeup may further clog the pores and exacerbate the situation,” Kole said. “I would avoid wearing makeup under your mask if possible.”

Learn more about face masks:

What is the best type of mask to use to keep your skin clear?

“Masks made of silk or silk-like fabrics may cause less friction and irritation, so these may be better for those acne-prone mask wearers.”

Are there any special cleaning tips for the face or mask, for those who are acne-prone?

Kole recommends cleaning the face as soon as possible with a gentle cleanser after removing your mask and using an oil-free moisturizer to hydrate and protect the skin. “Fabric masks should be cleansed with a gentle detergent with no fragrance, which can further irritate the delicate skin of the face. Paper or surgical masks should be tossed after each use.”