Maskne: How to prevent breakouts and sore, irritated skin from face masks

Updated: Mar 2

Wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 is mandatory in many countries, including the UK. It's been a crucial step in helping to reduce the rate of infection, but with many of us having to wear face masks for long periods of time, our skin is suffering as a consequence.

"Maskne", or "mask acne" is spots, inflammation, redness, bumps and irritation caused by material rubbing against the skin and trapped sweat, oil and bacteria. The mask's material rubs on the skin and breaks down the skin's barrier, and the moisture and heat combo and a reduction in oxygen stops the skin from functioning normally. Pores become blocked, bacteria gets through the skin's barrier, and inflammation, spots and irritation can occur. In addition to breakouts, mask wearers can also suffer from dry skin and dermatitis on the nose, cheeks, side of the face and behind the ears, which is caused by rubbing and pressure from masks.

What can be done about maskne?

It's really tempting to want to scrub the skin and dry it out when we have breakouts. However, dry, damaged skin has a reduced barrier function, an important part of the skin's job as our largest organ. If the skin gets damaged, all-be-it microscopically, toxins, pollutants, bacteria and other pathogens will get in, and too much water will evaporate out, known as Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL), further drying out the skin. Overly dry skin results in more oil production, creating a vicious circle with breakouts. It's important to maintain a healthy skin barrier with the right moisturisers and other ingredients so that the skin stays hydrated, healthy and resilient.