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A woman checking her face for pimples.


Your Mask Might Be Causing Breakouts—Here’s Why

Wearing a face mask is crucial for staying safe, but it’s not always kind to your skin. Learn why you could be getting maskne and what products can help.

Over the past several months, wearing a face mask has become our new normal. If you’re lucky enough to work from home, you probably only wear a face mask when you leave the house to run errands or get some exercise. But if you work outside of the house, as an essential worker or otherwise, you’re likely wearing a mask pretty much all day, every day. And while we all know how important it is to wear a facial covering to help protect ourselves and others from the transmission of airborne viruses, it does have its downsides—namely, maskne.

If you find yourself breaking out a lot more frequently since the mask mandate first began, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there are ways to help keep these mask-induced blemishes, otherwise known as maskne, at bay. We spoke to Dr. Meghan O’Brien, Kiehl’s Global Consulting Dermatologist, and Dr. Nancy Illaya, Kiehl’s Scientific Director, for detailed information about mask acne. Read on for what you should know about maskne, including what it is, why it happens, and (most importantly) how to treat it. Clearer, healthier-looking skin awaits.

First of All, What Is Maskne?

“Maskne” is a portmanteau of the words “mask” and “acne.” It refers to breakouts around the jawline, mouth, and chin caused (or worsened) by wearing a mask. Because face masks are mandated in most states, at least for right now, maskne has become a rising skincare concern. These blemishes can include blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Other symptoms may include redness and irritation where the mask covers the skin.

What Causes Maskne?

As you likely already know, acne develops when excess sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria get trapped on the skin’s surface and clog pores. According to Dr. Illaya, wearing a mask can exacerbate acne for several reasons.

“When we wear a mask, it creates a warm and humid environment that traps facial oils, sweat, and bacteria on the skin’s surface, creating prime conditions for clogged pores, which lead to breakouts. This happens especially in the lower region of the face,” she explains. “Wearing a mask can also lead to some discomfort and redness in areas where the mask is constantly rubbing on the skin.” Friction from the mask may also damage the skin’s natural moisture barrier, which can leave skin more prone to irritation, rashes, dryness, and other concerns.

How your mask lays on your skin may also play a role in the development of maskne. According to Dr. O’Brien, masks can physically occlude, or block, the pores. This traps bacteria and oil within the pores, which may cause them to become inflamed and lead to blackheads or whiteheads.

Incorporating a purifying face mask treatment into your skincare routine, such as Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask, can help cleanse surface-level buildup and detoxify skin. This effective facial treatment contains fairly-traded Amazonian white clay and calming aloe vera to draw out impurities and visibly minimize the appearance of pores. It’s also clinically demonstrated to reduce the skin’s surface oil production by 46.7% for a refined appearance.*

*Based on results two hours after use vs. untreated skin.

Can You Prevent Maskne?

As with all things in skincare, there are no guarantees. In other words, there’s no surefire way to completely prevent maskne (or any other complexion concern, for that matter). That said, there are things you can do to help and promote clearer, smoother looking skin. Dr. Illaya recommends “keep[ing] your skincare routine simple and avoid[ing] harsh ingredients,” particularly if you’re experiencing signs of skin barrier damage. Ingredients that can help soothe the skin and strengthen the skin barrier include calendula, centella asiatica, and vitamin B. Using a moisturizer every day is also essential. As Dr. O’Brien explains, wearing moisturizer “will help to keep the skin hydrated and act as a barrier to friction from the mask.”

Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion

To help hydrate the skin without clogging pores, we recommend Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion. This daily moisturizer features salicylic acid and niacinamide to diminish acne breakouts, even texture, and brighten the skin. The unique formula also contains aloe vera to calm irritation and reduce redness for a clearer, smoother complexion.

You can also layer your moisturizer with a non-comedogenic facial oil, such as Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate Facial Oil, for extra hydration. This calming formula with 100% naturally-derived ingredients includes cannabis sativa seed oil and green oregano oil.* These powerful botanical ingredients work in harmony to help balance hydration and strengthen the skin barrier while reducing redness and discomfort. It’s ideal for those with problem skin since the lightweight, yet hydrating formula won’t clog pores. Use it morning and night to re-balance and calm blemish-prone skin.

We consider ingredients to be naturally-derived if they retain more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.

How To Minimize Maskne

While you can’t completely prevent acne, you can take steps to help keep new blemishes at bay. One of the most important (and effective) ways to do this in any skincare routine is cleansing. However, keep in mind that while you may be inclined to reach for products that dry the skin out, this may do more harm than good when it comes to caring for pimples on the face.

“Because the skin’s barrier is compromised, you want to use products that are a little bit more gentle, and avoid products that are too drying, as [these] will cause the skin’s barrier to become even more compromised,” shares Dr. Illaya. “Look for gentle cleansers with ingredients such as salicylic acid to help unclog pores and keep facial oil under control.”

For your daily cleansing needs, Dr. O’Brien recommends reaching for Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment. This foaming face wash is formulated with salicylic acid, frankincense, and ginger root essential oil to help cleanse pores and reduce the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of blemishes. It removes dirt and oil without overdrying the skin to help promote a clearer complexion, and it’s gentle enough to use morning and night. Massage the cleanser over the face for 10 to 20 seconds. Rinse off with warm water, and then continue the rest of your skincare routine for acne-prone skin.

You can also treat individual breakouts with a spot cream, such as Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. This effective treatment with sulfur and niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) is designed to visibly reduce the appearance of blemishes while preventing new ones from forming. We recommend dabbing a small amount on problem areas up to three times a day to help clear pimples and acne on the face.

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