Face masks may be the new normal, but skin irritation and breakouts don’t have to be. With more of us wearing protective face coverings, "maskne" has become a common skin concern that affects all skin types. While masks are often essential, there are ways to help treat and prevent maskne for balanced, healthy-looking skin.
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", also known as acne mechanica, is a portmanteau of the words "mask" and "acne." It refers to breakouts and skin irritation around the jawline, mouth, and chin caused (or worsened) by wearing a mask. Because face masks are mandated in most states, maskne has become a rising skincare concern. Maskne can take on a variety of forms depending on your skin type, environment and even the type of mask that you wear. These blemishes can include blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Other symptoms may include redness and irritation where the mask covers the skin.
What Causes Maskne?
Wearing a mask creates a "greenhouse effect" on your skin. Lack of ventilation and the continuous breathing of hot air into the mask creates a humid micro-climate that can cause new skin concerns to develop. This hot, humid environment creates prime conditions for clogged pores to occur, especially when sweat, dirt and oil become trapped under the mask. Over time, these clogged pores can lead to other forms of maskne like imperfections and blemishes. 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 complexion 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 Masque, can help cleanse surface-level buildup and detoxify skin. This top-rated 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, purified complexion.*
What are the Different Types of Maskne?
Whether your skin is dry, oily or somewhere in between, wearing a face mask has likely had an impact on your skin. Some of the most common skin concerns caused by masks are:
Damaged Skin Barrier
Continuous friction and pressure from your face mask can cause irritation especially in areas like the top of the nose, chin and cheeks. This constant rubbing, along with the other stresses of wearing a mask, can damage the skin barrier, making it more susceptible to other forms of irritation.
Clogged & Enlarged Pores
The warm environment within the mask can cause pores to enlarge, especially on the nose, cheeks and chin. When dirt or oil is trapped under the mask, these pores can also become clogged or blocked, causing them to look even more enlarged. Clogged pores can lead to other skin concerns like blackheads, whiteheads and breakouts.
Blemishes & Breakouts
Acne mechanica—the type of acne related to masks—looks like acne-like bumps and irritation on skin. Unlike other forms of acne which occur when pores become clogged with dead skin and oil, acne mechanica forms when excess heat or sweat is paired with pressure or friction. The greenhouse effect from your mask coupled with continuous friction creates an ideal environment for these types of blemishes to form.
Dry & Dehydrated Skin
The unique micro-climate underneath a mask can cause skin’s natural moisture to evaporate. When this occurs, skin can feel extra dry and may even become cracked or uncomfortable in patches underneath the mask. Dehydrated skin may even produce excess oil which can lead to clogged pores and breakouts.
As skin is irritated by heat, humidity and lack of ventilation, it can look and feel uncomfortable. Friction from the areas where the mask has direct contact to the skin can also result in visible redness and discomfort.
How Do Different Types of Masks Affect Your Skin?
All face masks will impact your skin but some create more of a greenhouse effect than others. In addition to your lifestyle and environment, take your skin into consideration when finding the right protection for you.
These types of masks form a tight seal on the skin, creating a more intense greenhouse effect and forming more pressure marks than other types of masks. To help protect your skin while you are wearing an N95 or similar mask, apply a barrier or cica-cream to help reduce friction between your mask and your skin.
Disposable, synthetic masks also create a greenhouse effect but—as they do not create a seal around the skin—they are also more likely to let in debris that can become trapped on skin’s surface. If you need to wear a mask for long periods of a time, disposable masks can be a good option. Change these masks every few hours or whenever your skin feels moist or oily.
Masks made of cotton or other fabrics tend to absorb or wick away moisture from skin’s surface and create less of a greenhouse effect. If you need a mask for short-term wear or plan to be active, these masks can be the best choice.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Regardless of what kind of mask you use, keep masks clean and always use a fresh one. If you wear one throughout the day, have several on hand to switch out and clean your masks with hot, soapy water after every use. Make sure that your mask stays in place and fits you comfortably, covering the nose and mouth. If you have a mask that has stretched out, it is time to replace it with one that fits properly.
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."
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 complexions.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: Touching your face frequently with unclean hands is never a good idea, but with the additional stress of wearing a mask, it is more important to avoid than ever. Apply your mask with minimal contact and take care when adjusting it.
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.
*Based on results two hours after use vs. untreated skin.
**Kiehl’s defines naturally-derived ingredients as ones that etain more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source.