In the setting of COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people around the world are purchasing and wearing face masks to protect themselves and their close contacts. Medical professionals, in particular, find themselves wearing masks for prolonged periods of time and experiencing new and/or worsening acne.
Why do acne breakouts occur after wearing a mask? There are a few reasons as to why this occurs.
When wearing a tight mask on the face, there is very little air flow and this creates a warm, moist environment, which is ideal for skin bacteria to flourish and cultivate. As this skin bacteria grows, it starts to occlude or block the openings of hair follicles causing black heads, white heads, painful pimples and pus bumps (i.e. pustules).
Many may experience acne bumps in the areas on the face where the mask rubs the most, for example on the bridge of the nose, side of the cheeks and on the chin. Why does this occur? What we know about acne is that there is a frictional component to acne and so increased rubbing may certainly trigger an acne breakout.
How clean are our masks really? Well, we all try our best to sanitize our masks if we have to reuse them, but in reality there may be some debris, dirt or oil on the part of the mask that touches our face directly. The debris from the mask itself and the fibers in the material of the mask or cloth used to protect ourselves may in turn clog the opening of hair follicles (i.e. pores) and may trigger an acne breakout.
How can we prevent mask-induced acne?
If you are reusing a mask, it is important to appropriately sanitize the mask. By ensuring that the sanitation is performed properly, washing hands prior to sanitation or wearing a clean pair of gloves is key. Even using a gentle wet wipe, cleansing wipe, make-up removing wipe are simple ways to clean the inside of the mask (i.e. the part of the mask that is in direct contact with the skin). For the outside of the mask, it is important to use appropriate sanitizing and disinfectant anti-bacterial and anti-viral wipes.
After removing the mask, using a gentle cleansing wipe (i.e. LaRoche Posay cleansing wipes, Cetaphil facial cleansing wipes) and/or washing your face with a gentle facial cleanser (i.e. CeraVe hydrating cleanser) are helpful ways to remove the excess oil, debris, sweat and dirt from your face.
Prior to wearing a mask, make sure you have cleaned your face with a gentle cleanser. If you are pressed for time, use a simple wet wipe or gentle cleansing facial cleansing wipe to gently wipe down the entire face to remove any oils and/or debris.
If you experience an acne breakout, here are some helpful tips:
Washing your face in the morning and/or evening with a benzoyl peroxide wash, an antibacterial wash, will help remove and treat early inflammatory acne (i.e. pimples).
For those who are experiencing more comedonal acne (i.e. black heads and white heads), a topical retinol at bedtime is recommended. It is important to find a topical retinol that is lightweight, non-greasy that provides hydration with the benefits of a pure retinol. A few examples include: Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Oil (Sephora, Ulta, Amazon, drugstores) and CerVe Renewing Retinol Serum (drugstores, Amazon) are my top recommendations.
If you continue to experience acne breakouts, consultation with one of our board certified dermatologists for oral and/or topical prescription treatment and further guidance is strongly recommended.