Maskne no more! How to keep skin clear while you're staying safe

Medical-grade or homemade, face masks have become the new normal. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include the recommendation that all Americans wear cloth face coverings in public places to slow the transmission of COVID-19. Unfortunately, protecting others may come at a cost to your complexion. We’re talking about “maskne,” or acne breakouts caused by keeping your skin under wraps.

For months, essential workers have been posting unmasking pics on social media and venting about the blackheads, whiteheads and pimples that have plagued them during this pandemic. “I feel like a teen again—but NOT in a good way!” wrote one thirtysomething ER nurse from Ann Arbor, Michigan. And a NYC transit worker confessed he’s growing a beard to hide the eruptions around his mouth and on his chin.

But PPE-wearers aren't the only ones affected by maskne. Referred to by dermatologists as acne mechanica, it can occur in any occluded area. To prevent airborne particles from escaping, a mask needs to fit snugly on the face. In addition to causing friction as the fabric rubs against the skin, the cloth covering traps your breath, increasing humidity and creating an ideal environment for bacteria to breed. Add to that the oil, debris and makeup that accumulate under the mask, and you can expect clogged pores, rashes and acne flare-ups.

So what’s a mask-wearer to do? Dermatologists agree that keeping skin clean and moisturized is essential. Heed these five tips to stay in the clear for the long haul:

  1. Pick the right PPE.Avoid cloth coverings made of rough fabrics and opt instead for ones made from breathable cotton fibers. Wash your mask in hot water frequently and dry thoroughly before putting it back on your face. Disposable masks should be discarded after every use.
  2. Come clean. Wash your hands and then your face before and then immediately after removing your mask. Use an oil- and fragrance-free cleanser (one with benzoyl peroxide may be too strong or irritating right now) and gently massage into skin with your fingertips. Pat-dry skin with a towel.

  3. Exfoliate. Rather than harsh scrubs and peels, choose a BHA-powered chemical slougher like our Clarifying Toner. Salicylic acid penetrates pores to dissolve the buildup of sebum and dead skin, while decreasing inflammation. Green tea extract oil soothes skin while protecting it from further assault.

  4. Hydrate. Follow with a lightweight, fragrance-free moisturizer to strengthen skin's protective barrier. (Dry, irritated skin is also more vulnerable to acne-causing bacteria and breakouts.) Our Oil-Free Moisturizer contains hyaluronic acid to help restore moisture reservoirs in deeper layers of skin, as well as soothing botanicals like aloe vera gel and cucumber extract. Wait 15 minutes before putting on the mask so the skin can fully absorb the product.

  5. Keep makeup to a minimum. Now's the time to press pause on your usual beauty routine. Play up your eyes, and skip the blush and lipstick. If you absolutely can't go without a full face of makeup, swap out thick foundations and concealers for lighter, non-pore-clogging formulas.