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How to Keep Your Skin Clear and Healthy While Wearing a Mask

A woman putting on a cloth face mask.

As states and cities move into various phases of reopening, the importance of wearing a face mask while you’re out can’t be understated. However, your skin might not be reacting well to your new mask-wearing habit. Here’s how to clear things up!

The widespread wearing of face masks has led to an unpleasant new portmanteau called “maskne.” Mask-related acne is all too real, and no fun at all. If you have to wear a mask for long periods (like at work), it can cause more than just breakouts. You might experience irritation, redness, or other issues.

While staying safe is well worth a breakout or two, you can wear your mask and keep your skin clear and healthy, too!

Why Do Masks Affect Your Skin?

You probably seldom (if ever) notice any negative impacts on your skin from your clothes. So, it seems strange that simply wearing a mask could cause so much irritation. However, the skin on your face is much more sensitive than it is on the rest of your body.

When your mask is on, the warmth of your breath gets trapped inside, creating a hot, sweaty environment. Sweat, bacteria, and oils cling to your skin under your mask, clogging pores and creating problems.

If there’s any friction between the cloth and your skin, that can make matters worse. Even if you’re at home and not wearing a mask, the stress of simply existing right now can be enough to cause a breakout.

Of course, a rash or a few zits are a small price to pay for staying safe from COVID-19. But there’s no need to suffer from mask-related skin issues. With just a few tweaks to your skincare routine, you can clear up most of those breakouts and keep your skin fresh and healthy.

Essential Skincare Tips for Mask-Wearers

Cultivate these skincare habits at home, and say goodbye to those nasty breakouts under your mask!

Use Multiple Masks Per Day

You know how you should change your pillowcases more frequently to prevent acne? The same principle applies with masks. Pack a few extra masks in your bag or keep a few in your car. Then, throughout the day, after you thoroughly wash your hands and can safely swap out your masks, do so. You’ll end up washing more masks, but your skin will thank you.

Wash Your Masks

Preventing COVID-19 is the most important reason to wash face masks often. However, a clean mask also means less grime and bacteria to cause a breakout. Always wash your mask responsibly before wearing it, and you’ll protect your body from disease and your skin from breakouts.

If you’re still experiencing skin issues with a clean mask, consider switching to a fragrance- and dye-free laundry detergent, as these can cling to fabric and cause skin issues.

Choose Your Masks Wisely

The type of mask you wear is important. Breathable fabrics are more comfortable and better for your skin. Cotton is one of the best fabrics for face masks and is relatively easy to find.

Make sure your mask fits comfortably, too. You want it to be snug, but not uncomfortably tight. A good fit reduces chafing and skin irritation, while also keeping you safer from viruses.

Wash Your Face and Hands

Putting a clean, comfortable mask on a dirty face still won’t do much for your skin, though. Make sure you always wash your face just before donning your mask, so your skin is as clean as possible. Once you get home and take off your mask, wash your face again to get rid of any sweat and dirt that’s built up.

That being said, try not to wash your face more than two or three times per day. Any more than that can strip your skin of its healthy, natural oils. Also, you’ll likely want to avoid anything with a scrubby texture, like a washcloth. Use clean fingers instead, so you won’t irritate your skin any further.

Remember to always wash your hands before handling your mask, too. This is important to reduce the spread of viruses, but also to keep breakouts at bay.

Basically, just try to keep your face, and anything that touches it, as clean as possible.

Use an Exfoliator

Exfoliating your skin helps remove pore-clogging dead skin cells and excess oil, which is especially important if you’re going to be wearing a mask. You’ll likely want to opt for chemical exfoliators (like AHAs and BHAs), since physical exfoliators (like scrubs) can be too harsh for skin that’s already contending with the friction of a mask.

Choose the Right Moisturizers

Even if your skin is naturally oily, it’s important to always moisturize after cleansing. If your skin isn’t hydrated enough, it will actually overproduce oils, making your breakouts even worse.

Products that contain hyaluronic acid are especially effective at boosting healthy moisture. The hydration will keep your skin’s oil production normal to reduce breakouts, and will also help form a barrier against mask-related irritation.

After you apply your moisturizer, give it some time to penetrate your skin before you put on your mask. You also might want to use extra moisturizer or a thicker formula near the edges of your mask to increase the protective barrier against friction.

Cut Back on New Products

A woman wearing a disposable face mask.
Sergio Casal/Shutterstock

If you’re struggling with maskne, now is not the time to sample every new skincare product in your cabinet, or start using sheet masks every day.

Skincare products are great, and the quarantine can be a good time to try new things. However, you’ll want to focus on treating any mask-related skin issues before you delve into new products.

A new product that doesn’t agree with your skin will only make matters worse.

Go Easy on the Makeup

If you usually do the works when it comes to makeup, it might feel strange to skip it entirely on just the area under your mask. So, if you do apply makeup to that area, just make sure it’s light and minimally pore-clogging.

For example, you might want to swap your full-coverage foundation for a lightweight, tinted moisturizer below your mask. You don’t have to be fully makeup-free beneath your mask, but try to get as close to it as possible.

Try a Spot Treatment

No matter what you do, the occasional zit or two is bound to pop up. Now is a good time to invest in an anti-acne spot treatment you can apply just where you need it. Different ingredients work better for different people, so you might need to try a few before you find the one that works best for you.

Don’t Neglect Your Lips

The extra-sensitive skin on your lips can also become irritated under a mask. Pick up (or make) a rich, hydrating lip balm. Since your mouth is covered anyway, you can skip the non-hydrating tinted products, like liquid lipstick.

Consult a Dermatologist

If your maskne or related issues won’t go away, you might want to consult a dermatologist for treatment options. Many are offering teledermatology right now, so you can consult a professional from the safety of your home.

Of all the COVID-19-related issues, maskne is, perhaps, the least concerning. Still, you’ve already got enough to worry about—who needs skin issues on top of it? Follow these tips, and you keep your skin clear and healthy skin, while staying safe and protecting others under your mask.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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