Face masks: Skin breakouts, rashes and irritation

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Beachkofsky
  • 6th Health Care Operations Squadron

In the era of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) everyone is wearing face masks and for many their skin is suffering from new breakouts, rashes and irritation.

“Maskne” or acne caused by mask wearing is called “acne mechanica.” This is similar to the acne football players get on their shoulders from wearing football pads. In both cases, there is an increase in heat, friction and skin occlusion leading to clogged pores and the development of acne. 

Other potential conditions that can be exacerbated by the increase in heat, moisture and friction to the skin include rosacea, folliculitis and seborrheic dermatitis. Uncommonly, patients can be allergic to some of the materials used during the processing of polypropylene surgical masks production such as formaldehyde and bronopol. 

What to do?

Start by making sure you are washing your face before you put your mask on. I recommend using a fragrance-free gentle cleanser, warm water and using fingertips only for washing. Avoid using exfoliating cleansers, toners, scrubs, wash cloths, loofas. These products can further irritate your skin and your only goal here is prevent dirt and oil from being trapped on the skin surface. 

If you are accustomed to wearing make-up and cosmetic products, and are encountering an increase in breakouts and face irritation with mask wear, then putting the cosmetics aside can be helpful. Cosmetics tend to be occlusive, meaning they can clog your pores and this can lead to breakouts.

Moisturize! After gently washing your face, applying a daily moisturizer can be extremely helpful. Dry skin is more easily irritated. Well-hydrated skin can better withstand external irritants. Again, fragrance free is advised. Fragrances and perfumes can be very irritating to the skin, especially under the occlusion of a mask. Many people will claim that the use of moisturizers on their face breaks out their skin and for some this is certainly true. Trial and error are key here as there is no one size fits all!

Lastly, be careful using medicated skin care products containing benzoyl peroxide, retinol, salicylic acid and glycolic acid. While there is a role for these ingredients in skin care, their concomitant use when the skin is already irritating can make matters worse.

Nothing working?

If your breakouts and skin irritation persist despite following some of the suggestions above then you may need to be seen and evaluated by your physician and/or referred to your dermatologist for additional treatment considerations.

For more information, please contact the MacDill Dermatology Clinic at (813) 827-9372.