What is maskne?

Mask, face and question mark icons.


Headshot of Dr. Lori Ullman.
Wearing a face mask for prolonged periods during the day and over weeks and months, creates a skin microclimate that is "tropical-like."
Professor and Chair, Department of Dermatology

In 2020, there have been some unexpected additions to our everyday vernacular, such as quarantine, stay-at home orders and maskne. But what exactly is maskne?

Defining Maskne

Conditions collectively known as “maskne” have increased in incidence and gained wider recognition as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Maskne refers to acne and other facial breakouts that arise from regular use of facial masks traditionally worn by medical professionals. Maskne isn’t new and it can develop at any age. Because our masks act as the first and strongest defense against the COVID-19 virus and people are wearing masks on a scale not seen before, rashes that fall under the label of “maskne” are now also being seen more commonly.

Face masks, when worn for any length of time, act as insulators, trapping exhaled warm air between the skin surface layer and the mask. When we breathe or speak, additional moist, warm and humid air is expelled and trapped between these layers, further creating an ideal setting for normal microbes that live on and in our skin to thrive and grow. Organisms that benefit from this localized increase in temperature and humidity include yeast, bacteria and mites. 

Wearing a face mask for prolonged periods during the day and over weeks and months, creates a skin microclimate that is  “tropical-like.”  Akin to an incubator, this can trigger flares of inflammatory acne, rosacea, perioral dermatitis (a rash that’s red, bumpy, and sometimes scaly), yeast infections, and other common skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis (a red rash of the face associated with greasy yellow scaling). 

Preventing Maskne

Applying a thin layer, usually a pea-sized amount, of oil-free moisturizer or chemical-free sunblock containing zinc or titanium to the area that will be covered by the mask, can help prevent the development of maskne, as well as the general skin irritation that can develop from mask-wearing. Both act as barriers against the friction that masks cause. Make sure, however, to apply any topical products sparingly. Applying thick layers of lotions or sunblocks can themselves cause inflammation or aggravate already existing skin inflammation.

While it’s acceptable to wear a thin layer of makeup under a normal mask, wearing makeup under an N-95 mask should be avoided. Makeup particles can rub off and remain on the N-95 mask, which can limit the cleaning and, therefore, the reuse of N-95 masks.

If you develop irritation or inflammation of your skin from a facial mask, a Dermatologist will help choose the best therapy for you based on your diagnosis, your degree of skin sensitivity, and the type of mask you wear. Avoid self-treatments. Choosing the wrong therapy or product can cause or worsen inflamed skin. Lastly, remember that lightweight fabrics, while cooler and easier to breathe through, aren’t good at filtering the out the COVID-19 virus and may place you at greater risk.

If wearing a fabric mask, wash it daily. If your mask gets soiled, remove it immediately and replace it with a new mask. Wearing a clean, new mask each day will help protect you from the COVID-19 virus and will help prevent buildup of dirt and debris that encourages the overgrowth of skin microorganisms that can lead to maskne.