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Dermatologist Says Skip the ‘Maskne,’ Not the Mask

If you are noticing red, irritated skin or small pimples under your face mask, you are far from alone. Allison Truong, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Cedars-Sinai Medical Group, says she is now seeing many patients complaining of what's commonly being called "maskne," or mask-acne.

Truong says that when it comes to masks, her patients are experiencing three different skin problems:

  • Acne caused by clogged pores inside the mask area
  • Irritation from the mask
  • Allergic reactions to either detergent used to wash a fabric mask or dyes or substances in surgical masks

How to tell what's causing the maskne? Truong says that if the overall area is red, burning or itchy, then it may be more of an irritation or allergy. If you are seeing little pustules or comedones, commonly known as blackheads or whiteheads, that points to acne.

Truong says proper hygiene is very important for keeping the skin calm. She suggests using a gentle cleanser when you wash your face in the morning, then adding sunscreen to provide a barrier between skin and the mask. When you come home, take off your mask, wash your face and add moisturizer.

It is important to wash fabric masks every day. Laundry detergents can be a common cause of allergic reactions, Truong says, so she suggests using fragrance-free detergents.

If your skin is irritated, red, itchy or burning, Truong recommends using an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream once or twice a day.

Studies show that when you wear a mask, the oil glands under the skin produce more oil, creating an ideal environment for acne to form. Truong suggests not wearing makeup under your mask, but if you must, make sure your cosmetics are labeled noncomedogenic. If the acne is severe, you can add an over-the-counter cleanser that contains glycolic acid, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. And if the problem persists for more than a week or two, make an appointment with a dermatologist.

But Truong will never advise going without a mask during the pandemic, she says.

"Every day there are studies demonstrating the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19," Truong says. "If you keep your mask clean, follow daily proper skin hygiene, and use the appropriate products, you should be able to control any skin irritations and acne while continuing to protect yourself and others from the virus."