Maskne: The Sneaky Legacy of Covid-19 and How Wearing a Mask Causes Acne 


Wait, is Maskne a real thing? The woes around acne related to wearing a mask are very real, and if you’ve been wearing a mask through the past 18 months, you might know a little something about this already. When it comes to mask-related acne, none of us are in the clear. No matter our skin type, skin color or sensitivity, it doesn’t discriminate. Interestingly, maskne is not a new condition in professions where surgical masks have to be worn regularly. Now that the general population is encouraged to wear a mask, the incidence of this skin concern has dramatically increased. 


At SkinScience, the requests for acne consultations have gone through the roof over the past 18 months. People who have never experienced acne in their lifetime are now consulting us because of mask-related acne. One could think it’s related to pandemic-related stress, but the reality is a little more complex and multifaceted. Let’s dive into the cause of maskne, the science behind it, and of course, the best solutions to prevent breakouts and acne from face masks based on the type of maskne you’re experiencing (yes, there can be a few different kinds!). 


Breathe In, Breathe Out – There’s a Microclimate in Your Mask!


Breathing and talking traps a lot of warm air behind your mask. 


As irritating and annoying as this is on a surface level, it also creates a warm, moist microclimate that favors the growth of bacteria, yeast, fungus, skin mites and other microorganisms that are naturally present on healthy skin. As we know, a balanced skin microbiome (the entire population of microorganisms present on your skin) is essential to healthy, clear skin. An unbalanced microbiome, such as the one present under a mask worn for extended periods of time, can lead to increased acne, rosacea flare ups, irritation and perioral dermatitis. 


Hot environments will promote increased sweating and oil production, which can lead to more clogged pores. 


Clogged pores, in the form of open comedone and closed comedones, are the first step to future pimples. This is why, in the management of acne, it is important to focus on unclogging pores to prevent acne lesions down the road. 


As if that wasn’t enough, stress and anxiety kick in and give rise to hormonal acne, often seen on the lower part of the face (and under the mask). 


Under certain conditions, the growth of certain bacteria means more chances of infection, leading to whiteheads and pustules. 


Rubbing and friction of the mask on the skin leads to irritation of clogged pores, which leads to active acne. 


Stress is real right now. And when we’re stressed, it can sometimes look like indulging in comfort foods, which are usually high glycemic foods. This leads to increased inflammation for certain people, and more inflamed acne lesions on the face, including the forehead, temples, cheeks and jawline.


“But Marie,” I hear you say, “where do we start?!”

Don’t despair, we’ve taken the guesswork out of mask-related acne!


How Do You Stop Maskne? 

Step 1 – Watch what you put ON your skin


If you’re producing more sweat and oil under that mask, the first thing to look at is your skin care and makeup. 

The first question to ask yourself is: “How can I make my routine lighter in texture, so I reduce the chances of clogged pores?”


Here are a few pointers:

  • Consider using a lighter moisturizer than you are used to. This will help minimize congestion under the mask area. Less comedones, less future acne. 
  • Consider using fewer products. Love to layer your skin care? Think about dropping a serum (or two) from your routine to make it lighter overall. Streamline to the essentials, especially on days when you know you’ll be wearing your mask for hours at a time. 
  • Consider skipping makeup altogether. Frankly, I have been saving so much money on makeup during the pandemic, while saving time in the morning, too! Consider not wearing makeup, or if you cannot go without it, switch to a lighter foundation or just wear makeup on skin that is exposed.
  • Skip the primer, lessen the bumps. Makeup primers are usually packed with pore-clogging silicones (avoid dimethicone, trimethicone, methicone, and siloxanes in the top 10 ingredients of the formula). This can make maskne worse under warm and humid environments. Think about going without for a week or two, and see if your skin improves. 


  • Be consistent with salicylic-based products, and adapt to your skin’s tolerance. Contemplate switching one or two of your products for one with a low concentration of salicylic acid (sensitive skin) or a higher concentration (for resistant skin). For example:

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  • Change your mask (at least) on the daily. No exceptions. Non negotiable. Consider changing your mask after sweating or exercising. Favour surgical masks or lightweight fabrics that are cooler and easier to breathe through. Tight weave fabrics and masks with several layers usually offer the best protection. After each use, wash your fabric masks with a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free detergent and rinse thoroughly before putting them in the dryer. Dryer heat is proving important in infection control. 


How Do You Treat Maskne? 

Step 2 – Make gentle cleansing your new BFF


Keeping your skin clean without stripping it should be part of your daily routine. Do you brush your teeth twice a day? Then there’s no excuse to not wash your face twice a day. There, I said it. 


Here are a few tips that have worked wonderfully on for our acne-prone clients to improve and treat maskne:


  • Use a gentle foaming cleanser. Gel cleansers are an optimal choice as they won’t leave a film like many cream cleansers do. Look for a sulfate-free cleanser that will help keep your skin clean and calm. 
  • Use clean hands to wash your face. Many people forget to wash their hands before they wash their face. Wash your hands for 20 seconds, and then proceed with face cleansing and makeup removal. Sonic brushes, face wipes and face cloths can sometimes be too irritating for the skin, so using your bare hands will be the best option. 
  • Wash your face with a dandruff shampoo from time to time. I kid you not! Once or twice a week, while in the shower, use a ketoconazole (like Nizoral) shampoo as a quick double cleanse. This will help remove excess yeast and fungus build up around the mouth and nose. 
  • Wash your face as soon as you come back home. Don’t keep all that moist, oily buildup on your skin – it will make your skin worse. If you wait until your bedtime routine, you might be too lazy to wash your face, or just forget. The result the next morning? More congestion and more acne. 


How Do You Prevent and Target Breakouts?

Step 3 – Ingredients Matter


We’ve mentioned salicylic acid and ketoconazole, but there are other ingredients you should look for to target and heal your maskne. Here are a suggested few:


  • Benzoyl Peroxide. Got pustules and blackheads? It might mean that this acne bacteria might be present in your pores. Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) works to kill the C. acnes bacteria (formerly known as P. acnes but was reclassified by skin scientists a few years ago). This cosmetic ingredient can be overdrying for sensitive skin, so use sparingly. With 5% BPO, our favourite is the IMAGE Clear Cell Medicated Acne Lotion.
  • Sulfur. A clinical favourite to target maskne, sulfur has proven to be a multifaceted active ingredient. It works to kill bacteria and fungus while reducing redness and inflammation. Once again, use sparingly, although this is typically better for sensitive skin than BPO. Formulated with 10% sulfur, our bestselling spot treatment usually yields overnight success for the majority of our clients:  Aliquote Skin Nighty Night Spot Tx
  • Azelaic Acid. There’s a new cosmetic kid on the block: Azelaic acid. This up-and-coming multitasking cosmetic ingredient kills bacteria and fungus, reduces redness and inflammation, lightens brown and red acne scars, and reduces oiliness with continued use. It’s a must if you have acne and/or maske. Our favourites? Canada-made Aliquote Skin Clean Slate Solution (toner) or Aliquote Skin AzaClear Serum


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  • Micronized Silver. This is another multitasking ingredient that we love for its ability to improve maskne. Silver has been used for centuries for its antiseptic and soothing properties, and before the discovery of antibiotics, it was used to treat infections. Silver naturally balances the skin’s microbiome while providing anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. We love this nightly leave-on treatment that also happens to be a Canadian product. Zyderma Clarifying Cream


All kinds of acne affect our confidence, but Maskne can be especially frustrating. Don’t fret, my friends. Solutions can be found and the key, as always, is consistency. We know that life is busy and it can be challenging to take the time to care for your skin, so aim for small, daily improvements. Your skin will thank you. As always, if you have questions, we are here for you. 


If your maskne is more severe, or if it still persists after trying the recommendations above, be sure to follow up with your dermatologist, skin specialist or healthcare provider.


Marie Bertrand - SkinScienceAs a microbiologist and skin scientist, Marie Bertrand has worked for many years in the cosmetic industry, developing and implementing basic and advanced training sessions related to skin care and dermatology. Marie is passionate about educating men and women about healthy skin and the latest advancements in products and technologies in the skincare industry. She has successfully trained more than 250,000 people on the proper recommendation of skin care routines and is an avid international public speaker. As the owner of SkinScience, voted Best Medical Laser Clinic in Calgary, Marie develops integrated skin care routines adapted to each patient’s needs, ensuring both support and followup. Founded in 2007, SkinScience brings a new vision to skincare: respect for the customer, ethical and unbiased recommendations, design of skin care regimes based on scientific facts and sound clinical studies, measurable results and on-going support and education for all customers. In 2018, Marie’s blog was awarded top #42 best skin care blog in the world.  Previously, Marie worked in management for L’Oreal Canada, developing skin care training programs for cosmeticians and dermatologists throughout the country. Marie is also called upon to recommend customized skin care plans for celebrities at the Oscar awards.