College of DuPage Nursing Student Marjaan Mutahir asks, “Is maskne a thing?” Yes, yes, it is. The slang term combines “mask” and “acne” to describe the adverse effects of wearing a mask on your skin, including acne breakouts, dryness, chafing, and irritation. Maskne is so common among adolescents and adults alike that skincare brands TULA, Dr. Jart, Peach and Lily, and Averr Aglow, to name a few, have released products that are specifically advertised to prevent and combat maskne. Dealing with skin problems can be stressful on its own. Now on top of that, maskne may be aggravating the skin with the very thing that is keeping many people alive.
Prior to the release of COVID-19 vaccinations, wearing a face mask and performing thorough hand hygiene were the only precautions to take in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Even as vaccinations roll out, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a face mask in indoor public places (CDC, 2021). This means that for the entire work and school day, many will have to consistently wear a mask.
Acne is caused by an increase in sebaceous gland activity, which can be stimulated by mechanical irritation such as a face mask rubbing against fine hairs on the cheeks and chin (Draelos, 2021). The irritation creates micro-abrasions in the skin, allowing for bacteria to sneak past the skin barrier, resulting in open and closed comedones, which you may know are whiteheads and blackheads. In addition to the acne, the aftermath of wearing a mask for long periods of time can include pressure injuries on the bony prominence of the nose and cheekbones. Seeing and feeling the aftereffects of a mask can be disheartening, but there are simple measures you can take to prevent maskne and facial pressure injuries.
A study from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, written by Zena Moore, registered nurse, demonstrated that it is possible to reduce the incidence of facial pain and injuries that come as a result of wearing a face mask with easy self-care measures such as facial protection, skin inspection, and a cleansing and hydration routine (Moore et al., 2021). Such measures in the study reduced the incidence of skin injury from 29% to 8%. Wearing bandages on areas that are prone to pressure injuries, such as the nasal bone and cheekbones, provides protection against the mask digging into the skin. Selecting a mask that is comfortable for your face shape can also significantly reduce pain. If your mask is reusable, clean it either by hand or in your load of laundry after every use. After a long day of having your face covered, you should wash it thoroughly with a gentle cleanser once, if not twice, to wash off debris, sweat, and sunscreen. Follow up your cleanser with a fragrance-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer before bed every night.
The key to avoiding maskne and facial injuries is hygiene. In order to keep unwanted bacteria outside the skin barrier, a mask should be placed on a face that is free of excess oils, moisturized to improve elasticity and reduce chafing, and padded with bandages to keep pressure off the face. Just like your internal organs, your skin is affected by your lifestyle. Mindfulness of your skin is mindfulness of your health, and the best care you can take is preventative.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). Your Guide to Masks.
Draelos, Z. D. (2021). COVID-19 Induced Skin Challenges. Dermatology Times, 42(1), 10.
Moore, Z., McEvoy, N. L., McEvoy, L., Curley, G., O’Connor, T., Budri,
A., Nugent, L., Walsh, S., Bourke, F., Avsar, P., & Patton, D. (2021).
Facial pressure injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic: skin protection
care to enhance staff safety in an acute hospital setting. Journal of
Wound Care, 30(3), 162–170.