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Published on January 26, 2021

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What to Do About Mask-Related Skin Outbreaks

When you put a mask on for COVID-19 safety, you feel good. Your face might have another opinion.

Since last spring, reports of mask-induced acne or rashes (sometimes called mask-ne) have been widespread.

“Masks of any kind can make rashes or acne worse,” said Anna Gregoire, MD, Avera Medical Group dermatologist. “Health care workers know all about this. But you can take some steps to avoid the issues.”

Here’s a look at Gregoire’s tips and advice.

What’s Causing Your “Maskne”?

Friction, either from the mask or its elastic, can irritate dry skin. The nature of a mask traps humidity, and in some cases, the material used for the mask, all can contribute to issues with your face. The clinical term for the problem is acne mechanica – it literally means irritation caused by pressure and friction.

What to Do

“The first thing to do is limit your face-washing – over-washing will make it worse,” Gregoire said. “Only wash your face twice a day. Women who use makeup should look for types that are non-acne causing. Fragrance-free products are also better choices, be they soaps, makeup or moisturizers.”

Making the Most of Moisturizers

If you want to stop mask-related skin problems fast, hit the skin care aisle at your favorite store.

“We recommend the use of moisturizers before and after you wash your face, or before and after you don or take off your mask,” said Gregoire. “If you walk down the aisle full of lotions and moisturizers, look for ones that do not have bright colors or fruit on the bottles.”

The products that are “boring” are usually best, and often do not include fragrances or other additives that can affect skin.

“You should also flip the bottle over and see if the product inside moves around – the thicker, the better, for good moisturizing properties,” she said. “Use a quality product and keep your skin from drying out – and you’ll have better luck with your protective masks. Moisturizer is the best friend for us in health care who wear masks for long periods of time.”

Choose Soaps Wisely (and Mildly)

The simpler the product, the better when it comes to skin care. Dermatologists working with their patients who have recurring rashes or other skin issues often approach the problem with an “elimination diet” sort of approach.

“The more ingredients – like fragrances and colors – the more things to consider when trying to identify why the rash or acne is occurring,” Gregoire said. “That’s why washing less, with mild soaps that have no fragrance or other additives, makes things better for you skin. The stronger products don’t give skin a chance to refresh itself and heal.”

Remember that the skin on your hands is much thicker, and tougher, than that on your face. “It’s a pandemic mantra, but do not touch your face, rub your eyes or scratch your face – it’s an easy way to make a problem worse,” she said. “Be careful – and aware – of those sorts of actions as they can be the root of some irritation problems.”

Picking the Right Mask

If paper medical masks work better for you, use them. If cloth ones irritate you less, go with that style.

“But remember to moisturize once before you leave home and one when you get home,” said Gregoire. “You’ll likely avoid a lot of the issues.”

Hydration and Health

Drinking plenty of water and getting your rest – as well as eating a good diet – all those small steps can help your face, too. Even when you’re wearing a mask for hours – and especially as winter’s dry air continues.

“Overall health impacts every organ, including the skin,” said Gregoire.

If the steps above are not effective, take action to get some help. You can talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist.

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