As masks have become part of our lives, for some of us, acne or skin irritation has followed.
By mid-March, Dr. Tyler Hollmig, director of dermatologic surgery and laser and cosmetic dermatology at Ascension Texas, was beginning to get patients, especially essential workers, asking about mask-related dermatitis.
The acne is an unintended consequence of doing something good, Hollmig says. "We’ve never had a time where we’re wearing masks for 12 hours straight with the exception of meals," he says. "It’s sustained contact. The skin can only take so much."
It’s caused by the friction of the mask against the skin combined with sweat. It’s not a new phenomenon. Football players also see it along the area of the helmet that hits their faces, usually their foreheads.
There isn’t a kind of mask that is better for avoiding dermatitis, Hollmig says. The best mask, he says, is "whatever you will wear consistently."
Instead of worrying about mask type, concentrate on reducing the friction and the humidity caused by the mask. Make sure it fits well but not too tightly against the skin.
Rewearable cotton masks work well, but you have to wash them in between uses to have a clean mask every time, he says. Sometimes people might have reactions to the laundry detergent they are using. That’s something to consider if it looks like you’re having an allergic reaction, not just acne.
The one-time-use surgical masks are good, but they shouldn’t be used multiple times, for both protection against the virus and for reducing skin irritation, Hollmig says.
Hollmig recommends people clean their face before and after wearing a mask and at the end of the day. It can just be with soap and water to rid the skin of the sweat and bacteria that have built up.
Using an acne cream like an over-the-counter product with benzoyl peroxide can help clear up irritation. If it continues, dermatologists can schedule a telehealth visit with you to take a look at it and prescribe another product or suggest an anti-inflammatory medicine
He also recommends that we wear less makeup or no makeup during this time. Makeup can boost the irritation of the mask rubbing against the face.
Hollmig says other things, such as stress and anxiety, can contribute to an increase in acne. As we have worked from home or stayed at home, we might be getting less exercise and showering less often, or exercising but then not showering afterward.
If you are having to wear a mask often, clean and moisturize your skin before putting the mask on. If it’s still irritating your skin, you can create a barrier between the mask and skin by using a product like petroleum jelly or diaper rash cream along the area where the mask is rubbing.