The rise of 'maskne': How face masks are causing ACNE

The rise of ‘maskne’: Skincare experts reveal how face masks are leaving people with horrendous acne – and explain what you can do to treat and prevent it

  • Several social media users – especially medical workers who wear masks all day – have shared images of their mask-induced acne  
  • Dr. Sandra Lee, AKA Dr. Pimple Popper, explained that the ‘humidity’ under a face mask is the root cause of ‘maskne’  
  • Meanwhile celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau added that the friction of the mask rubbing on your face can also contribute  
  • Dr. Lee urged people not to wear makeup under their masks, and to ensure they are cleaning them regularly 
  • Renee explained that you should use an antibacterial toner throughout the day
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Face mask wearers are opening up about dealing with an unpleasant side effect of the protective coverings – pimples and blemishes that have prompted the rise of a new skincare term: ‘maskne’.  

Dozens of people have taken to social media in recent weeks to complain about how their skin is responding to face masks, while dermatologists are reporting a huge rise in the number of cases of mask-induced acne.  

Now, experts have revealed to exactly why face masks cause your skin to flare up, while also sharing how you can treat and prevent ‘maskne’ in the coming weeks, as more and more people step out with their faces covered in midst of the coronavirus pandemic.  

On the rise: More and more people are complaining about ‘maskne’ – blemishes and pimples that are caused by wearing a face mask 

New term on the block: Social media users coined the term ‘maskne’ to describe the mask-induced skincare problems 


Maskne is a new term that has been coined to describe an increase of blemishes and zits that is caused by wearing a face mask, and tends to only affect the parts of the face that are covered by the protective gear.

According to celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau – who counts Lili Reinhart and Demi Lovato among her clientele – the type of blemishes that are caused by mask wear are known as acne mechanica.  

‘The only difference between acne mechanica and regular acne is the cause; while regular breakouts tend to be hormonally-driven, acne mechanica is caused by friction (a physical disruption to the skin),’ she explained to 

‘When something is constantly rubbing up against your skin, the combination of friction, heat, and pressure can be a trigger for breakouts.’


Dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee – AKA Dr. Pimple Popper – explained that ‘occlusion’ is the main cause of maskne. In other words the humidity and the heat that occurs under the mask while you are wearing it blocks your pores and increases the chances of a breakout.  

‘The mask, the humidity under there, the oil produced on your skin, also compounded by the fact that you’re wearing makeup under there will promote the blocking / occlusion of your pores and increase the chances of a breakout,’ she said.  

‘Also the actual mask pushing on your skin is physically occluding your skin directly. Perfect storm for a pimple. If you already have pretty oily skin you’re probably halfway there.’ 

Renee added that the friction caused between the mask and your skin is also to blame for increased breakouts, noting: ‘The friction responsible for acne mechanica is also the culprit behind most irritation caused by protective face masks. 

‘In fact, red, bumpy, rashy skin is a common precursor to acne mechanica. All of these are also signs of inflammation, which can wake up your skin’s pigment cells and cause lingering pigmentation long after the erythema (redness) has subsided.

‘When an object is consistently being rubbed across your skin, it can also disrupt your protective moisture barrier. If something is rubbing against your skin all day, it can create tiny blemishes.’ 


Avoid wearing makeup under your mask 

One of the main things that Dr. Lee recommends is to avoid wearing makeup under your mask at all costs. She explains that you can still apply cosmetic products above the mask line, but any skin that is covered by the material should be left free from any makeup. 

‘This may be weird at first as it was for me to get accustomed to, since it’s not usual for you to only put foundation on your upper part of your face, and likely there’s such a routine like applying blush and lipstick – you should do away with this while you are wearing a mask,’ she said.

‘Also this soils the inside of your mask, and will certainly necessitate you cleaning it more often.’ 

Clean your face as soon as your take off your mask – and prioritize chemical exfoliants

Even if you can’t wash your face immediately, Dr. Lee suggests using something ‘easy and convenient’ to cleanse the skin when you remove your mask. 

She explained that you can use wipes to clean your skin on-the-go before you are able to get to a sink and wash your face. 

Dr. Lee added that focusing on products that contain chemical exfoliants will help to tackle any existing blemishes, while also preventing any additional spots. 

‘Use a resurfacing wipe like my SLMD Skincare Resurfacing Acne Swipes ($35) which contain glycolic and salicylic acid, effective exfoliants to keep the skin clean and importantly keep the pores clear of excess oil, dead skin, and debris,’ she said. 

‘Chemical exfoliants like glycolic, salicylic, lactic acid are key during these moments.’ 

Renee agrees about the importance of acids when it comes to treating ‘maskne’, saying: ‘Work a serum with salicylic acid into your routine two to three nights a week. Salicylic acid is unique in that it has the ability to cut through oil and really get into your pore lining.’ 

Implement a proper nighttime skincare routine 

Renee explains that cleansing and treating your skin properly every evening is incredibly important.

She urges anyone suffering with ‘maskne’ to cleanse their face before bed, and also consider using a face mask that specifically targets blemishes and clogged skin.  

‘Properly cleansing your face before bed is always important,’ she said. 

‘Start by cleansing your skin with a gentle, antimicrobial face wash that contains ingredients like salicylic acid or tea tree extract. 

‘After cleansing, use a face masque like the Rapid Response Detox Masque ($65.50). Its antimicrobial properties kick in after just five minutes while hydrating ingredients soothe the skin to counteract friction caused by wearing a face mask.’ 

Use natural antibacterial ingredients   

Renee added that you should also look for products that contain natural antibacterials.

 ‘Wipe an antibacterial toner like the Rapid Response Detox Toner ($41.50) over the affected area once or twice a day,’ she said. ‘Look for ingredients like salicyclic acid, lactic acid, tea tree oil, and manuka leaf extract.’ 

Wash your face covering as often as possible 

‘If you’re wearing a bandana, scarf, or reusable cloth mask when you go out, be sure to wash it regularly,’ Renee urged. 

‘Not only is this the best practice for good hygiene, but it will also prevent oil and dirt from being reintroduced onto the skin.’  

Ramp up your quarantine skincare routine with these products 

Get a real routine in place

Take control of your complexion: Renee Rouleau Rapid Response Detox Kit ($132.50)

Banish blemishes: SLMD Acne System ($50)

All-in-one: Drunk Elephant Bare With Us Kit ($100)

Cleanse: The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser (left, $9.99), Tatcha The Rice Polish Deep (right, $65)

Treat and hydrate: Glow Recipe Pineapple C Bright Serum (left, $49), Augustinus Bader The Cream (center, $265), Drunk Elephant T.L.C Sukari Babyfacial (right, $80)

Treat yourself to a face mask 

They’re the sheet! Joanna Vargas Glow to Go Mask Set (left, $75), Dr. Jart+ Dermask Micro Jet Clearing Solution (right, $9)

Mask on! Wishful Thirst Trap Cocoon Mask (left, $9), Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Sheet Mask (right, $12)

Slather it on: Image Skincare Purifying Probiotic Mask ($45)

Sweet dreams: Laneige Hypoallergenic Cica Sleeping Mask (left, $34), Glow Recipe Watermelon + AHA Glow Sleeping Mask (right, $45)

Revitalize your skin with an at-home peel 

Perfect peel: Renee Rouleau Triple Berry Smoothing Peel ($88.50)

Feel the peel: Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel ($95)

Stock up on serums 

Stress-free serums: Babor Stop Stress Ampoule Concentrate (left, $49.95), Phyto-C Superheal O-Live Serum (right, $135)

Soothing: Heraux Molecular Anti-Inflammaging Serum ($250)

Banish blemishes – and blue light: Rodial Glycolic Booster Drops (left, $45), Goodhabit Rescue Me Glow Potion Oil Serum (center, $80), Dr. Barbara Sturm Clarifying Serum (right, $250)

Banish those blemishes with on-the-spot treatments 

Zap those zits: Renee Rouleau Anti Bump Solution (left, $49.50), SLMD Salicylic Acne Spot Treatment (right, $25)

Patches for morning, night, night out: Cosrx Clear Fit Master Patch (left, $6), Peace Out Acne Healing Dots (center, $19), Starface Glow Star Hydro-Stars (right, $18)

Care for your skin from the inside out 

Healthy habits: NeoCell Collagen Protein Peptides (left, $39.95), Goli Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies (right, $19)

Inside out: Glow Habit Good Skin Dietary Supplement (left, $13), Hum Nutrition Mighty Night (right, $40)

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