Wearing a face mask reduces the risk of catching COVID-19 and spreading it to others, but wearing a mask can cause skin problems.
On this page, you can find the following information:
Masks can cause skin problems that range from acne and peeling skin to rashes and itchiness, particularly when a mask is worn for more than a few hours a day.
Many people are experiencing redness, spots and a worsening of acne symptoms due to wearing a face mask or covering (sometimes called ‘maskne’). Maskne tends to occur around your mouth and nose area but can also affect your jawline.
Masks create a warm and humid environment underneath them that traps moisture and sebum. This can make pre-existing acne worse or cause new breakouts by clogging pores. These pores become inflamed leading to the classical red tender acne lesion.
Tips to help prevent maskne
- Clean your skin carefully with a mild cleanser twice a day and, in particular, after you take your mask off when you get home. But it's also important not to over-cleanse, as this can cause dry skin. Your skin's natural reaction to drying out is to create more oil, which can make acne worse.
- Use non-comedogenic products to reduce the likelihood of pores getting blocked. ‘Non-comedogenic’ means the product is not likely to cause pore blockages (comedones). Face washes, make-up, moisturisers and other cosmetic products should say if they are non-comedogenic on their packaging.
- Avoid wearing makeup or oil-containing products under your mask as this can make acne worse.
- You may find switching to a mask that is made from a more breathable material helpful in managing breakouts. Materials that create excess humidity and warmth underneath them are likely to make spots worse. Masks made of natural fibres are often better but need to be washed on a regular basis to remove built-up oil, dead skin cells and bacteria.
- There is also a range of acne treatments to help with spots that can be bought from your pharmacy without a prescription. Ingredients to look for in acne-fighting products are salicylic acid and benzyl peroxide. Avoid oil-containing ingredients which can frequently make acne worse.
Read more about acne and treatments for acne.
Dry skin and chapped lips
Dry skin and chapped lips are common skin problems from wearing face masks. Applying moisturiser to your face adds a protective layer that can reduce dryness. Apply moisturiser straight after washing your face. You can prevent breakouts from your moisturiser by using a moisturiser formulated for your skin type, such as using:
- a gel moisturiser for oily skin
- lotion for normal or combination skin
- a cream for dry to very dry skin.
You can prevent chapped lips by applying petroleum jelly after washing your face, before you put on your face mask and before bed. Note: Apply petroleum jelly to your lips only, not your face.
Rash, itch and dermatitis
The skin around your nose, mouth and chin, the places covered by a face mask, is very delicate. If you have a red sore rash where your mask has contact with your face, it may be due to irritation from friction or an allergic reaction to the mask materials.
Masks increase temperature, moisture and friction, so make your skin more susceptible to irritation. There are very few chemicals used in masks so any reaction is most likely just an irritation rather than an allergy. However, some masks include a glue strip along the nose and cheek area which can cause a reaction for some people.
The metal wire that allows you to mould a mask to your face may be made out of nickel (a common contact allergen) so some people may consider attaching a fabric layer to the inside of the mask or finding one without wire. Rubber in the elastic bands of the mask has also been reported to cause irritation.
Face masks can also cause or worsen pre-existing conditions like eczema, especially if the face mask is too tight or rubs against your face. Some masks may absorb the natural moisture on your face, drying out your skin.
Tips to avoid rash, itch and dermatitis
- Avoid synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, polyester and rayon on the layer that rests against your skin. These are more likely to irritate your skin. Use masks made of natural fibres such as cotton.
- Wash your cloth mask regularly. Make sure you rinse it well to get all the soap or detergent out.
- Some skin products, like those for anti-aging, condition treatment or fragrance, can become irritating in combination with a mask, so avoid these.
- Ensure your mask is properly fitted. It should be a comfortable fit that is not too tight and that does not move around once you’ve put it on.
- Do not spray your mask with disinfectant.
- Take a break from wearing a mask when you can to let your skin breathe. Remove your mask outdoors in a place where you can maintain a 2-metre separation from others.
- To avoid ear loop pressure, use a paperclip or standard hospital wristband to link the loops behind your head.
Read more about dermatitis.
- 9 ways to prevent face mask skin problems American Academy of Dermatology Association
- Could your face mask be causing your acne? PatientInfo, UK
- Face masks and facial eczema Eczema Association Australasia
- Skin reactions to face masks DermNet NZ