As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague society, many have noticed that it is also plaguing their skin. 'Maskne,' the nickname given to the many skin plights arising from prolonged mask wear, is a common concern dermatologists are getting.
Dr. Kimberly Jerdan, a board-certified dermatologist and fellowship-trained cosmetic and laser surgeon in Oklahoma City, said she gets asked about maskne "daily, usually two to three times a day."
Dr. Suzan Obagi, associate professor of dermatology and plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said that there are actually three different skin issues that she sees due to mask wear:
The first is acne, which she said can be caused by layering heavy moisturizers and makeup beneath an occlusive mask. "You've already covered your pores with whatever makeup or moisturizer you're putting on and then when you layer the mask on top of that, you're sealing it in even more." When combining pore-clogging lotions and makeup with an occlusive or humidifying mask, "people are going to have a greater tendency toward breaking out."
2. Irritant dermatitis
The second is irritant dermatitis, which happens when the skin becomes irritated by chemicals in the mask. These can be chemicals used in the manufacturing of a disposable mask or chemicals used when cleaning a cloth mask. These irritants cause the skin to become itchy, red and flaky, and some may even develop tiny red bumps.
3. Seborrheic dermatitis
The final mask-induced skin issue is seborrheic dermatitis. Dr. Jerdan describes this as an "overgrowth of yeast" which is caused by a combination of humidity and occlusion. These factors lead to "redness, dryness and sometimes a little itching," though the skin will not be as chafed and raw as it is with irritant dermatitis, Dr. Obagi said.
Each of these skin problems is treated differently, so Dr. Obagi said the first step is to know what you're dealing with.
If it's acne
If acne is, in fact, causing your blemishes, Dr. Obagi has some helpful advice. She recommends starting your day by cleansing your skin well and applying a light lotion containing an alpha hydroxy or polyhydroxy acid, such as salicylic acid "to keep the pores exfoliated and open rather than clogged."
She also suggests avoiding makeup, but Dr. Jerdan said that wearing either a fresh or a clean mask should be enough to avoid a pore-clogging effect.
During the day, if the humidity beneath the mask has made your skin sweaty or oily, Dr. Obagi said to use a no-rinse, salicylic acid-containing wipe to "calm inflammation, keep the pores unclogged, and hopefully minimize the acne flare by keeping the skin free of oils, free of environmental pollution or dirt, and free of sweat."
For existing breakouts, Dr. Jerdan recommends "washing with a benzoyl peroxide or glycolic acid wash" or applying a "retinoid-like, over-the-counter adapalene to the face daily."
If it's itchy irritant dermatitis
If you are suffering from itchy irritant dermatitis, Dr. Obagi recommends that you "eliminate things that could be the most common triggers."
If you are wearing a cloth mask, this could be due to a detergent, fabric softener or dryer sheet.
With a disposable mask, it could be a chemical contained in the mask, so switching brands could be helpful.
When washing your cloth masks, she suggests "washing them in a fragrance-free, sensitive-skin type of detergent" and "not putting in a fabric softener or a dryer sheet."
If it's seborrheic dermatitis
Finally, for seborrheic dermatitis, Dr. Obagi suggests that people "wash their faces with a dandruff shampoo" to help kill the yeast causing the skin irritation, which Dr. Jerdan said can also be accomplished with a topical antifungal prescribed by a doctor.
Because these three conditions can be difficult for an untrained individual to differentiate, Dr. Jerdan cautions that "it's important to see a board-certified dermatologist to help distinguish the cause of your breakouts and [recommend] what necessary treatments would be best."
Skin tips to treat any of these skin issues
Still, Dr. Obagi has some skin tips that can help treat any of these skin issues: "Wash that face first the minute you get home. Don't just take your mask off and let the bacteria and the oil sit there and feed off each other."
"When you get home, immediately take your mask off, wash your hands, and wash your face." This habit can help keep both you and your skin healthy.
So the next time your skin is acting up beneath your mask, try these tips. If you're still suffering from a mask-related skin issue, it's time to see a dermatologist.
Dr. Stephanie E. Farber is a cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon in Atlanta and a medical contributor for ABC News.