Ask Your Pharmacist

October 23, 2020
Q:

My face has been breaking out since I started wearing a face mask at work all day. Do you have any tips on how to treat mask acne?

A:

Thank you for doing your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a face mask. I must admit that wearing a mask all day at work sometimes can be a nuisance, but it is an important action that we can take to protect others in our community from getting sick.  Wearing a mask, along with practicing excellent hand hygiene, are two ways we can each do our part to get life back to normal as soon as possible.

Mask acne or ‘Maskne’, as found in the Urban Dictionary, refers to the acne and skin irritation that results from wearing daily face masks. The medical condition is known as acne mechanica.  It occurs because of the repeated physical rubbing of the face mask against our skin and because the mask creates an environment on one’s face that increases sweat. This may result in the skin becoming clogged, leading to pimple formation. The warm, damp, environment between the mask and your face promotes the growth of bacteria on the skin, and this can lead to acne flare.

We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the pandemic, when at first there were no face masks available to be purchased. Select a mask made of a soft, breathable, natural fabric like cotton. Synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester, and rayon can be more irritating to your skin. This is especially important if you are prone to acne or have oily skin. Disposable masks are also very breathable and can be a good option.

Make sure that your mask fits your face well and is comfortable. A loose-fitting mask is more likely to move around and cause chafing, which can lead to acne. It can also irritate the skin if it is too tight.

It is important to keep your mask clean by washing it regularly, ideally daily. Ensure that your mask is completely dry before putting it on. Wearing a damp mask will only add to the moisture that will accumulate along with sweat on your face, resulting in an increased likelihood of a break-out. Whenever possible, clean your face before applying the mask and after removing your mask. Cetaphil cleansing cloths or similar wipes are an option for those of us who have fast-paced daily routines. Ideally, if it is safe to do so in your workplace, have a brief mask break every 40 to 60 minutes to reduce the amount of dampness that builds up under your mask.

Prevention is key when it comes to mask acne. Wash your face with a gentle, oil-free, skin cleanser twice daily, and rinse thoroughly. Cetaphil is an example of an over-the-counter mild skin cleanser that cleanses the skin without irritation. Avoid wearing make-up below the eyes if you are wearing a mask at work. If you use make up, remember to clean your make up brushes routinely.

Apply a gentle moisturizing cream to your skin before putting on your mask to help reduce friction. Select a non-comedogenic cream that’s less likely to block pores. An example would be a product containing the active ingredient dimethicone cream. If you wear an N95 mask, check with your pharmacist before choosing a daily moisturizer. Some moisturizers interrupt the seal between the face and an N95 mask.

For treatment of uncomplicated face acne related to mask use, choose a product that contains the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide five to 10 % w/w (i.e. Benagel) or salicylic acid 2 % (i.e. Clearasil). Check with your pharmacist to make sure that you choose a product that is safe for your particular situation. Anything more than mild facial acne from mask use, should be assessed by your doctor or nurse practitioner.

Visit the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada for more information at: https://www.acneaction.ca/5-things-about-maskne/ 

Dr Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.