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Maskne: why it happens, and what you can do about it.

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Maskne. The word has become commonplace in skincare discourse over the last year or so - a portmanteau of mask and acne, the term refers to skin irritation and acne caused by mask wearing.

It's not a new thing - maskne has been a part of many of our lives since the pandemic began.

So why am I writing about it now? Well, over the the last month, I've noticed that it's getting worse - so I thought it was time we talk about how to deal with it.

The increased temperatures of the summer months have exacerbated the sweat, oil and humidity that were key factors in the development of maskne. Add heavier sunscreen use to the equation, and we have the perfect recipe for congestion, breakouts, and inflammation.

So how and why does maskne develop? There are several factors:

  1. The skin under your mask is warmer, because the mask traps heat. The increased temperature causes your skins oil production to increase significantly - for every 1 degree rise in temperature of the skin, oil production increases by around 10% (according to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology). Increased oil = increased congestion and breakouts.

  2. The warm, dark, humid environment under your mask is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to overgrow. Bacterial imbalances can (and do) cause breakouts and inflammation in the skin, and this is worsened by the increased oil production.

  3. The material of your mask rubs your skin when you eat/talk/make facial expressions - and this friction causes irritation and worsens existing inflammation.

The combination of higher oil flow, overgrowth of bacteria, friction from the mask material, and heat/sweat build-up in a dark environment - it's the perfect storm for congestion, inflammation, and breakouts.

So, how do we treat it?

  • Include vitamin A (eg. retinol) and vitamin B3 (niacinamide) in your skincare routine at home. Both of these ingredients regulate oil production in the skin, so can help to mitigate the increased oil production caused by the heat of mask wearing. Additionally, vitamin B3 reduces inflammation, and supports bacterial balance on the skin.

  • If you’re not sensitive, include salicylic acid in your skincare routine. Anti-inflammatory, oil-reducing, and anti-microbial, salicylic acid is the perfect ingredient to decongest, control oil, and control breakouts.

  • Never use the same mask twice (unless you’ve washed it to re-use). If you’re masking for longer than 4 hours straight (eg. at work), change your mask halfway through the day - and cleanse your skin before you switch to the new mask. You can take some cleanser to work (in a travel container, or if you have a travel-size cleanser this is ideal), take your mask off in the bathroom and do a quick cleanse before switching to a fresh new mask. You’d be surprised how much of a difference this step can make.

  • Avoid wearing makeup under your mask if you can. Sweat and oil get trapped under makeup, and this can worsen congestion and breakouts - so if you don’t absolutely need to be wearing it on your masked areas - just don’t.

  • Apply a treatment serum under your mask in the morning to mitigate the effects of the mask during the day. Anything with salicylic acid, tea tree, niacinamide, or ideally all three - will work wonders to control oil and bacteria while you’re masked up. My top recommendations for an under-mask product would be Clarity serum by Cosmedix, and Multi B Plus from Aspect Dr (you can use these together).

All of these steps will help to reduce and control maskne (and for many of my clients, taking just a few of these measures was enough to get rid of their maskne altogether) - but in some cases, it's not going to be enough. That's when we bring in the big guns...

Vitamin A, mandelic acid, and salicylic acid peels (or combinations of all three peeling agents, which yes, we do offer) are the next step for maskne that is stubborn or out of control.

These peels essentially involve applying to the skin a high-concentration of the same ingredients you would be using at home to control maskne - for context, the highest strength retinols we are allowed to retail to clients, range from 0.5% to 1.5% retinol - the peels we offer range from 2.5%-6%. It's a similar story for salicylic acid - 2% is the maximum over-the-counter concentration we can retail, while our peels begin at 20%.

These higher concentrations of active ingredients do often cause visible flaking of the skin for several days after treatment - but they provide better control of persistent breakouts and oil production, as well as faster healing from existing breakouts. They also effectively reduce and treat post-breakout scarring.

Peels wont be necessary for everyone dealing with maskne - but they're an effective tool available for those who need them. If you're struggling with maskne, come in for a free consultation with us to discuss how best to treat your skin - you can book a consultation here.

As always, if you have any questions at all - send us an email at - we're here to help!

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