How-to Guide: Getting rid of breakouts from (PPE) face masks
Friday, June 26, 2020

In recent months, with an increase in the wearing of protective face masks, there has been a simultaneous increase in a particular type of acne as a result.

What does it look like?

This type of acne can be identified as tiny, shallow whiteheads that pop up after wearing your medical, cloth, or paper face mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus. These differ to the deep and painful bumps usually caused by hormones.

Another defining factor to help identify this kind of breakout is its location – it will be along the lines of where the mask comes in contact with the skin – along the chinstrap, over the bridge of the nose and the cheeks.

What causes this kind of acne?

The reason for this is the breakdown of the skin's barrier; its outermost layer that shields you from outside irritants while keeping hydration locked in. A damaged barrier can lead to all kinds of irritation issues. This kind of breakout has a clinical name: acne mechanica.

  • Friction – this irritates the skin due to the constant rubbing of the mask on the face. This can also lead to irritation rashes (friction dermatitis)
  • Buildup – sweat and oil buildup on the skin beneath the mask and increased humidity from breathing into the mask clogs the pores, causing sebum and bacteria to proliferate under the skin. This buildup and humidity also increase the PH of the skin which can cause bacterial and/or yeast overgrowth on the skin
  • Washing – another way a cloth mask can cause breakouts is when it is not washed, and the cloth has a buildup of dirt and bacteria on it as a result

What can we do to help our skin?

  1. Use disposable paper masks. If re-using these, hang in a sunny spot and let it dry out for a couple of days
  2. If using cloth face masks, wash every 1-2 days
  3. Cleanse the skin daily using a gentle cleanser containing a mild exfoliating ingredient (e.g. a gentle salicylic acid or sulfur based face wash)
  4. Avoid using any irritating anti-aging or acne products during the day underneath the masks (e.g. avoid retinol, retinA, benzoyl peroxide)
  5. Use gentle, non-irritating skincare products with hydrating properties (e.g squalene, cermaides, hyaluronic acid) and anti-inflammatory ingredients (e.g. niacinamide, salicylic acid, CBD)
  6. To minimise the effect of friction on the skin, apply some plain Vaseline or skin balm to the points where the mask makes contact with the skin before putting the mask on
  7. Wash and cleanse the skin thoroughly when you remove the mask
  8. Try a new face mask fabric – you want to look for a material that creates as little friction as possible. Silk is the most gentle – look for brands that sell machine washable silk masks. Alternatively, choose a material that feels like silk on the skin but is easily machine washable.