Face Mask Irritating Your Skin

Posted 4 years ago

Face Mask Irritating Your Skin?

As more places begin to re-open and wearing masks becomes routine, your skin may develop breakouts or “maskne,” a new term used to describe acne in the area a mask is worn.  There are a few different ways wearing a face mask may be irritating your skin, but there are steps you can take to prevent or treat it.

  1. Wearing a mask frequently can cause breakouts — acne that is caused because the mask traps dirt and oil in pores.
  2. Mask wearing can also cause skin conditions such as milia and rosacea.
  3. Emollient, moisturizer, and prescription medications can help control these breakouts.

The most common issue is facial redness in the shape of the mask, with the greatest prominence at the border, so people get an oval red outline. These areas are usually tender to the touch and any cream/lotion one would apply stings, as the skin barrier has been disrupted and inflamed causing the sensory nerves to be hypersensitive to touch.

Face Mask irritating your skin?Acne

Physical manipulation and pressure of a mask on the skin triggers acne.  The mask combined with friction, occlusion, and emotional stress of COVID-19.  Being a chronic inflammatory disease resulting in chronic skin barrier disruption, any stress on the skin or system overall can worsen this condition.

Stress is also known to trigger facial flares of acne, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and rosacea.  Together, stress and masks worsen facial skin disorders.


Also known as heat rash, milia can result from occlusion and sweat under the mask.  Mask wearing leads to local alteration of the skin microbiome. With mask use, the covered skin is subjected to elevated CO2 levels, increased humidity, higher temperatures, and more bacteria and microorganisms from the mouth and respiratory system.

Unlike acne, which is more immunologically complicated milia directly results from the immune system responding to trapped dead skin cells, bacteria, and sweat salts in the openings of the skin where they do not belong.

Face Mask irritating your skin? Rosacea

In addition to triggering acne flare-ups alteration of skin microbiome by masks can worsen or trigger rosacea, perioral dermatitis, as well as seborrheic dermatitis, a dandruff-like facial redness with scaling. While certain features of rosacea can mimic acne, rosacea is different.

Rosacea is a unique chronic inflammatory disease that results from skin barrier dysfunction, an overactive local immune response, and hypersensitive nerves around the blood vessels causing them to widen persistently, resulting in chronic facial redness. The same issues arise with wearing a mask all day in terms of disease exacerbation.

Care for Your Skin While Wearing a Mask.

Apply Emollient

Skin irritation with masks is most common along the bridge of the nose and central cheeks, where the flexible nosepiece is secured into place. This can be minimized by using a thicker emollient, such as Aquaphor, in the area to augment skin barrier function and provide lubrication for the junction of the mask with the skin.


Lighter consistency moisturizers, ideally with natural ingredients.  For diseases like acne and rosacea, this both instigates and propagates the abnormal inflammatory response. So, first things first, restoring that skin barrier is key. This means applying an oil-free moisturizer to damp skin multiple times a day.

When the skin is inflamed, which in the setting of acne, is even more problematic, as this can result in clogged pores, further worsening the condition. Topical retinoids are ideal for this.  Use of a retinol should be limited to problem areas and used sparingly.

Cleanse and Exfoliate

When you remove your mask gently cleanse and exfoliate your face.  Certainly, the buildup of oil, dead skin cells, and other debris can be irritating to the skin among other things. More importantly are external exposures (i.e., particulate matter that hits the outside of the mask, which is protecting you.

Also, making it routine to clean masks once you take them off is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , which states that cleaning cloth masks in the washing machine is sufficient.

Face Mask irritating your skin? Moderate to Severe Problems

For more moderate irritations and breakouts keeping the skin clean, hydrated, and protected is best.  For severe exacerbations, consult your Dermatologist or Primary Care Physician. There are prescription medications your dermatologist can prescribe via telehealth, if on-site visits are restricted. Ignoring conditions can lead to more severe skin problems.

Persistent irritant contact dermatitis increases the risk for skin infection, and constant rubbing and irritation and stress can (rarely) elicit a herpes cold sore outbreak in those that get them.  Chronic inflammation can lead to long-standing skin discoloration, called post-inflammatory pigment alteration, especially in darker-skinned individuals.

About Ann Sherman, MBA, LE, CMLT, LSO

Home Spa TreatmentsAnn is a licensed Medical Aesthetician and Certified Cosmetic Laser Technician, bringing 20 years of experience working in the medical field. After graduating from the Southwest Institute of Natural Aesthetics, she completed continuing education courses in advanced medical skin care, chemical peels, dermaplaning, specialized facials, and product knowledge. She then took her skin care knowledge to the next level by achieving certification through Oncology Aesthetics International.

About Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers

Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers (ICRC) is the largest multi-specialty oncology network in the Greater Metro Phoenix area. They have over 100 medical providers, a robust Integrative Services program and a dedicated clinical research department. Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers has 15 valley locations and five comprehensive cancer care centers that offer a multi-disciplinary approach for expedited personalized patient care. For more information, please visit www.ironwoodcrc.com.