Treating 'maskne': Here's how to beat face mask skin breakouts

woman wearing mask
They're great at keeping us safe, but might be wrecking havoc on your skin. Photo credit: Getty.

If there's one thing that keeps cropping up its ugly head for me throughout both lockdowns, its acne.

'Lockdown skin' became a real issue during the last COVID-19 alert levels 3 and 4, and this one looks to be no different, especially with face mask mania taking over the country. 

In other countries where face masks have been common practice throughout the pandemic, many adults have struggled with skin in a way they haven't since their teenage years.

In fact, breakouts caused by masks have become so prominent that the word 'maskne' has even been added to the Urban Dictionary.

"Virtually all skin types will see some form of irritation from wearing a face mask if they are wearing them for extended amounts of time each day," dermatologist Dr Dendy Engelman told the Washington Post.

"Many people will see irritation from the physical friction and/or pressure of the material on their skin, while others will see acne pop up."

That doesn't mean you should stop wearing a mask - heavens no! Instead, adopting several simple steps in your daily skincare routine will not only help clear those pesky spots, but also might leave you feeling a little better. 

Here are my top tips: 

Oil cleanse 

The ritualistic act of massaging an oil cleanser into the skin always makes me feel a little less anxious. Maybe its the massage element, or maybe its feeling gunk like SPF and sweat getting sucked out of my pores. Either way, the calming act of slowing down is not only perfect for lockdown stress, but will also most effectively dissolve much of the sweat, makeup and bacteria that can build up under a mask. Use a steaming hot flannel to wipe it off for an added bonus. 


Acne loves dead skin cells and bacteria, which means exfoliation is vitally important to help hit your 'maskne' before it even rears its ugly head. Rather than going in with an aggressive physical cleanser that may aggravate existing spots even more, use more gentle acids strong enough to slough away dead skin cells, like lactic and salicylic acid. 

Mask up

In an ironic twist, a face mask is your best friend here - but in this case, not one of the fabric ones protecting you from COVID-19. A good skin mask is your most effective way of battling 'maskne', as the ingredients are more concentrated. A clay mask will help suck any excess sebum and bacteria out of the pores - apply one liberally, but leave it no longer than 10 minutes, as any longer can dry the skin and have a reverse effect. Next, apply one with healing and anti-bacterial properties like mugwort or manuka honey to really treat the acne. 


Finish off with a nourishing but non-comedogenic moisturiser that won't clog your pores. This isn't the time to go in with too many oils, as your skin will already be a little more congested than usual. Choose lighter gel consistencies, or creams containing hyaluronic acid and pentavitin to really seal in the moisture, and reduce the possibility of future scarring. 

Cover up

Pimple patches are great for wearing under masks, as nobody will be able to see them, but they'll be treating the spot right at the source. The K-beauty innovations are small, circular hydrocolloid bandages, which absorb fluid from a pimple. They're particularly exciting because you can actually see them working, as the patch turns white and the inflamed skin flattens out. As an added bonus, it's an extra layer of protection for the wound from your mask. 

Most important, when using a reusable mask make sure you're washing it regularly and where possible, dry it in the sunshine to help kill off any nasty bacteria. 

Now sleep soundly on your fresh face and get ready to mask up again tomorrow.