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Genevieve Monsma

Updated: 12/07/2022

The second wave of mask-induced skin issues has hit. Here’s how to deal.

Even for the vaccinated, face freedom was short lived. Thanks to the highly-contagious COVID-19 Delta variant, masks are now being mandated again indoors in places such as Los Angeles. Even when it’s not forced, some people are opting to wear a mask in crowded spots such as grocery stores, movie theaters, workout classes and of course, airplanes.

It’s what we need to do to stay safe, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it — especially when our skin is staging a revolt in the form of mask-ne. “Wearing a mask over our mouth creates a hot, humid environment— and summer weather exacerbates this, creating acne around the mouth, jawline and cheeks for many people,” says Miriam Cardoos, an esthetician at THE WELL New York. “It can appear as small bumps trapped under the skin or visible pimples.”

To combat mask-ne breakouts, try these strategies:

1 Always wear a clean, soft mask

Wearing a mask repeatedly without washing it allows bacteria to accumulate on the cloth, setting the stage for an acne flare up. “To prevent this, wash fabric masks in gentle unscented detergent after each use (THE WELL makes an awesome cotton mask you can find here.) And if you’re wearing disposable masks, toss them after one day of wear,” says Cardoos.

2 Skip or wear minimal makeup under a mask

Even lightweight makeup can clog pores in an occlusive, warm, humid environment. To minimize the risk, consider forgoing foundation, powder, bronzer, etc. on any skin under the cloth. It’s also probably a good idea to skip lip color or gloss because, in a warm environment, it’s apt to migrate into (and clog) the pores around your mouth.

3 Double cleanse at the end of the day 

“Double cleanse at the end of the day, especially if you’ve been wearing makeup,” says Cardoos. The goal: to get rid of all acne-causing bacteria and grime — without being too aggressive. “Cleanse thoroughly but don’t strip the skin because that can impair the skin’s barrier function and make you more susceptible to acne flares,” she explains. Her anti-mask-ne cleanser picks: Biologique Recherche’s Eau Miscellaire Biosensible and Biologique Recherche’s Lait U.

4 Don't Overexfoliate

“A common mistake people make when they’re breaking out is to want to scrub away the clogged skin,” says Cardoos. But, similar to cleansing too aggressively, sloughing away too many skin cells can impair the skin’s barrier function — and inhibit its ability to protect itself. “So, while exfoliation is vital to skin health, be careful not to overdo it. Avoid physical scrubs and use toners or lotions with alpha and beta hydroxy acids, which keep pores clear but are less likely to negatively impact the barrier,” says Cardoos, who recommends Biologique Recherche Lotion P50.

5 Choose a moisturizer that’s hydrating, not heavy.

“Look for very light moisturizing ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, and avoid anything with added fragrance, which can irritate the skin, especially when trapped under a mask,” says Cardoos. Ideally, choose a moisturizer that has sunscreen in it to limit the amount of product layering you do under a mask. Multiple layers of creams that are very rich will all up the risk of breakouts, warns Cardoos. She likes Elta MD because it boasts several daytime products that protect and hydrate the skin without being too heavy.

6 When In Doubt, See A Derm

“You can and should consult with a licensed esthetician for a skin analysis and to review your at-home routine to keep your skin barrier healthy and minimize the risk of mask-ne,’ says Cardoos. “But if your skin becomes red and rashy after frequent mask wearing, that may be more than mild mask-ne. It could be perioral dermatitis or a rosacea flare, and those require assistance from a dermatologist.”

RELATED: Your Healthy Summer Skin Checklist

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