10 Ways to Combat Acne From Wearing a Face Mask (Maskne)

Published on: June 18, 2020
Last updated: October 5, 2020

How to combat maskne

As if dealing with a pandemic weren't bad enough, it turns out taking everyday precautionary measures like wearing a cloth or disposable surgical mask to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 can cause acne.

Mask induced acne is so rampant there's a name for it: maskne.  What's causing maskne?

  • your skin is in constant contact with a moisture rich environment that's also warmer than usual... this environment makes skin more fragile and sensitive
  • not changing your mask often enough (read: buildup of bacteria within your mask)
  • your mask physically rubbing your face in spots

All of this combined can cause inflammation sparking a breakout.  And, even if you're managing to avoid zits, you may be having more frequent and intense flares of dermatitis and may even have some inflamed hair follicles (folliculitis) on your face due to wearing your mask for extended lengths of time.

Regardless of whether you're dealing with maskne, dermatitis, or folliculitis, these tips can help.

So, what can you do to combat mask induced acne?

Here's the short list, and we're talking about each one in detail below:

  1. Go makeup free
  2. Ditch silicone
  3. Stick to a routine
  4. Know your skin
  5. Avoid over exfoliating
  6. And, avoid over washing
  7. Lighten up
  8. Reconsider your laundry detergent
  9. Adopt a two towel regimen
  10. When all else fails, here's how to reduce the appearance of acne (without makeup)

Let's start with the BIG one, the one that will probably make you uncomfortable.

Go Makeup Free

Let's face it, right now, half our face is covered anyways when we're in public.  And, I know stepping foot into civilization bare faced can elicit the same feelings as stepping outside naked. 

Most of us (myself included) have a HUGE psychological barrier to being seen in public without makeup.

But, I'm here to help you overcome this barrier if you're willing to try a makeup free workday. 

Breaking the cycle

In 2013, I decided to stop wearing makeup to work.

It was INCREDIBLY hard at first.  I used to have a pretty blotchy complexion, was prone to a red nose, sallow cheeks, and too frequent breakouts. I was uncomfortable and self-conscious at first.

However, over time (whether real or perceived) my complexion started looking better and better and I actually started believing I looked better WITHOUT makeup. 

I'd finally broken through the myth that women look better with makeup.

Whether I became used to looking at my makeup free face or whether my complexion really has improved with a makeup free routine, I'm not entirely sure, but I love how much better my skin looks and feels now than then. 

Let's talk through what you gain by going makeup free and then talk through some of the practical aspects.

    Imagine how much time you could save every day if you stop wearing makeup daily.  Imagine how much money you could save every year if you stopped using foundation daily.  And, imagine loving your skin without makeup.

    How to go makeup free

    If you've ever been tempted to go makeup free but struggle with acne, are worried about the too dark circles under your eyes, or feel there's some other fault with your skin that you feel self-conscious about, then I'm really going to push you to start the transformation towards being more comfortable without makeup right now, during the pandemic.

    Why?  Because face masks make it SO easy to hide many blemishes (and perceived blemishes) right now without concealer or foundation.  

    If you feel too vulnerable, too bare, too naked without any makeup at all, then go ahead and apply your eye makeup (even your under eye concealer if you feel you need it) and of course lipstick. 

    Just for now though, try to go foundation and blush free - and skip the concealer on any part of your face that's hidden behind a mask.

    It's okay to wrestle with emotion on this one.  At least half of skincare is self discovery and walking into the world with a bare face is a huge act of self discovery... and self love. 

    I realize this is a HUGE ask.  And, I put makeup free first because I really want you to shift your perspective of your skin.  Your skin should not cause you shame, and you shouldn't worry about trying to hide it from the world, your skin is an important part of who you are just like your thoughts and your emotions.

    Your skin is an organ to care for and love, and you'll find that message spoken repeatedly at Rain Organica.  And, it's okay to show your skin barefaced makeup free in all its glory to the world.

    Challenge:  Take a long look at your makeup free face in the mirror noticing all the things you don't like and then go foundation free for 30 days checking in closely after 2 weeks and then again at the end of the month.  I'd love to hear how your perspective shifts during this 30 day makeup free challenge. 

    close up of woman wearing a surgical mask

    Ditch Silicone

    One of the reasons I stopped wearing makeup is because so many makeup products contain silicone.  Even pressed powders often contain silicone. 

    Silicone fluids are often added to cosmetics because they offer incredible skin feel and great slip, which makes makeup go on more smoothly.  However, I have found that skincare products (whether makeup or lotions) containing silicone leave me looking greasy. 

    My skin also feels greasy and gross when I use products containing silicone, which usually leads me down the over cleansing and over exfoliating pathway.

    While there's great debate over whether silicone is comedogenic or not, I feel that silicone contributes to breakouts for me personally.  Whether that's due to my tendency to over cleanse/over exfoliate while using products containing silicone or whether it's truly due to silicone causing acne for my skin, I'm not sure.

    What I’m sure of is that my skin looks better when I avoid all products containing silicone, and I wholeheartedly believe you might see a profound difference in how your skin looks and feels by eliminating silicone containing products from your skincare routine.  If you're looking for silicone free skincare products, you'll find them here - all Rain Organica products are silicone free.

    Silicones are also common ingredients in hair care products – shampoos, conditioners, and most leave on hair care products contain silicone.  If you choose to keep those products in your hair care routine, try wearing a hair covering (silk scarf) to bed every night to avoid buildup of silicones from your hair care products onto your pillowcase (where they can then wind up on your face).

    woman removing a pillowcase from a pillow

    A few common names for silicone ingredients in skincare and hair care products are dimethicone, dimethiconol, simethicone, and cyclopentasiloxane. 

    There are many different types of silicones in skincare and hair care, so if you'd like to eliminate these from either your skincare or hair care routine, check the ingredients list and avoid products containing ingredients with names ending in -cone, -siloxane, or -conol.

    Stick to a Routine

    Right now, your skincare routine has changed without you even realizing it.  Your face is now covered by a mask for however many hours a day and that makes things more hot, more humid, and less breathable for half your face.  And, some days, you wear a mask longer than other days.

    I know this sounds counter-intuitive and boring, but I'm a huge advocate of developing a skincare routine and sticking to it. 

    Let’s just think about routines for a minute.  They can be soul crushing and monotonous…  or, they can become rituals creating meaning in the monotony. 

    Here are some great, soul nourishing routines (rituals):

    • making a healthy breakfast for yourself every morning
    • carving space into your day for exercise
    • sharing tea with a beloved coworker every Wednesday at 3
    • greeting coworkers, clients, customers, & patients in a particular way that's all your own

    Contrary to the mundane thoughts associated with the word "routine", routines are good.  Countless studies show that having a set schedule improves mental health.  It’s no surprise that Headspace and other companies focused on mental health and meditation have posted so many blog posts on the benefits of routine

    Routines help ensure time for everything important – carving time for creative work, time to nourish important relationships, time to care for our bodies. An exercise routine is necessary to develop muscle mass – a single month of exercise just isn’t enough to sustain a body’s composition over the duration of a year... or a lifetime. 

    If routine is so great to organize the chaos of life, keep our body in shape, and to still our minds, then we should assume it’s also good for our skin.

    Now that I've delivered my justification for why routines are good, let me ask you a couple questions:

    Have you ever switched up something in your skincare routine and needed a few weeks for your skin to calm down after the switch? 

    How likely are you to change up your skincare routine a week before vacation or a significant event (especially if photography is involved)?

    Your routine does not need to be painfully long or overly confusing, but it does need to work for you in every season of the year in your geographical location. 

    It can be blissfully simple – three steps in fact:  cleanse, tone, moisturize.  The cleanser and the moisturizer might need to be switched up seasonally, and we’ll talk more about that later in this post.

    Know your skin

    You are your own skincare expert. 

    Nobody, including your dermatologist, knows your skin better than you. 

    I have an inkling that you are like me, you know when it’s reached that certain temperature when your skin can no longer tolerate the extra nourishing oils you’ve been using all winter, when you need to swap from your incredibly gentle cream cleanser over to your incredibly gentle facial soap… at least until the mercury drops.

    If you aren’t quite comfortable with how thoroughly you know your own skin, I invite you to experiment. 

    If you have a really long routine, eliminate one product a month and notice how your skin reacts. 

    If you have a short routine already but aren’t happy with your skin’s appearance or texture, swap one product at a time in your regimen giving a grace period of at least a month to transition and see how your skin reacts – both how it looks and how it feels. 

    This little experiment isn’t about gaining control but rather understanding your skin even more, and also boosting your confidence (self-knowledge, whether about our minds or our bodies is an incredible confidence booster). 

    Avoid Over Exfoliating

    I used to think exfoliating was the secret behind maintaining clear skin.  Of course, what I experienced was I had to exfoliate more and more often to prevent breakouts.

    Follicular hyperkeratinization, which basically means skin cells within hair follicles are shed at a more rapid pace than they’re removed from the hair follicle leading to comedome formation, is part of the acne cycle.

    While exfoliation should be a good thing to promote removal of those shed skin cells within the hair follicle, frequent exfoliation can contribute to acne.  Have you ever used a retinoid or topical acne treatment and wound up with dryness, redness, and flakiness? 

    Redness is a hallmark of inflammation, and it’s exactly what we want to reduce when battling acne.

    Challenge:  For one month, stop using chemical exfoliator products.  If you’re prone to blackheads, try weekly or biweekly spot exfoliation just of areas where you frequently develop blackheads (chemical exfoliators containing salicylic acid are usually considered best for treating blackheads).  Spare the rest of your face from exfoliation.

    If you cannot make it through the month without some sort of exfoliator for your whole face, opt for a clay powder mask or a chia seed mask (both are gentle mechanical exfoliators instead of chemical exfoliators).

    chia seeds spilling out of a wooden spoon onto a white background

    A chia seed mask is easy to make at home – just place a teaspoon of chia seeds in a tablespoon of water or milk to hydrate for 10-20 minutes before applying to your face.  If you don’t like the larger seeds, you can also grind dry chia seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor and then make a paste of the ground seeds with water or milk.

    Whichever mask you choose, keep it wet while it’s on your face by spritzing with toner when it starts to dry out and try using a full facial mask at most once every other week during this month.

    After one month, if you find spot exfoliation leaves you with a dull complexion, rather than bringing your standard exfoliator routine back, consider a night lotion with niacinamide or L-Carnitine.  Both of these ingredients encourage cellular turnover. 

    How is cellular turnover different than exfoliation?

    During chemical (alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids) or mechanical (gentle abrasion like a super soft washcloth, superfine clay or hydrated chia seeds) exfoliation, you’re removing the outermost layer of skin cells aiding the natural process of desquamation.

    Shedding that outermost layer of skin cells is the very last step in cellular turnover. 

    Underneath the outermost layer of skin cells lie layers of mature skin cells ready to take their place, and underneath those cellular layers lies a hotbed of immature skin cells.

    Ingredients like niacinamide and L-carnitine promote more rapid maturity in the lower layers of skin cells getting them ready to take the place of the outer layers more quickly. 

    So, rather than encouraging the natural desquamation process  merely at the surface like exfoliators, niacinamide and L-carnitine promote cellular turnover at a deeper level.

    And, avoid over washing

    As someone who battled mid-day sheen for years, this was a lesson I learned late.  Over washing and over exfoliating share a similarity… dryness caused by stripping the skin’s moisture barrier. 

    Challenge:  If you currently wash your skin twice a day, cut back to once a day – at the end of your day.  Upon waking, skip the cleanser, and instead spritz your face with toner and wipe to remove signs of sleep, spritz again, then apply moisturizer.

    woman applying toner to her face

    Lighten up

    If you typically switch from a heavier to a lighter moisturizer by season, then definitely consider a lighter moisturizer if you’re wearing a mask daily (or most days). 

    You may find you need a lighter moisturizer just for the part of your face that’s covered with the mask.  If you need to use two products, apply the lighter product first to problematic areas and then your heavier product to the rest of your face.

    You might even consider an oil free serum instead of a lotion if you're really struggling with maskne.

    (Re)consider your laundry detergent

    If you’re washing all your cloth masks with your regular laundry, consider a separate wash just for your cloth masks using gentle (and unscented) laundry detergent or hand washing with gentle laundry detergent or hand soap. 

    If you're looking for a clean laundry detergent for your masks, check out Mama Suds.  You can choose from unscented or fragranced with essential oils, and it's basically castille soap for your clothes.

    It’s definitely important to thoroughly cleanse your masks to kill any virus particles that may be trapped in it, so be sure to lather each one up very well.

    Rather than eschew machine drying, just be sure to leave the scented dryer sheets out of the dryer when your cloth masks are in the machine or pick up some wool dryer balls while you're at Mama Suds.

    Consider the same treatment for your pillowcase and face towels.  Even if your laundry detergent hasn’t historically been a problem for you, wearing a cloth mask during the day puts your face in direct contact with any detergent residues or residual dryer sheet fragrances.  This prolonged contact might be enough to aggravate acne.

    woman with red nails carrying folded laundry

    Adopt a two-towel regimen

    Okay, this one sounds a little nutty, but hang with me.  Use two towels after showering, one dedicated to drying off your face and one dedicated to drying your hair and body.  This goes back to avoiding transferring product from your hair to your face and also holds if you apply any body products in the shower before toweling off.

    Reduce the appearance of acne

    To reduce redness of existing cysts, opt for products containing anti-inflammatory ingredients.  Licorice, high in the anti-inflammatory compound glycyrrhetinic acid, is phenomenal at relieving the appearance of redness.  Aloe and cucumber are also excellent choices. 

    Rain Organica uses aloe and cucumber in just about every product offered here, and you'll find licorice plus aloe and cucumber in Leave No Trace Facial Cleanser.

    And, if you enjoyed this article, be sure to sign up for Rain Organica's community where you'll receive access to in-depth downloads across a range of topics - from skin health to sustainable living.

    Brandy Searcy founder Rain Organica

    About the Author

    Brandy's a formulation scientist and self-proclaimed health geek who loves hiking, gardening, bird-watching, and body boarding. 

    Her struggle with acne during her teens and 20s led to a holistic and healthy approach to skincare, embracing skin as an organ to be loved and cared for rather than a canvas to wage war on. 

    Since 2008, she's been developing all-in-one products for a simple routine at home, & Rain Organica started when her backpacking friends asked for a portable skincare routine to keep their skin healthy & happy on and off the trails.

    You can try Rain Organica for yourself with The Essentials Kit, a complete skincare routine in just 3 steps.

    Brandy's LinkedIn Bio

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