What is 'maskne?' SF doctor explains how to prevent, treat acne breakouts under your face mask

Thursday, July 16, 2020
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Face mask acne has become a real thing during the coronavirus pandemic. A San Francisco doctor explains how to prevent and treat it.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Face mask acne has become a real thing during the coronavirus pandemic as people embrace mask-wearing culture.

The unsightly side effect is affecting more and more people.

"Acne is a four letter word and it cuts to your self-esteem," said Dr. Kathy Fields, a San Francisco dermatologist and one of the acne experts behind the Proactiv and Rodan+Fields skincare lines.

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"Now because you're wearing a mask, you're kind of confident from here up," said Dr. Fields pointing to the top of her face, "here we're making a breeding ground for more acne," she explained about the lower half of the face.

"Maskne," more formally known as "acne mechanica," is popping up as painful pimples on mask-wearers everywhere.

"I haven't had little pimples by the edge of my nose since I was like 16 years old! Where is this coming from? So it's totally frustrating, it's a thing," said San Francisco resident, Jenn Knopps, who also said her chin is breaking out.

"My skin has just gotten so bad," said Shelby Brown, a registered labor and delivery nurse. "Especially times when we have to wear an N95 and then a surgical mask over, it really keeps everything in there, so it's almost like a petri dish on your face."

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Dr. Fields says the N95 masks can be particularly tough on skin. "You've got a metal clip, a tight fit, and now you've got humidity, sweat, a change in the microbiome, and the bacteria goes crazy."

Since masks must be worn, Dr. Fields recommends a simple treatment plan:

"Start with the over-the-counter, with a salicylic acid cleanser in the morning, and a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide at night, and not just the spot, but the full zone," she said adding, "the secret - stay on it to stay clear. If you stop using it, the bumps just come right back."

As for prevention, she says, "no makeup, makeup makes it worse."

And when picking your mask, she says "cotton is the most breathable, it wicks away. Wash it every day."

Dr. Fields also says topical sulfur acne products are helpful.

She says specifically for mask acne, to avoid retinoids, which can cause further irritation.

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