Maskne - The New Acne - What Causes It and What Will Help?

Maskne - The New Acne - What Causes It and What Will Help?

What's causing maskne?

One of the benefits of reaching a more, shall we say, “mature” age is that concerns about sudden breakouts and skin flareups are mostly a thing of the past. But there’s a new skin concern bringing back memories of those stressful days at the drugstore, searching for topical products to fight acne. Enter “maskne”.

In addition to many changes in our lives, maskne is the occurrence of breakouts related to wearing facial masks, especially for hours at a time. If you're experiencing this new and troublesome skin concern, you're not alone. It’s a real thing and many of us are dealing with it: “acne mechanica” meaning irritation from mechanical friction against the skin. This isn't a new thing (football players wearing helmets in the heat have likely experienced something similar), it's just new to many of us... 

We're hearing a lot about it from our clients lately. So, for busy people everywhere, let’s talk about why this is happening, and how we deal with it.

Acne in general is caused when pores become clogged with excess dead skin cells, and sebum (skin oil) which, when mixed together can seal the pore. What does this low-oxygen environment cause in the pore? The perfect environment for the growth of acne bacteria – the extra sebum feeds the “bad” bacteria. And what does acne-causing bacteria love even more? Moisture, warmth, sweating, trapped dirt and irritation from the mask rubbing on your skin. Masks by their nature are designed to be occlusive = skin nightmare. You’ll likely find breakouts worse in the areas where the mask is touching the face and causing irritation and congestion. The final ingredient in this perfect storm is the stress that comes with this entire situation.

10 Tips to Clear and Prevent Maskne:

  1. Wash your face twice a day but don't overdo it. Over-cleansing or over exfoliating can disrupt the skin barrier, causing irritation and making things worse. Using a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) like Salicylic Acid is a great choice, just check the concentration - for twice daily cleansing, we recommend between 1-2%. Salicylic Acid is a fat-soluble beta-hydroxy acid and is a gold standard in acne prevention. It penetrates the pore well, regulates skin oils and helps to normalize keratin (which can plug pores). Among the benefits are anti-inflammatory properties. Using a gentle exfoliating sponge can help keep surface cells moving - but again, don't overdo it! Always use lukewarm, not hot water. 
  1. Have multiple face masks so you can wash them every night. If your mask will hold up, use hot water or the steam cycle and a fragrance-free, dye-free laundry detergent. Setting the washer for an extra rinse cycle helps too. If you just purchased new reusable masks, be sure to wash them first to remove any potential irritants that might be on the fabric. Some of my favorite detergents for sensitive skin are: Persil ProClean Sensitive Skin, Tide Free & Gentle, Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin and Seventh Generation Free & Clear. And, one last thing, as much as we love how amazing fresh, soft laundry smells and feels, for now, skip the fabric softener. 
  1. Use a gentle retinoid (Vitamin A). In short, retinoids accelerate skin cell turnover/renewal and keep the pores clear of excess skin cells and oils which can lead to breakouts. We like retinol esters such as retinyl acetate because they work well and are generally well tolerated by most skin types. What you don't want right now is skin that's red, irritated, flaking and angry from strong retinols. Especially if it's your first time using a form of Vitamin A, start slowly and allow your skin to adjust to the accelerated renewal process. A bonus side benefit to regular retinoid use - anti-aging - win! We recommend using your retinol at night and applying a daily, protective SPF. 
  1. Weekly at-home spa facial clarifying mask. If you can find the time, we highly recommend using a clarifying, enzyme mask once per week. Here are the basic steps to creating an at-home spa facial. First, start with clean skin. Second, create a steam bowl by simply filling a bowl with very hot water. If you want to really bump up the relaxation, add a few slices of orange or a few drops of essential oils (my favorite are orange- sweet and bright or lavender- clean and calm). Position your face over the bowl with a towel on your head and allow the beauty benefits of steam to go to work on your skin and your mind! Gently blot the skin dry with a soft towel. Third, apply a gentle enzyme mask to face, neck and chest. Enzymes go to work on the surface of the skin breaking apart and removing dead skin cells that can clog pores. Post-treatment, your skin should feel fresh, renewed and hydrated. Allow the mask to sit for 3-10 minutes or as directed/as your skin tolerates. Finally, treat your skin to a nutrient-rich moisturizer.
  1. Be sure to moisturize! Many people skip this step when breakouts happen but don't! Moisturizer isn't the culprit here and can actually help maintain the healthy, protective surface layer. Part of the acne process, especially in maskne, is inflammation and irritation - we want to disrupt that in any way possible by nurturing the skin with healthy moisture, and topicals to keep the cellular, lipid matrix and skin barrier strong.
  1. Bump up your nutrition and be sure to drink enough water. I recently started buying and drinking "juices" and have noticed a huge improvement in my skin brightness and clarity. During a time when we are all stressed and likely not sleeping or eating as well, juicing is a great way to boost your nutrition. A couple favorites of mine are beet + carrot and kale + cucumber. As for water, try drinking at least half your body weight in ounces per day or slightly more if you are exercising or outside sweating a lot. Nutritional discipline is easier said than practiced, especially when we’re stressed because nothing seems normal right now. Meal planning may have gone by the wayside; while sugar and junk food feel even more comforting. But, for your health in general, and especially the health of your skin, skip the junk food as much as possible. Sugar is a pro-inflammatory – exactly what we are trying to prevent in the acne cycle. Sugar also does a number on healthy gut flora which is key to our immune system.
  1. If you can, avoid makeup in acne-prone areas. It's a great idea to give your skin a break and eliminate one more potential cause of clogged pores. You don't have to skip it all together but focus on the eyes instead of heavy foundation or powder, especially in areas covered by a mask.
  1. Try a facial mist or a toner mid-day. We recommend finding a toner without alcohol in the list of ingredients. (Ethanol can help minimize bacteria but, in the process, can also damage the important lipid layer that we are trying to protect, as well as leave skin feeling dry and tight.) There are other gentler actives to help keep bacteria in check – we also don’t want to decimate the good bacteria on our skin! A facial mist is an easy way to take care of your skin quickly and conveniently during the day, help to control skin oils and remove some of the sweat and dirt that get trapped under a mask - simply mist and blot with a cotton pad or tissue (just don't rub!). The antioxidants and nutrition are calming and healing. Some actives to look for in your facial mist: witch hazel (calming, helps to cleanse and tone), green tea EGCG (helps to decrease oil production, and fights acne-causing bacteria, excellent antioxidant), Vitamin E (oil-soluble antioxidant that’s beneficial for cell restoration and healing), Aloe (contains natural vitamins like A and C as well as being anti-inflammatory).
  1. Easier said than done but find healthy ways to reduce your stress level. Cortisol is our primary stress hormone and in small doses, it's very necessary for life, it's meant to protect you (we're talking about a bear chasing you in the woods here). However, if we don't keep the alarm bells (from rushing to soccer practice, bills to pay, work deadlines to meet) in check and allow those levels to come back to a normal level after the threat is gone, cortisol that's meant to protect us can do bad things. Cortisol naturally elevates our blood sugar levels, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. while slowing things like our immune system and digestive system that aren't imperative to immediate survival. For our skin, chronic stress can look like dry skin, accelerated aging, acne and inflammation or redness. Stress reduction is discovering what we love and incorporating those things, even in small measure, into our daily lives. Consider downloading a good audiobook and going for a walk or meeting a friend for coffee (or wine! Or both!). One of my favorite reads lately was Where the Crawdads Sing. Next up on my reading list, The Great Alone. Spending more time with your furry friends – did you know that just petting your loving animal buddy can ease anxiety?! I can say with all certainty that our Golden Retriever is not at all stressed on a daily basis – we need to be more like him! 
  1. Wash beauty sponges, brushes, pillowcases more frequently. For your cleansing sponges and pillowcases, simply throw them in the washing machine with your mask. Beauty brushes – a simple dishwashing soap  or even a gentle facial cleanser and hot water will do the trick.

Recommended quick and easy skincare regimen to help with maskne:


Cleanse skin gently using Salicylic Cleanser. We suggest using an exfoliating sponge and gentle circular motions. Rinse well with warm water. Pat dry, do not rub.

Apply Complete Daily Moisture to clean, dry skin on face, neck and chest.

Spritz Facial Mist or apply Toner as needed during the day.


Cleanse skin using Salicylic Cleanser.

Apply Retinol Evening Renewal Serum to clean, dry skin on face, neck and chest.

Apply Complete Daily Moisture to face, neck, and chest.

Once per week, apply Clearly Radiant Enzyme Mask.  It’s a gentle mask that nourishes and softens skin with nutrients and antioxidants, including aloe vera and centella asiatica (gotu kola). In just a few minutes before rinsing, it clarifies and tones, drawing out impurities and improving skin texture.  Hyaluronic acid infuses hydration deep into the skin layers for a softer, smoother, rejuvenated skin surface.

We hope this is helpful for you! Have questions - we're happy to help! Send us a message at 

Be well! 

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