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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Maskne is a new phenomenon coined in the COVID-19 pandemic to describe the acne experienced around the nose, upper lip, and chin area in a response to regularly wearing a mask. Mask-provoked acne is new to the general public but has long been experienced by medical and construction workers.

The causes of these pimples, or whiteheads, are two-fold. First, the physical barrier that masks provide causes pores to become blocked with the dead skin cells we shed all the time, so-called acne mechanica. A bacteria associated with acne, called P. acnes, causes inflammation in blocked pores and sebaceous (oil-forming) glands. In addition to the physical friction, masks provide a warm, moist environment for P. acnes to grow and multiply, thus further inflaming the spots and even causing deep spots called cysts.

As mask-wearing has become an important component of avoiding the virus in the current pandemic and essential in certain aspects of life, including in shops, public transport, and some workplaces and schools, maskne is a fact of life many of us need to adjust to.

Simple measures can reduce physical irritation. If you want to wear a single-use mask, choose one with a structure that lifts away from the mouth and nose and seals around the edges. These look a bit like beaks. Choosing silk over other materials for reusable masks may cause less friction and irritation and be more breathable while still offering protection. You should make sure you wash these regularly.

Regular and gentle cleansing can help to reduce skin congestion and clogged pores. Wearing make-up that claims to be non-comedogenic (non-spot-forming) and looking for chemical exfoliants in creams and serums, such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid, will all help to keep spots at bay.

You can also buy targeted spot treatments from your pharmacist to help with individual blemishes.

Doctor’s advice

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

It is important to clean the skin, removing any sweat build-up in pores. If your skin type is naturally dry, then use a moisturizer to act as a barrier to prevent friction and irritation.

If your skin type is naturally quite oily, using a face wipe may help remove excess moisture and sweat build-up and make wearing a face mask for prolonged periods a bit more comfortable.

Am I fit for work?

Yes, you are fit for work if you are suffering from maskne.

Further explanation of treatments

Appearance is important to all of us, and skin problems can hugely affect our self-esteem and confidence. If you feel your acne is causing substantial distress and over-the-counter remedies have not gotten on top of it, book a routine appointment to discuss it with your doctor. They will ask about your acne, examine you, and suggest prescription medications.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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