Help for Breakouts Caused by Wearing a Mask

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

By Leighanne McGill, PA-C

Masks have quickly become our “new normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks do help decrease the spread of the coronavirus, but the blockage of the skin (occlusion) caused by the cloth or surgical mask can cause acne-like bumps or breakouts. When worn properly, masks increase heat and humidity, which increases inflammatory markers that will worsen acne in the distribution where the mask is worn. The Mascne – “mask acne” got you down? Here are some tips to help!

CLEANSE: During this time, I recommend a cleanser containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or elemental sulfur. Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid helps keep the pores clean. Benzoyl peroxide is a topical antibiotic that decreases levels of Cutibacterium acnes, the bacteria that worsen inflammation on the skin. For those with sensitive or rosacea-prone skin, an elemental sulfur wash is a gentle option that decreases skin redness and inflammation.

TREAT: Glycolic acid is effective for treating acne while enhancing skin quality. This gentle chemical exfoliant that prevents the top layer of the skin from sticking together and is mild enough for those with sensitive skin. Glycolic acid also will help reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation left behind after pimples fade away.

PROTECT: Moisturizing to protect the skin during downtime is essential to restore the skin barrier and relieve irritated skin caused by pressure from masks. Aim to moisturize more frequently, at least twice daily. Look for ingredients such as niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, which help nourish and heal the skin.

Masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future as well all try to flatten the curve and prevent future spread of COVID-19. Thankfully, there are many excellent options to treat and prevent “mascne.” See my product recommendations below!

Product recommendations:


Salicylic acid wash: Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash

Benzoyl peroxide wash: Cervae Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

Elemental sulfur: Sulfacetamide sodium 10/5 wash, available by prescription


Glycolic Acid: Glycoclic acid 10% pads, Medical Grade available at @dlcofchapelhill OR Alpha/Beta Medical Grade Pads available at @adamdermatology. Over the counter option: Pixi Glow Tonic 5% GA


Alastin Skin Nectar, anti-inflammatory healing serum. Neutrogena Hydryboost Gel Cream. Cervae Cream. La Roache Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face moisturizer

Diva Tip: An accumulation of debris such as sweat, dust, and bacteria can contribute to acne flares.

Ms. Leighanne McGill is a Board-Certified Physician Assistant specializing in dermatology. She practices at the Dermatology and Laser Center of Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Leighanne believes the highest quality of care and best patient outcomes occur when patients and providers make decisions together using evidence-based methods and treatments. Her passions include all areas of medical and cosmetic dermatology. Follow Leighanne on Instagram @LRMpaDerm and Tiktok @skininthegame

Renata Block is the creator of Savvy Derm Diva, an online resource for proper skin care. Diva Chronicles is a monthly column discussing everything skin! Make sure you follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter! Need a dermatology consult? Please visit Advanced Dermatology & Aesthetic Medicine, LLC or Call/Text 847-802-9667 for a TeleDerm appointment. MUAH!????