What's Going On Under Your Face Mask? 5 Tips to Avoid Acne & Breakouts

by Raychel Agramon, RN, MPM, June 09, 2020

What's Going On Under Your Face Mask? 5 Tips to Avoid Acne & Breakouts

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is advisable to wear a face mask or a cloth face cover whenever you go out. Not only will it help shield you from the Coronavirus, but it may also help protect the people around you. 

While a mask is undoubtedly good for your overall health, wearing it frequently can take a toll on your skin. That's because it creates a moist, hot skin environment, according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner. In his interview with Refinery 29, he explained that "This can lead to a build-up of sweat and oil on the skin under the mask, which can lead to inflammation, rashes, and even acne breakouts."

So how do you keep your face blemish-free in this time of necessary mask-wearing? Well, the experts have these 5 skin-saving tips to share:

Wash Your Face Before and After Wearing a Mask

Nowadays, it’s not only your hands that you need to wash. If you want to keep your face acne-free, then you need to wash your face before and after wearing a mask as well. 

According to Dr. Zeichner, it’s best to use a foaming cleanser. He adds that "Foaming cleansers remove oil more effectively than hydrating oils or balms will.” 

While foaming cleansers are suitable for most complexions, those with very oily skin should use a product that contains salicylic acid. Such products can help remove oil and dead skin cells from the surface. Best of all, it can help unclog pores that have the most potential to trigger breakouts. 


The importance of moisturizer, especially in this mask-wearing age, cannot be emphasized further. Whether you have combination skin or an oily one, you need to religiously apply a hydrator on your face. 

So how does a moisturizer help keep your face safe from acne? For one, it helps maintain the integrity of the skin barrier, a layer made of skin cells called corneocytes. These cells, by way of cornification, clump together to form the skin’s protective barrier. 

The skin barrier is important because it helps defend the body from germs and other foreign materials. At the same time, it helps maintain water balance in the skin. Without adequate moisture, the skin can become dry and more likely to crack ‘open.’ This becomes a welcome entryway to germs and dirt that can trigger acne and other skin conditions. 

The same thing happens when you wear a mask for a long time. It's always in close contact with the skin, and as such, can damage the barrier. This is especially the case if the skin is not moisturized well. 

To keep your protective skin layer healthy and safe from pimple-causing germs, it's important that you apply a light moisturizer. This should be done regularly before and after you (wash your face and) wear a mask.

Wear Sunscreen

Know that just because you are wearing a face mask, it does not mean you are protected from harmful UV rays. For one, a CNN report has stated that 80% of UV rays penetrate through the clouds. And if they can do that, these UV rays can easily pass through the mask and affect your face. 

The same potency applies to blue light and other pollutants. With that being said, it's best if you still wear sunscreen underneath your mask.

In an interview with CNA, Dr. YX Lum explained that “Sunscreen forms a protective layer over the skin.” For best results, she recommends wearing a product that has moisturizing and regenerating properties. 






Go Gentle 

If you are one of the many who has already been afflicted with mask-related acne, you need not panic. You can still do something about it! 

For now, the best thing you can do is to go gentle on your zits. You need to avoid using harsh products that contain benzoyl peroxide or retinoids. They are more harmful than helpful, as they can often end up aggravating the skin.

As such, Dr. Lum advises people with oily skin or acne to use ‘gentle’ products. Her recommendations include:

  • Antioxidants

Antioxidants are substances that can neutralize free radicals, molecules that can damage the skin cells and tissues. In his interview with Glamour, Dr. Zeichner explained that free radicals can cause skin inflammation. "This blocks pores and leads to the development of pimples," he adds. 

Several antioxidants may help reduce breakouts. They include:

    • Vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is not only a good antioxidant, but it also comes with anti-inflammatory properties. According to a study, this makes Vitamin C useful for certain skin conditions such as acne. 
    • Vitamin E. This antioxidant helps prevent the formation of comedones (whiteheads or blackheads). These serve as unfortunate breeding grounds for pimple-causing bacteria. It may also help reduce the side effects brought about by certain retinoid treatments, according to one study

  • Probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in food, supplements, and certain skincare products. It has several properties that prove useful in the fight against acne:

    • Anti-inflammatory. As previously mentioned, inflammation can affect the pores and result in acne. Probiotics, including Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, may help control the production of cytokines, substances that promote inflammation in the body. 
    • Antioxidative. Probiotics such as Lactobacilli appear to work against free radicals. They also help promote antioxidant activity, which may help reduce inflammatory processes in the body.

Mind your Makeup

According to Dr. Lum, it’s not wrong to wear makeup at all. However, certain products may clog the pores, especially in the moist environment that the mask creates. 

Additionally, a face mask tends to cover half of your face. Should you wear makeup, your cosmetic products will just linger on your mask. These can, later on, irritate your skin. As a result, your makeup can end up triggering your acne. 

If you can't seem to go out without cosmetics, you can always opt for some eye color. Not only will it make your eyes pop out, but this cosmetic is also less likely to cause some breakouts. 

Wearing a mask in this pandemic is a way to maintain good health. However, it may help create a skin environment that can trigger acne. With that being said, it is best if you follow these 5 tips above – so you can maintain a clean, clear skin underneath your face cover.