Behind the Mask: Dermatologist Elizabeth Mullans Addresses Frequently-Asked Face Mask Questions

Even in the middle of a very warm summer, face masks are not going away anytime soon, and while these masks may cover some imperfections, they can also be the root of skin issues. With up to 50 million Americans affected by acne each year, friction caused by masks may exacerbate irritation and become what is known as ‘mask-ne.’ Elizabeth Mullans, M.D., Board-Certified Dermatologist, provides her responses to common face mask-related questions to help people navigate their concerns.

“First came masks, then came mask-ne. Even when half of our face is covered by a mask, we still need to protect the skin underneath that could be irritated or else it can lead to skin sensitivity and breakouts,” says Dr. Mullans.

Below, Dr. Mullans addresses most frequently asked questions:

Q: Why do face masks cause acne in the first place?

A: Face masks trap sweat, skin oil and saliva against the skin, therefore disrupting the protective skin barrier and causing irritation. Bacteria can then penetrate the skin barrier and cause pimples, while skin oil and products can clog the pores. As a result, these irritations may lead to blackheads, pimples and pustules.

Q: What mask material is the best for my skin type?

A: During summer, thick masks can cause more sweat underneath and around the mouth area. Given the season, it may be best to opt for a lighter face covering or more breathable material. It’s important to know what materials a mask is made of and try to avoid synthetic materials. For especially sensitive skin, 100 percent cotton is advisable, as it absorbs moisture and is far less irritating to the skin than other materials.

Q: How can I clean my mask?

A: Face masks pick up dust and bacteria throughout each wear, making it important that fabric masks are washed after each use in hot water. A fragrance-free, hypoallergenic detergent such as Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin, Free & Clear Detergent is also recommended to avoid skin irritation from residue left by harsh chemicals.

Q: Do I still need sunscreen?

A: Although masks cover some of the skin on the face, there is still quite a bit left exposed to the sun – do not skip sunscreen. If concerned about using heavy sunscreen on the face, try using a light moisturizer with hyaluronic acid before mask-use to protect the skin’s barrier, and follow up with sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher before heading outside. Many facial moisturizers even contain SPF.

Q: If I have acne, does wearing makeup exasperate the problem?

A: For the time being, it is best to avoid makeup under the mask, especially heavy foundation and layered products. If wearing makeup, try to choose makeup products that are non-comedogenic or switch to a tinted moisturizer.

Q: How can I proactively take care of my skin?

A: As always, make sure to use a gentle cleanser twice a day to avoid the buildup of dirt on the skin and clogged pores. For overall skin maintenance, adding a supplement into your diet like vitafusion Gorgeous Hair, Skin & Nails is recommended as it has 5000 mg of biotin per serving.

“It’s what is behind the mask that matters most. By implementing manageable skincare steps, you will be able to help prevent future breakouts and allow for a little bit more confidence with your mask on,” adds Dr. Mullans.