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How to care for the skin under your mask

2020 has seen us change lots of things about how we approach our health — we’re all washing our hands more, practising social distancing, and being extra careful to stay healthy and well.

If you’ve been regularly wearing a face mask when you’re out of the house, then you’ll be all too aware of the fact that your skincare might need a bit of a change also.

Face masks, whether the surgical or fabric variety, can wreak havoc on our skin. One of the most common issues we’ve seen in our patients is “maskne”, or breakouts under and around the masked area. Other common problems are irritation, dry skin, redness, contact dermatitis, and the worsening of existing skin conditions.

Why is my skin reacting this way?

A lot is going on under your mask. There’s an increase in humidity and carbon dioxide, pressure and friction from the mask and its straps, as well as trapped sweat and dirt which can clog the pores.

These factors culminate and can wreak havoc on your skin.

What can I do about it?

Wearing a mask, especially for prolonged periods, can be uncomfortable — but there are steps you can take to help treat and prevent mask-related skin issues.


Often when we experience acne, we reach for harsh products to help banish oil — but this can make things worse.

A mild cleanser that contains salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide gel or azelaic acid may help. Depending on your skin, it might be worth skipping the toner as this can lead to dryness.

Don’t skip moisturiser, but do reach for a less greasy formula. Try a lighter product, and always use sunscreen.

For severe acne, your pharmacist may recommend some over-the-counter products, or even suggest a visit to your GP for a prescription.

Contact dermatitis

This condition often shows up as cracked, dry, itchy, red, or blistered skin. Mask wearers usually see mild redness and dryness, particularly where the mask touches the skin.

Try switching the brand of your mask. If you prefer fabrics masks, try a softer fabric that’s less likely to rub against your skin. If this doesn’t help or isn’t’ an option for you, apply two layers of tissue or gauze between your skin and the mask, making sure that the mask still fits correctly.

A greasy formula can make acne worse, but if your skin is dry, you may wish to apply a richer moisturiser in the evening before you go to bed.

If your symptoms are particularly severe, your pharmacist may recommend a low strength topical steroid cream or ointment.

Itchy or dry skin

Keep your skincare simple to avoid irritation. Use a mild, fragrance-free skin cleanser in the morning and the evening, and avoid toners as these can dry out the skin.

After cleansing, use a fragrance-free moisturiser. You may wish to choose a less greasy solution, particularly if you have acne-prone skin. It’s essential to use SPF daily, and a moisturising sunscreen formula can be used in place of a regular moisturiser.

You may wish to consider using anti-aging skincare, particularly formulas that contain glycolic acids and retinoids as these can be quite irritating to the skin.

Be careful of how you’re putting on and removing your mask.

Before you apply your mask, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands or use a hand sanitiser.

Don’t make your mask too tight, as this will increase the friction of your skin. It should be tight enough that you don’t have to readjust it constantly, but loose enough that it’s not uncomfortable.

If your mask is rubbing on your face, try applying moisturiser half an hour before you put your mask on, or use a light, silicone-based barrier cream.

Where possible, try and give your skin a five-minute break every few hours.

Familiarise yourself with how to remove your mask properly (and dispose of it, if it’s a surgical mask). Cloth masks should be washed at the end of each day that you wear them.

Wash your hands or use sanitiser after removing your mask, and apply moisturiser to your face, especially at night.

You may also be interested in the following:

Eczema Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
Common winter skin conditions and how to prevent them


Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.