June 5, 2020 | by Erin Moore MD

Masks can cause irritation to the skin including sores on the face (especially the N95 type health care workers wear), sores behind the ears, acne breakouts and rosacea flares. But this is our new normal, so what can we do to mitigate the effects of the mask on our skin?

If you’re wearing a surgical mask and it’s causing a rash or itching, first- see if you can get a different type of mask. If that doesn’t work, use little bit of hydrocortisone 1% (available without prescription) one to two times per day. But if that doesn’t help after a couple of days, or the rash worsens, it might be time to call your doctor.

If you’re wearing an N95 mask, it is important that the mask properly fits your face. You don’t want to compromise the seal of the mask, but a sore on the nose is not a safe situation either. Using a barrier such as Vaseline or body glide in the areas that are rubbing is fine, but try not to compromise the barrier. Using Hypafix taper or paper tape is a great way to protect a sore, but again make sure the seal is still effective. For regular surgical masks and cloth masks, Vaseline, body glide, and paper tape all work as excellent barriers behind the ears.

If you are getting acne or bumps (this might be rosacea or perioral dermatitis), it is best to schedule a video visit with your doctor. You might need a prescription medication to help take care of your symptoms. If you want to try over the counter products, look for ones with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (if you are sure it is acne). Azelaic acid and Niacinamide can help with both acne and rosacea/perioral dermatitis (Paula’s Choice and The Ordinary both make excellent value products).

A few skincare tips to prevent acne and other bumpy breakouts under the mask:

  1. Minimize makeup. Makeup + mask = breakouts.
  2. Use products that are for acne-prone skin. The key word to look for is non-comedogenic. This means that the products (such as moisturizer and sunscreen), won’t clog your pores.
  3. Bring a disposable wipe to clean your face during the day or just splash water on your face. Oil and moisture accumulate under the mask and can cause breakouts. Wiping down your face a few times per day can help.
  4. Use a mild acne wash that has 1-2% salicylic acid (Neutrogena deep clean cream cleanser or oil free acne cleanser are both good).

Remember masks are made of different materials and some may cause specific irritation to your skin. The same goes for the elastic around the ear.

If these tips are not working, schedule an appointment or video visit with your dermatologist or contact Dr. Erin Moore by calling 206-860-4605.


Written By: Erin Moore MD