Mask-Wearing Has Led to More Cases of This Upsetting Facial Rash

The pink bumps some people are finding around their lips aren't always "maskne"

A pile of three single-use face masks on a counter
Got a case of "maskne"? It might actually be perioral dermatitis.
Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

According to recent reporting from The New York Times, a year of wearing face masks has taken a toll on people’s skin. Dermatologists have recorded a dramatic uptick in cases of perioral dermatitis, a scaly rash that develops around the chin, lips and nose.

It isn’t contagious, and it doesn’t itch, but the red spots can easily become inflamed, and over time they flake and crack. Over the last several months, many who’ve developed perioral dermatitis have assumed that it was an acne byproduct from masks — so-called “maskne” — similar to the pustules athletes tend to develop from wearing chinstraps.

But perioral dermatitis is an irritated rash, not a collection of clogged pores. It’s important to know the difference — it won’t just go away if you apply acne ointment. In fact, historically, perioral dermatitis has been caused by creams, of both the steroid and OTC variety. Blindly rubbing more product in could make the situation worse.

How much are face masks to blame here? They’re likely playing a significant role. Speaking to The New York Times, dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe said, “When you wear a mask, you’re basically changing the terrain.” Another compared it to creating another “fold of skin” on your body. This puts the entire region out of whack, and makes it easier for microbes to grow.

Obviously, this is all pretty upsetting to hear. As most of us are at our breaking point with masks anyway, it may be tempting to chuck it in the garbage for good. But for common-sense public health reasons, we’ll need them handy for at least the rest of 2021, and probably sometime into 2022. A better move is to learn to live with them in a hygienic manner, especially heading into this summer.

When you get home and take your mask off after extended use, make sure to wash your face. You’ll want a gentle cleanser (find some of our favorites here). If your mask is disposable, meanwhile, don’t try to wear it for multiple uses. Toss it and move on. If it isn’t, check out its care instructions and try to wash it regularly. You also want to avoid wearing your workout mask for casual activities — no need for extra exposure to all that sweat and skin cells.

Rashes are pesky, and sometimes they’ll persist even if you’re doing everything right. In that case, always consult a dermatologist before going willy-nilly on your face with assorted creams and ointments. A professional will steer you in the right direction, and prescribe you a topical antibiotic if necessary.

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