How to Prevent Breakouts from Wearing Cloth Face Coverings

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

We're making a lot of adjustments to our lives right now. Wearing cloth face coverings (like this one made out of a bandana and hair ties) while in public to protect from spreading COVID-19, is one of them.

Although you may not be experiencing rashes, burst blood vessels, and other serious skin issues like essential workers who wear personal protective equipment (PPE) all day long, your skin may be mildly irritated, breaking out, or forming more blackheads than usual from wearing a cloth mask.

As we go about our day with cloth masks on, our pores can clog and our skin possibly becomes inflamed and stripped of essential fats, due to the moisture buildup from our exhaled breath "combined with decreased air circulation under the masks," explains Arash Akhavan, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

You may have also noticed that wearing a fabric covering over your nose and mouth can be a toasty situation for your face, no matter what the weather may be. Sweating in this area can also lead to oil buildup, which causes cystic acne and white pustules to form, adds Lost Angeles-based board-certified dermatologist Jason Emer.

Just as we did for essential workers who wear PPE, we asked dermatologists to share their tips for caring for your complexion for those of us who are cloth- masked, nonessential workers.

Before putting on your mask and after taking it off, washing your face with a gentle, oil-free cleanser can help prevent breakouts, Akhavan says. However, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist David Kim notes you shouldn't be doing so more than two to three times a day to avoid further overstripping of oils from your skin. He's a fan of the Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser.

For light exfoliation, Kim recommends reaching for a cleanser formulated with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Try The Inkey List's Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser or Tatcha's The Deep Cleanse.

Keeping skin well-hydrated and moisturized is the key to protecting it from irritation, says Akhavan. With this in mind, he recommends incorporating a hyaluronic acid-spiked serum, which attracts and retains the water content of skin, into your skin-care routine. Akhavan also points out water repels oil.

We have a list of product suggestions, but the CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum and The Ordinary's Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 are Best of Beauty Award winners.

Look for the same ingredient in your moisturizer, too, to "prevent drying out your skin from the increased water vapors from your exhaled breath and causing inflammation and skin conditions, such as eczema," he explains.

If your skin is experiencing severe irritation, acne flareups, or has open sores, Emer and Kim advise against harsh actives — at-home peels included. For retinol users, Kim suggests switching out your powerful prescription vitamin A, like Retin-A, for a gentler, over-the-counter option that your skin will more easily tolerate and cause less irritation.

As for vitamin C devotees, you're clear to continue using your go-to serum as the antioxidant-rich ingredient aids in healing and skin protection, according to Emer. You can also safely add anti-redness actives to your line up, like colloidal silver and azelaic acid.

"Oil can mix with the increased moisture under the masks forming a waxy substance in our pores that can lead to breakouts," Akhavan says. So heavier moisturizers, makeup, and other skin-care products that have a lot of oil may need to go to the wayside for the moment.

For people with acne-prone skin, in particular, Kim says it's helpful to swap in a creamy moisturizer for a lighter, water-based lotion, like the Laniege Water Bank Hydro Essence, as it's less likely to clog pores. "You can also skip a moisturizer and use just a serum to simplify, which is what I've been doing," he adds.

The natural barrier of your lips can also be depleted from the increased moisture under a mask, says Akhavan. If your lips are more cracked and chapped than usual, you can fortify the barrier by layering on your favorite lip balm before slipping on your mask. My go-to lip balm at the moment is the Innisfree My Lip Balm, but Kim's is the Vaseline Lip Therapy. He recommends using it three to four times a day, especially before going to sleep.

In addition to these tips, you can also check out our expert tips on treating cystic breakouts and removing blackheads.

  • Wearing Makeup Makes It Harder to Reuse Masks
  • What's the Difference Between a Surgical and a Respirator Mask?
  • How to Safely Reuse or Dispose of Every Kind of Mask

Now, see ishonest's editor in chief's full morning skin-care routine in action:

Read more on: skin care, acne


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