Is 'Maskitis' to Blame for the Rash On Your Face?
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first encouraged wearing face coverings in public in April, people began searching for solutions to what the mask was doing to their skin. Reports of "maskne," a colloquial term to describe acne on the chin area resulting from wearing a face mask, soon entered mainstream conversation. Maskne is easy to understand: a face mask can trap moisture and bacteria, which can contribute to acne. But another skin issue around the chin area and presumably caused by mask wearing has became a concern, and it doesn't include pimples.
Dennis Gross, M.D., dermatologist, dermatologic surgeon, and owner of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare has noticed an increase of patients coming in for a rash-like irritation on the skin that's covered by a mask — and it's not maskne. To help heal his patients and develop a better understanding of what was going on, he dubbed the skin issue "maskitis," and went to work figuring out how it could be prevented, treated, and managed, since mandated mask-wearing doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.
Sound frustratingly familiar? Here's how to tell the distinguish maskitis from maskne, and how to treat and prevent maskitis.
Maskne vs. Maskitis
To put it simply, maskitis is dermatitis — a general term that describes skin irritation — that's specifically caused by wearing a mask. "I coined the term 'maskitis' to give patients vocabulary to describe their skin issue," says Dr. Gross. "I had so many people coming in saying that they had 'maskne,' but it wasn't maskne at all."
As mentioned, maskne is the term for acne breakouts in the area that gets covered by your face mask. Maskitis, on the other hand, is characterized by a rash, redness, dryness, and/or inflamed skin under the mask area. Maskitis can even reach above the mask zone on your face.
Since masks rest and rub against your skin as you wear them, Dr. Gross says the friction can cause inflammation and sensitivity. "Additionally, the fabric traps moisture — which bacteria loves — next to the face," he notes. "The humidity and moisture can also escape from the top of the mask, causing masktitis on your upper face, even where there is no mask coverage." (Related: Related: Is a Winter Rash to Blame for Your Dry, Red Skin?)
Whether or not you might experience maskitis depends on your genetics and skin history. "Everyone has their own unique genetic predispositions for conditions," says Dr. Gross. "Those who are prone to eczema and dermatitis are more likely to develop maskitis while those with oily or acneic skin are much more likely to experience maskne."
Maskitis may also be confused for a similar condition called perioral dermatitis, says Dr. Gross. Perioral dermatitis is an inflammatory rash around the mouth area that's usually red and dry with small bumps, he says. But perioral dermatitis never causes a dry, scaly skin surface, whereas maskitis sometimes does. If you think you may have perioral dermatitis or maskitis — or aren't sure which it is — seeing a derm is always a good idea. (Related: Hailey Bieber Says These Everyday Things Trigger Her Perioral Dermatitis)
How to Prevent and Treat Maskitis
Maskitis can be tough to avoid when you're regularly wearing a face mask. But if you're trying to find relief, here's Dr. Gross' advice on how to combat the frustrating skin issue:
In the Morning:
If you're experiencing maskitis, cleanse the skin as soon as you wake up with a gentle, hydrating cleanser, suggests Dr. Gross. SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser (Buy It, $35, dermstore.com) fits the bill.
Then, apply your serum, eye cream, moisturizer, and SPF, "but only to the area of the face not covered by the mask," says Dr. Gross. "Make sure that the skin under the mask is completely clean — this means no makeup, sunscreen, or skincare products." Remember, no one will see this part of your face anyway, so though it might feel a bit weird, it's an incredibly important step. "The mask traps heat, humidity, and CO2 against the skin, essentially driving any product – skincare or makeup – deep into pores," says Dr. Gross. "This is going to exacerbate any problems you're currently having. Hold off on the moisturizer until after you take the mask off."
Your nighttime skin routine is even more important in the fight against maskitis, says Dr. Gross. "Once the mask is removed, cleanse skin with lukewarm water — this is extremely important," he says. "Do not use water that is too hot or too cold as this can cause more irritation."
Then choose a hydrating serum, with key ingredients like niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) that helps reduce redness. Dr. Gross recommends his own B3Adaptive SuperFoods Stress Rescue Super Serum (Buy It, $74, sephora.com). If your skin is feeling dry and flaky, he recommends adding the B3Adaptive SuperFoods Stress Rescue Moisturizer (Buy It, $72, sephora.com) — or any other hydrating moisturizer — as a final step.
On Laundry Day:
You should evaluate how you're washing your reusable masks as well. Fragrances can cause redness and irritation, so make sure to choose a fragrance-free detergent, says Dr. Gross. You can go with an option like Tide Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent (Buy It, $12, amazon.com), or Seventh Generation Free & Clear Concentrated Laundry Detergent (Buy It, $13, amazon.com).
As to whether you should go for a specific type of mask in hopes of avoiding maskitis, Dr. Gross says it's a matter of trial and error. "To date, there are no clinical studies that show one type of mask being superior to another when it comes to maskitis," he says. "My recommendation is to try different types and see which works better for you."
Since we're likely not going to stop wearing masks in the near future — the CDC states that they're helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19 — it's best to start treating any mask-related skin issues that appear rather than ignoring them and allowing them to get worse over time. Dr. Gross notes that "for frontline and essential workers who are required to regularly wear masks for prolonged periods of time, it is very difficult to prevent maskitis or maskne entirely."
That is to say, there's no magic cure-all that will counteract hours of wearing a face mask, but by adopting this regimen and staying consistent, you can try to minimize maskitis' effects.