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Behind the mask
Mandi Greenway, M.D.

Last week I looked in the mirror and saw something I don’t usually see, a breakout of pimples. As a dermatologist I am fortunate enough to have the right tricks to keep my skin blemish free most of the time (some lucky genetics don’t hurt either). I’m also seeing a lot more acne and rosacea breakouts in my patients over the last few months. What might be the culprit? Wearing a face mask.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, wearing a face mask is one of the most important ways we can prevent the spread of the disease. I urge you all to wear a cloth mask when you can’t social distance and when in public spaces. The data regarding face masks is clear, but our skin doesn’t always behave itself with frequent wearing. The good thing is that there are some simple steps you can take to keep your skin healthy while wearing a mask to protect those around you.

Skin issues from wearing masks can include dry skin, acne, and rosacea. Make sure to wash your face before and after wearing masks with a gentle cleanser. Cleansers are different than soaps and can clean the skin without removing normal oils. Apply a moisturizer that is tailored to your skin type: gel moisturizers for oily skin (or during those humid summer days), lotion for normal skin, and cream for dry skin. Try to get this moisturizer on after each time you wash your face as well as before bed. Dry lips are best treated with plain Vaseline.

If you’re going to be wearing a mask for longer periods of time it’s best to skip wearing makeup under the mask. Treat your skin gently and avoid harsh treatments like chemical peels or exfoliating. Some of the medicines we use to treat acne with can ironically cause more skin irritation while wearing masks, so be sure to discuss with your physician if you are having problems. 

Lastly, be sure you are wearing the correct mask and washing them frequently. Cotton is the least irritating fabric and anyone with acne or rosacea should make sure that the layer that touches the face is cotton. Masks that fit well (snug but not tight) will be less irritating than masks that are too big and slide around on the face.

Hopefully, these simple tips help your skin stay healthy as you continue to wear your mask!

Mandi Greenway, M.D. practices dermatology in Mitchell, S.D. Richard P. Holm, MD passed away in March 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He is founder of The Prairie Doc®. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® ® library, visit and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook.