Dr. Pimple Popper: How to prevent and treat face-mask acne

Hollis Johnson/Insider
  • Wearing a face mask for an extended period of time can lead to bacterial buildup, clogged pores, and acne breakouts.
  • Dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee, who is also known as Dr. Pimple Popper, said the fabric of your mask matters. She also recommended certain cleansers.
  • Lee said you should wash your mask daily, or having various masks to rotate through so you always have a clean option.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Face masks have become the norm. But in the summer heat, coupled with hot breath, they create the perfect storm for acne breakouts.

“Your hot breath is being contained in this closed space, with your oily skin, makeup, dirt, dead skin cells,” dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee, who is also known by her television show name Dr. Pimple Popper, told Insider.

When all of those elements combine, your pores become clogged and form bacteria-infected blackheads and whiteheads, which in turn become pimples, Lee said.

But there are steps you can take to prevent this bacterial build up and prevent face-mask acne from forming in the first place. And if you do encounter a breakout, Lee told Insider that some skincare products can spot-treat the bumps.

Cotton face masks are most gentle on the skin

Due to its light and breathable nature and ability to wick away moisture, a cotton-made mask is the best for your skin, according to Lee. She suggested looking for one that feels like a T-shirt.

Lee noted that cotton masks aren’t the most effective at preventing coronavirus spread, especially if they’re made with just one layer. She suggested surgical-grade masks for ideal protection against virus particles, since they’re made of more dense material.

“But if you are just wearing a mask to have a certain level of general protection and you are not in a high risk environment,” a cotton mask should do the trick, she said.

You should wash your reusable mask every day, or have multiple masks in rotation

Once you have your mask, upkeep matters.

“I think you should wash them as much as you would wash your underwear,” Lee said, so after each use.

She also suggested having a different mask for each day of the week so you don’t have to launder your covering daily, but still have a clean material to prevent bacteria buildup.

Avoid makeup and exfoliate

But if you don’t have seven masks on hand, or don’t forsee yourself doing that much laundry, staying away from makeup can preserve your mask’s cleanliness and therefore reduce the risk of developing face-mask acne, according to Lee.

She said she’s stopped applying makeup to the lower half of her face since no one sees that area when it’s covered, and instead focuses on her eye makeup.

Lee also suggested exfoliating often with cleansing wipes that contain AHAs and BHAs, two types of chemical exfoliants that remove dead skin cells, dirt, and debris, and prevent clogged pores.

She totes around exfoliating pads from her own skincare brand SLMD Skincare, and uses them after running errands that require wearing a mask for an extended period of time.

Add acne-fighting salicylic acid to your skincare routine

For those who regularly deal with acne or breakouts, treating mask acne is no different, Lee said.

She suggested adding retinol– and benzoyl peroxide-containing products to your skincare routine since both ingredients fight pimples.

For really stubborn pimples, use a spot treatment.

“A dollop overnight, and even rubbing it in the morning or throughout the day if you are able, can really improve the look and feel of a pimple by clearing out that pore and alleviating redness and irritation,” Lee said.

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