Skip to content

Face Mask Side Effects Doctors Want You to Know

Wearing a mask can cause some issues from the neck up, but abstinence is not the answer.

Wearing a mask is one of the easiest and most effective ways of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, there are some mild side effects that can occur as a result of the crucial health habit. Here are 5 new side effects of face masks, according to experts, and tips on how to prevent and avoid them—that don't involve ditching your mask altogether! Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.



Woman with problem skin

Maskne is the unofficial term to describe acne mechanica, "acne from the friction of the mask and also from humidity and bacteria in the mask covered area," explains Nazanin Saedi, MD, Director, Jefferson Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology Center. "Acne is a multifactorial skin disorder with four main factors contributing to those stubborn lesions you see on your face," adds Nicole Ruth, DO of @thedermdoctor. "The factors are Propionibacterium acnes (P. Acnes), sebum overproduction, abnormal keratinization and inflammation." Wearing a mask adds other factors to the equation due to repeated friction to your skin, and leading to obstruction of the pilosebaceous units causing a unique distribution of acne from your mask. 


The Remedy for Maskne

woman applying cream to her face

The good news is, there are things you can do to prevent and treat it that don't involve abandoning your life-saving mask. To keep it occurring in the first place, moisturize and hydrate the skin to protect the skin barrier, suggests Dr. Saedi. "You can use acne medications but be gentle to avoid too much irritation, which can compromise the skin barrier and lead to more breakouts," she points out. Also, make sure to wash your mask frequently to avoid dirt and makeup build up, and try to avoid wearing makeup. Dr. Ruth suggests another method to treat maskne, LED therapy using blue light, scientifically proven to help with P. acnes. "Used for years by dermatologists, light emitting diode (LED) therapy with blue light has been reported to improve acne and is a beneficial treatment option for acne," she says. 


Mask Mouth

woman checking her breath

If it seems like your breath has gotten worse and has been unusually stinky during the pandemic, or you have been experiencing an increased incidence of gingivities and/or cavities, it might be due to your mask. "'Mask Mouth' is a new phenomenon born out of COVID," explains Dr. Heather Kunen, DDS, MS, co-founder of Beam Street. "When we wear face masks, oftentimes we breathe through our mouths instead of through our noses.  Mouth-breathing can lead to dry mouth and the resulting sequelae of halitosis, cavities and gum disease," she explains.


The Remedy for Mask Mouth

Close-up of pretty young woman drinking water from glass

You don't need to take off your mask to avoid mask mouth. However, you might need to alter your method of breathing when it is one. "While wearing your face mask, make a conscious effort to breathe through your nose and make sure to stay hydrated in order to prevent these damaging side effects," Dr. Kunen suggests. 


Facial Dermatosis

Girl with problematic skin and scars from acne

According to a case study published in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, face masks have been associated with facial dermatosis. Because protective face coverings, especially medical PPE, can "induce occlusion and consequently a damp and warm microenvironment" — leading to skin issues. The good news?  "Treating these dermatoses [also] may prevent COVID-19 contagion, because facial skin damage increases itchy sensation, inducing persons to scratch the face and to remove [the] mask, with a reduction of PPE effectiveness," the researchers explained. "Breakouts can occur from stress and also irritation to the skin," explains Dr. Saedi. 


The Remedy for Facial Dermatosis

senior woman putting on the cream

Similar to the treatment of maskne, Dr. Saedi suggests keeping your skin moisturized and hydrated and avoiding additional irritants if possible. 


Candida Growth

woman worry about her teeth and look in the mirror.

If you are experiencing mouth sores, it could be the result of candida overgrowth—the equivalent of a yeast infection around your mouth. "Yeast love moist environments," explained Dr. Saedi. "Oral candidiasis, aka thrush, is an oral fungal infection that can be caused by a variety of factors including: dry mouth, antibiotics, dentures, inhaled corticosteroids (like an asthma inhaler) and smoking. As we begin to wear face masks regularly as a society, we must be wary of the increased incidence of dry mouth that may arise due to this new routine," adds Dr. Kunen. 


The Remedy for Candida Growth

Caucasian Senior female doctor explaining and giving advice to Asian patient in medical room together

In order to treat candida growth around the mouth, Dr. Saedi suggests making a visit (or virtual appointment) to your derm, where they will likely prescribe antifungals and anti yeast topicals. Dr. Kunen also recommends staying hydrated and when masked up, making an active effort to exhale through your nose instead of through your mouth, "as this will lead to increased dry mouth and oral candidiasis," she explains. Also, if you are on medications that lead to dry mouth and candidiasis, talk to your dentist about salivary substitutes or xylitol chewing gums as a means to help prevent these side effects. 


Cold Sores

Woman with aphthae on lip.

Some experts have maintained patients have been experiencing more cold sores during the pandemic than usual, around and inside of their mouths. While these are likely induced by the added stress that COVID-19 has added to our lives, "masks make it worse," Dr. Saedi explains. 


The Remedy for Cold Sores

female dentist and assistant with dental curing light and mirror treating male patient teeth at dental clinic office

If you are prone to cold sores, talk to your dentist or doctor. They can prescribe acyclovir topical creams, systemic medications or even certain laser treatments that help with these outbreaks, says Dr. Kunen. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
Filed Under