mask-ne part 3 : 9 tips to alleviate mask zits


ok so now that the opinionated fashion show is over (mask-ne post #2), here’s the practical lifestyle stuff you’re dying to know!

if you are privileged to be able to, stay home or inside a space where you can safely be mask-less to avoid friction from the mask AND constant sweatiness onto your skin. the main goal here is to avoid friction, pressure, and constant sweatyness.

this makes me think of the many but one client in particular, RK, who had stubborn and inflamed pimples right where her eyeglasses sat on her cheeks and nose. having her switch to contacts (or another frame that didn’t sit directly on her zits) until those pimples healed did the trick, and allowed those stubborn zits to heal. once her skin was clear, she was able to wear those glasses again, with no problems.

however, not ever wearing masks is unrealistic for most, so as soon as you get home, or into your car with no one with you (or members of your household/pod), remove your mask and let your skin breathe (which you’re probably doing already anyway).

but you will have to wear them at some point, so if you can..









choose masks that don’t collapse onto your lips. those flat rectangle ones with folds are super easy to make and find, but i found fabric constantly sat on my lips, getting soggy and wet from the humidity generated i talked and breathed, making things a sweaty mess – even more so if the fabric is thick, has multiple, unbreathable layers or you’re in a hot and/or humid climate.

my favorite ones are pictured above: cone-shaped k-95’s, and the gata mask.

if you’re sweating under that mask, wipe the sweat off your face with a clean cloth from time to time. i keep a small clean hand towel in my bag just for this purpose. look for really thin, absorbent and quick-drying ones, so you can easily have one with you on the go.

and if you don’t already have them, give these washable makeup removing sponges i love a try. just make sure to give them a good wash before using, and instead of throwing them in the dryer after laundering, hang to dry to keep them soft.

because you technically should be using them once and then washing (if reuseable) or tossing them anyway (i do reuse my disposable ones a few times before tossing though 😬😬😬). main point: if you have different styles of masks, try wearing a different kind each day.

because different masks will lay on your skin in slightly different places in slightly different ways, alternating the different mask shapes allow your skin a little break from the physical pressure of wearing them, on the same exact place, day in and out.

if you are using fabric masks and the towel trick as suggested above, make sure you are washing these things with acne-safe stuff. here’s the big blog post about why this is a thing, and brands/types that look acne-safe to use.

i have a client with really REALLY sensitive skin, who’s a nurse and breaks out every time she has to wear a mask to work at the hospital (we troubleshot this long before covid). things that helped her skin the best, which helped her skin break out the least include:

– taking anti-inflammatory supplements (like zyflamend, optizinc or nordic naturals omega-3 supplements) before and after her shifts
– avoiding inflammatory foods by eating low-glycemic (especially coffee, because this inflames you AND boosts your cortisol levels, a type of hormone, which for the acne-prone, usually shows up as breakouts around the mouth; the same goes for soy).
– a regular schedule of enough quality sleep
– consistent stress management (whatever this means to you, as long as they’re constant + healthy ways, ok?!)
– and of course, icing your face!

a.k.a. all the same things we’ve been telling you to clear your skin!!

i’ve been wearing masks all this time, walking around in hot and sweaty ass japan and have had zero breakouts. then, i got a facial at a spa that used cloggy products (i knew this going in but i needed to explore japanese technique while i had access in a safe environment) and lo and behold, the next morning i got a pimple right where the mask sits on my nose.

SO: acne-safe and active acne clearing products to prevent future and treat existing acne. usually this will mean a chemical exfoliant of some kind (like one of our mandelic toners or one of our glycolic or salicylic serums), but for some, benzoyl peroxide in addition to an exfoliant might be necessary too.

*bonus tip: remember to keep your lip stuff and toothpaste acne-safe too. this stuff spreads all over the lower half of your face and can break you out, even if you’re not making out with anyone. just saying.

*super bonus tip: thanks to sS’er MLW: when she’s not too lazy, she’ll apply a layer of the youngblood mineral makeup primer (or tizo spf; they’re both silicone-based + acne-safe so should work) before putting a mask on, as a barrier between her skin and the mask. we also suspected that it wasn’t just the friction of the hospital masks that were causing problems for her, but that there might have been some kind of chemical or substance sprayed onto them, leaving a residue on her skin. they smelled “medical-y,” if you know what we mean.

obviously, only if you’re able to do so safely, HOWEVER because you’ll still likely need to keep wearing masks, the acne will come back. remember, all of these tips are ideas to manage the mask-ne, not control or completely get rid of them (close to impossible for acne-prone skin until your pores have outgrown their acne phase).

the truth of it is, perfection is just unattainable. sorry. more importantly, it’s way better to get zits than to spread or get covid. both suck of course, but if you had to choose, i hope you agree that zits are the better choice. you can use all the greatest products and get all the extractions but the reality is, if you have to keep wearing masks (as you should), you’re likely gonna keep breaking out.

so, making peace with the fact that you are keeping your community safe AND feeling empowered because you know exactly why you’re breaking out (remember when it was all a mystery before you starting working with us? you also now know what needs to happen for it to clear up) i think is the best and most realistic bet. you know, changing the things you can change and accepting the things you can’t. 😉


because you don’t really have to wear lipstick or makeup, you’re giving your skin a chance to rest from makeup, and saving money by not using up your stash.

PLUS, as an enthusiastically loyal, look-on-the-bright-side sS’er KS mentioned, wearing a mask is a form of physical block from the sun, which can help to slow down aging and wrinkling of the skin!

hope these tips make sense, help you out, give you some new things to try and more positive perspective. it’s a lot of info (as how i usually do). let me know what you think, if you have more ideas or different experiences than what i shared here. i want to know, and others may be able to benefit too.

thanks for reading and peace!
love, kim

mask-ne part 2: masks i’ve tried and my faves

ok so maskne is still a thing and since my last really long post about it, i’ve done some research and have some new thoughts. and here they are for you to peruse! these are my opinions and observations as a hyper-sensitive and aware person of details, and as a professional skin therapist focused on acne.

different masks i’ve tried

i was on a mission to try as many different kinds of masks as i could. enjoy the following fashion show, with my notes on the different masks i was able to get sent to me from the states, or find locally in japan.

neoprene masks DO NOT protect from covid!

$2-10, pretty much everywhere

in japan, i saw either the disposable surgical masks (below), or these thin and flimsy neoprene ones that basically don’t do anything, because droplets flow freely in and out of them. in japan these are known as “fashion” masks, worn more as a show of respect than any other functional reason. these were the masks i DID NOT bother testing for this experiment and i don’t recommend using them for covid prevention purposes!

they are very comfortable and washable though. if you are short on disposable masks, you can put this on top; wash this neoprene mask, and reuse the disposable + more protective mask a few times (especially helpful if supplies are short).

about $1 each, sold here in japan $50/box of 50. american capitalism prices will vary, if you can find them.

the most rampantly available and cost-effective for disposables. for me, this style was much more comfortable than the fabric mask of the same flat rectangular shape (down below), because the fabric was much thinner and more breathable. the meltblown filter fabric composition of the mask also offers more reliable safety than cloth ones.

however, this wasn’t my fave for a few reasons:

  1. they were still super scarce at the time.
  2. they are disposable, and i didn’t want to add more waste for the planet to deal with. i really wanted something reusable.
  3. the folds still lay on my lips, (definitely not as much as the fabric ones, but still) making for messy + uncomfortable sweaty breathing / humid mask cave. 

**if you are using these, please clip the earloops before tossing; they can tangle up in the legs of wildlife, among other places.

photo backstory: this was my overgrown-80’s miami-vice-jackie-chan hair after sheltering in place for 4.5 months, waiting in line to get a buzz at the 10 minute, $10 barbershop at the takadanobaba train station’s QB house. it’s a chain that salarymen go to for cheap and quick cuts. i had been denied service at another pricier barbershop, so i was stoked QBH was willing and able to see me. this was the day i learned that a 3 in the usa means buzzer guard #3, where in japan it means 3 millimeters.

this airinium mask has valves that let potentially infected droplets leak out, so no for covid but yes for smoke protection.

$69 in 2019, now $75. comes with 2 replacement filters, a back-of-the-head-strap and a carrying pouch. 

this was the fanciest one on the market most widely available before covid, that i got for smog and smoke protection. it does a great job of filtering both of those out (can’t hardly smell carcinogens or other stinky things like petrol exhaust with it on) BUT in terms of covid, the valves are a no-no. droplets can escape through the circle-shaped vents as the wearer exhales, potentially exposing those around you – so i’ve stopped wearing this one for now.

*for the west coast fire situation combined with covid, you might consider wearing this for smoke AND a surgical one on top to cover the valves for covid, or tape the valves shut with masking tape.

photo backstory: this was me at the sri lankan airport, trying to get to japan as covid was getting super serious. it was a very stressful + frustrating experience leaving, so this was my exasperated, sitting in the customs departure office “i’m ready to leave get me outta here asap arghhhhhh” look.

so cute! but the fabric was too thick (sweaty + hot) and laid on my lips, making for a soggy mess underneath. maybe ok for wintertime?

about $10-$15 for the mask, and $20-45 for the headwrap.

for the first 2-3 months while in japan, surgical masks were impossible to find, but cloth masks were plentiful online. i also hadn’t been able to get my head shaved so my hair needed to be covered up because it looked crazy.

so, i bought a super cute matching headwrap and mask set made of 100% cotton from a super cute italian + nigerian designer i met in singapore, named iffy. her shop is called olive ankara. (i also got another cute matchy-matchy set from obaaheema on etsy). this was a super stylish set up (and proceeds of olive ankara’s mask sales go to singaporean nonprofits).

in any case, this combo ultimately didn’t work for me because the fabric was too thick. the weather was way too hot and humid (averaging about 90-95F with humidity in the 80%’s) for the beautiful, hearty 100% woven cotton combined with my hot breath within the mask. it wasn’t breathable for me. i think it would have been ok in a climate that was either less hot or less humid or both, but for me in japanese hot + sticky spring/summer, it just didn’t work. 

also, the shape of this mask lay on my mouth.. so breathing within the mask AND dealing with the heat and humidity, i basically was suffocating. i tried wearing the mask with the plastic “cage” (more info below) which helped with the laying on the mouth / soaking wet fabric on my lips issue, but the fabric was still too hot and sweaty. 

about $2-3.50 each, depending on how big of a box you buy.

there are many knockoffs, but the original comes from TOPOC co. in korea. they’re very fancy and very expensive. each mask individually packed, are made of durable yet tissue-thin, lightweight and 3-d contoured meant to fit perfectly around the nose + mouth. 

however, for me, the mask still sat on my lips, and moved around too much. i’m not sure if it was because my nose bridge is too low, my jawline isn’t big enough to hold it in place or the mask was just too big for my face. also, as i breathed i could feel air going in and out of the scallop-edged sides, which to me defeats the purpose of wearing a mask against infectious disease.

on, about $25 for a box of 20. 

ok so i’m still not 100% sure this is the equivalent to an N95 mask, but i think the k- means that it’s made in korea (?). 

it’s cone-shaped, which allows you to make unobstructed duck faces and doesn’t leave you as sweaty of a mess as the flat rectangular masks that have no structure. you can also wear lipstick and it won’t rub off onto the mask or all over your face (an actual marketing point in japanese ads).

however, they are still disposable and i really wanted to find something reusable and washable.

$25, plus shipping (free with $50+ purchase). comes with 2 plastic “cages” and 10 kn95 filter cartridge pads.

this one i found scrolling on instagram, and had one sent to my mom so she could include it in the care package she was sending to me. it took about a week for it to get from southern california to san francisco.

it’s made of 3 parts – the silicone body, a non-woven filter pad/cartridge that sits inside, and a plastic “cage” piece that holds that filter in place. it’s also cup-shaped, so it doesn’t do that sweaty-laying-on-your-lips thing (and you can wear lipstick, haha). though it does get a bit sweaty right where the mask sits on the skin, the mesh silicone body and breathable filter pad design are pluses.

i could still smell things while wearing it though, so i’m not sure exactly how well it does to filter and protect from covid or fire smoke (i guess if it’s covid-safe you can still smell things and if it’s smoke-safe you can’t?), but the seal between the mask and my nose + mouth is the best out of all the masks i’ve tried. 

you can wash or boil the silicone mask to sanitize both the silicone mask and plastic cage.

photo backstory: this was at a wonderful, almost empty huge community osento (hot spring bathhouse) in shizuoka prefecture. spas like these in asia give you different outfits to wear in co-ed spaces, depending on what you’re doing and where you’re going. this was the outfit for receiving massages and facials. there was another outfit for co-ed heated sauna rooms, and you bathe in the same-sex baths nude.

other masks i haven’t tried but look cool

APLAT cotton face mask

designed and made in san francisco, these come in many different colors, are beautiful in an origami-kinda way, are washable and because they contain no elastic or plastic, are fully biodegradable. they even include a pattern and instructions in case you want to DIY.

$20 for the mask and 3 filters

a good friend who’s done some extensive mask research says this one is his favorite, for its comfort, breathability, washability and the fact that it holds a filter!

my faves

were the last two i tried – the kn95 cone, and the gata mask. they both still rendered me a bit sweaty in humid and hot seasonal japan, but were the least sweaty and most breathable out of all the kinds i tried. i like that the gata is washable and reusable, even though the filter has to eventually be thrown out. however, the small filter is a smaller piece of trash to toss than conventional disposable masks.

in either case, i still got sweaty under my masks, so i carried a clean, small hand towel with me to wipe myself off when i needed to. (in japan this is customary, as folks carry these around to dry their hands off after washing in public bathrooms).

they were also priced pretty reasonably – especially if you reuse them a few times before replacing the replaceable parts.

mask cages

i eluded to these earlier in the post. there are these plastic “cages” you can insert under your mask to create a cone around your mouth, under any type of flat mask. unless you pin, glue or sew them in, they can fall out (nothing is perfect). i think you can find these on amazon, or maybe your local daiso?

ok! that wraps up the face mask fashion show, hope this guide was helpful. check out our next post on my top strategies to alleviate mask zits. 

let me know if you have questions, or ideas to share on what masks worked for you – and didn’t. i’d love to hear.

PLEASE STAY SAFE, healthy and sane.