Is ‘Maskne’ a Sign of a Lung Infection?

As far-right disinformation purveyors continued flailing for relevancy in August 2020, one graphic regurgitated the conspiracy theory that blemishes caused by accumulations of facial moisture under face masks (worn in order to protect others from potential COVID-19 infections during a global pandemic) were “proof” of more serious conditions.

The graphic, which continues to circulate on Facebook, displays photographs of people with different types of rashes on their faces alongside various dubious claims:

Look at these skin reactions. Everywhere I go I meet employees of restaurants, salons and other places telling me they feel sick and are getting these skin reactions from their masks! What do you think is going on with their skin and their body when you see these symptoms? Symptoms show us there is another problem!

Also serious lung infections and loss of consciousness due to restricted airflow from wearing masks.

Staphylococcus from masks

While it’s doubtful that whoever created the graphic has heard of these stories “everywhere they go,” cases of skin rash or acne breakouts linked to face coverings are not mysterious; medical providers ranging from the Mayo Clinic to Johns Hopkins Medicine have published guides to dealing with skin irritation and other conditions associated with the use of masks.

Dr. Anna Lien-Lun Chien, an associate professor of dermatology for Johns Hopkins, said that the increase in the use of masks amid the pandemic has caused an increase in cases of perioral dermatitis, described as “recurring bouts of a red, bumpy rash around their mouth and chin.” Chien also said that mask users could be affected if they are allergic to either the materials made to use them or substances used to prepare them, such as formaldehyde. According to Johns Hopkins’ guide:

If you’re allergic to that chemical, those masks could spark a breakout. Also, synthetic fabrics are an issue for some people. Likewise, laundering washable masks with heavily scented detergents or softeners can cause itching, redness or rashes. Choosing a natural fiber-cloth mask and unscented laundry products can help prevent skin irritation or sensitivity.

For its part, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) published its own guide for mask users in treating “maskne” or other irritation caused by wearing masks. Their suggestions included removing a mask for 15 minutes at a time if possible if the mask has to be worn for more than four hours on a given day; washing masks after each use to avoid a buildup of oils and skin cells; and avoiding makeup when wearing a mask.

However, none of these organizations links the use of masks, or the development of skin irritation after wearing that, to “lung infections or loss of consciousness.” The AAD’s guide also includes a statement from the group’s president Bruce H. Thiers:

The American Academy of Dermatology supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to wear a cloth face covering in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. A growing body of evidence has shown that masks play a vital role in reducing the spread of COVID-19. The AAD encourages people to wear face masks in public, practice social distancing, and frequently wash your hands to help protect yourself, your family and your community.

The graphic is the latest attempt to gin up paranoia around the use of face masks, following completely false claims that “new evidence” linked them to (or directly caused) health risks, as well as a whole rash of fraudulent “exception passes” produced to give users an excuse to circumvent local or state health mandates. Experts have also linked anti-mask advocates to other conspiracies, such as the QAnon “movement” as well as #savethechildren and #saveourchildren, a weaponized disinformation cluster that cloaks its conspiracy theories about a global cabal of elite blood-drinking baby-snatchers that secretly controls banks and the media beneath a veneer of wanting to protect kidnapping victims from pedophiles.