Face masks became the symbol of the global fight against the coronavirus. While face masks’ medical benefits are clear, little is known about their psychological consequences. Drawing on theories of the social functions of emotions and rapid trait impressions, we tested hypotheses on face masks’ effects on emotion-recognition accuracy and social judgments (perceived trustworthiness, likability, and closeness). Our preregistered study with 191 German adults revealed that face masks diminish people’s ability to accurately categorize an emotion expression and make target persons appear less close. Exploratory analyses further revealed that face masks buffered the negative effect of negative (vs. non-negative) emotion expressions on perceptions of trustworthiness, likability, and closeness. Associating face masks with the coronavirus’ dangers predicted higher perceptions of closeness for masked but not for unmasked faces. By highlighting face masks’ effects on social functioning, our findings inform policymaking and point at contexts where alternatives to face masks are needed.