If you’ve ever struggled with acne, you know that the use of *certain* (not all!) face masks can be a powerful addition to your daily skincare routine to help detox, hydrate, and soothe the skin. When it comes to choosing a face mask, there are a lot of great options. However, arguably the best type of mask acne-prone skin is clay masks.
Clay masks (also referred to as mud masks) have been around for millennia (not just for millennials). They are a fabulous way to harness some of the earth’s rich, nutrient-dense, and powerful ingredients to help rejuvenate the skin. Why are clay masks good for acne, how do they work, and what is the best type of clay mask for you? Read on to learn more!
What is clay, and why are clay masks good for acne?
Clay is a powder made from finely-ground rock sediments. It is typically found in ocean beds, riverbanks, and deltas and is filled with rich, natural minerals that do wonders for the skin in several different ways!
This glorified “dirt” (which deserves a lot of glory) helps clear the skin by gently removing toxins, oils, actual dirt, and other pore-clogging debris to help treat and prevent breakouts while also helping remove skin cells, stimulate the growth of new cells, and tighten pores for a smoother, more radiant complexion.
How do clay masks work?
When the clay is wet (like it is when used as a mask!), its molecules produce electrical charges that allow it to attract bacteria and debris from the skin, providing a gentle yet effective, deep pore cleansing.
Think of applying a clay mask to your face as a purification ritual: clarifying congested pores, soaking up urban toxins, exfoliating dead skin, and smoothing out roughness to leave your skin clean, refreshed, and smoother than before. It’s the perfect addition to any skincare routine. However, it is important to use the right type of masks and the right way to get the most benefits (and fewer side effects!)
What are the best types of clay masks for acne-prone skin?
There are many different types of clay masks available today that are suitable for different people with different skin conditions. The differences between these clay masks really have to do with the type of clay used as well as the ingredients added to these clays.
Here are some of the best types of clay to look for when your acne is flaring up or to simply maintain clear skin.
Kaolin Clay: Kaolin Clay comes in a few different colors; white, yellow, red, and pink are the more common.
- White and Yellow Kaolin Clay: These clays—sourced from France, England, Germany, and the United States—are the more gentle clays in the Kaolin family and can be a good choice for people with dry skin and/or sensitive skin (as well as children!). While high in calcium, silica, zinc, and magnesium, they do not have as strong absorption capabilities to remove excess oil and toxins.
- Red Kaolin Clay: Red clay has the strongest absorption of the Kaolin clay family, making it a great option for oily skin. However, it can often be too irritating for dry and sensitive skin.
- Pink Kaolin Clay: This clay—sourced from Australia and France is essentially a mixture of the white and red kaolin clays, making it ideal clay mask for all skin types and more specifically for sensitive and oily, acne-prone skin. When mixed with water, it swells and gains sponge-like qualities. This Pink Clay is known for its ability to draw out impurities, exfoliate dead skin, and rejuvenate the skin by increasing the turnover of new skin cells.
Our Pick: MDacne Clarifying Pink Clay Mask. Made with pure Australian pink clay, this mask also includes retinoids, beta hydroxy acids, and natural plant-based boosters to remove toxins, reduce inflammation, and provide hydration to the skin. The mask is designed to compliment the MDacne Customized Acne Treatment system but can also be used on its own.
Bentonite Clay (aka Natural Calcium Bentonite Clay): Bentonite clay—derived from volcanic ash sediments— is one of the more popular types of clay used in face masks, and for a good reason! Bentonite is one of the most effective clays at absorbing excess oil from the skin and acts super efficiently in healing skin lesions (read more at Bentonite Clay as a Natural Remedy: A Brief Review) making it an awesome choice for people with acne or acne-prone skin as well as people with oily skin. Bentonite clays also have a high concentration of skin-loving minerals such as silica, calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, and potassium.
Our Pick: Aztec Secret Indian healing clay. This calcium bentonite clay face mask is an Amazon customer favorite and holy grail skincare staple. It comes in the form of pure, fine powder and can be mixed with other ingredients (such as apple cider vinegar and warm water) for powerful acne-fighting benefits acne-fighting mask.
French Green Clay: This clay—derived from decomposed plant matter and iron oxide in...you guessed it, France! (and other European cities)—provides exfoliation as well as oil-absorption. Because it is derived from rich plant material, this type of clay should have a rich green color. Beware of French Green Clay that has a grey or white appearance as it will not be as pure, safe, or effective.
Rhassoul Clay: Rhassoul Clay—derived from Morocco—is very rich in minerals with strong exfoliating properties. It’s gentle enough for daily when used in small doses (like in soap!) and makes for a heavy-duty exfoliator when mixed with other ingredients like crushed oats or almonds. This type of clay can also be used as a natural “dry shampoo” by removing excess oil from the hair—restoring volume, and shine.
How long should you leave on a clay mask?
Although it is commonly advised to leave a clay mask on your face until it’s “bone dry” and cracking in order to experience the full effects, it’s actually better to remove a clay mask before it’s fully dry to prevent dehydrating the skin. Don’t worry; you’ll still absorb all the valuable nutrients and get the lifting and tightening benefits even if your face doesn’t feel like crumbling stone! That being said, for individual pimples, you can leave a mask on longer overnight as an effective spot treatment.
Pro tip: The best way to tell it’s time to remove the mask is to do a simple touch test – when you start to see it lightening in color, but it still feels slightly sticky to the touch, it’s time to wash it off!
How often should you use a clay face mask?
Generally speaking, the weekly use of clay masks is the best cadence for most skin types. Those with more oily skin can indulge in applying a clay mask twice a week, but make sure you give your skin a break between treatments to prevent further issues! People with dry, sensitive skin may want to start with using a maks every 10-14 days and work up to weekly as long as their skin does not get irritated.
What is the best type of clay mask for acne-prone skin?
What is the best type of clay mask for acne-prone skin?
The best mask for your skin is the one that leaves your skin feeling cleaner and softer with a shine-free finish that is not too dry or tight. Old school pimple-fighting face masks used to leave skin feeling dry and tight, but the best skin care brands are now incorporating nourishing ingredients into masks to counteract any moisture-sucking side effects. Try a few different versions and see what your skin agrees with best! You may find that one type of masks feel best at certain times of the month/year while others work better at different times. You can never have too many awesome masks on hand.
Our dermatologist recommendation for acne-prone skin is Pink Kaolin Clay. For most people with sensitive or acne-prone skin, the Pink Clay is probably your best option! These masks are very effective at absorbing oil and toxins from the skin but are gentle enough and not over-drying, even for people with already dry, sensitive skin.
What are the best clay mask added ingredients for acne-prone skin?
The most effective clay masks usually combine a high-quality clay with active, moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, anti-inflammatory agents like aloe vera, and exfoliating ingredients such as beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Here are some of our favorite clay mask boosers for acne-prone skin:
BHAs: clay has a great absorption power, but is weak at exfoliation. Beta hydroxy acids (such as lactic acid) are the perfect ingredient to add to a clay mask for gentle exfoliation without over-drying the skin. These beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) clear excess sebum and dead skin cells, and ultimately, help prevent new blackheads and whiteheads.
Retinoids: added retinoids make weekly mask rituals even more effective. Retinoids are a powerful agent that helps enhance skin cell turnover and, therefore, further prevent acne breakouts and improve post-acne signs.
How to use a clay mask with your acne treatment:
While masks can be a super helpful tool to use in your acne treatment program, they should not be considered a replacement for other topical acne treatments. To effectively treat and prevent acne, it’s super important to start and commit to an effective, daily topical treatment plan including active, acne treatment ingredients such as salicylic acid and/or benzoyl peroxide.
While some cases of severe, cystic acne or hormonal acne, it may also be necessary to add an oral therapy such as antibiotics (short term!), Accutane, Spironolactone (females only) or hormonal birth control (females only). However, the right skincare products should provide significant, if not complete, clearance of acne for most people within roughly three months of consistent use. To find the right products for your unique skin, take the free MDacne Skin Analysis, and get your first Customized Acne Treatment Kit for just the cost of shipping ($9).