Best Face Masks for Acne: Clay, Exfoliating, and DIY Recipes

  • Face masks can be used to help clear up blemishes.
  • Not all masks are the same—look for masks that clear pores, minimize oil production, and have anti-inflammatory ingredients to soothe irritation.
  • The best ingredients for acne include clay, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and ingredients such as aloe vera that have healing properties.
  • Dermatologists recommend using a face mask once or twice per week, and alternating between exfoliating and healing masks.

Face masks are among the most popular skincare products. From magnetic masks that claim to zap pore-clogging debris to 24-karat gold masks that dazzle the blemishes away, there’s seemingly nothing we won’t try to clear up acne-prone skin. Buzz aside, you can use face masks to improve acne. The key, of course, is finding the right one. In general, the experts say that you don’t need anything fancy to see good results.

Can face masks banish acne?

The answer to this commonly asked question is “sort of,” says Dr. Robin Evans of Southern Connecticut Dermatology. Face masks won’t cure acne in the way that Accutane does, but they “can be very helpful for acne by cleaning, exfoliating, and assisting with comedone removal and extraction,” Dr. Evans explains. They can also loosen up “comedones to assist with extractions during facials.” In other words, the right kind of mask can help eliminate many of the issues that can lead to acne blemishes.

Masks work in the same way all topical skincare products work: they deliver active ingredients directly to the skin. Face masks tend to contain added absorption aids, such as butylene glycol, making them even more efficient than other products at getting the ingredients into the skin. However, masks should never replace your everyday moisturizers and cleansers.

Although masks can benefit the skin, not everyone will see great results. “There are different degrees of acne,” says Nicole Palladino, assistant director of the Rizzieri Aveda School in Voorhees, NJ. Acne is usually rated on a scale of one to four, with one being mild and four being severe, she explains. “For stage one and stage two, face masks are more likely to help clear your acne, but it’s best to use them once or twice a week. If your skin is experiencing more irritation than usual, you can use these masks more often.”

» Learn more about cystic acne, and recommended ways to treat these large, red, painful bumps

The best kinds of masks for acne

Clay masks

Clay masks are by far the most popular kind of mask for acne. “Clay masks will draw oil from pores,” says Dr. Cynthia Bailey of Dr. Bailey Skin Care. “It is a nice way to help clear clogged pore debris when used together with acne products that help break up dead cells that form blackheads.”

Clay can even be used to reduce irritation in people with sensitive skin. “Clay-based masks work best for blemished skin, as clay eliminates redness and irritation,” says Palladino. “Clay has been used for centuries to help all types of skin issues, and just recently became the it-product to include in face masks.”

Recommended clay mask: Palladino recommends the Aveda Botanical Kinetics Deep Cleansing Clay Mask. “The mask works well to get stubborn blackheads out. It also contains all organic ingredients, so you know what you’re using is healthy for your skin,” says Palladino. The GLAMGLOW Supermud Mask is also a popular choice.

AVEDA Botanical Kinetics deep cleansing masque mask


Check Price


Check Price

Exfoliating masks

Although clay masks are the first pick to treat acne, alternating with exfoliating masks featuring chemical exfoliators, like salicylic acid and glycolic acid, is a good course of action, says Dr. Bailey. These kinds of masks get rid of dead skin cells, allowing the skin to regenerate healthy, new cells which helps prepare the skin for healing masks.

“Masks can contain a variety of ingredients, but alpha hydroxy acid or beta hydroxy acid ingredients will be best for acne,” says Dr. Evans. She recommends masks that contain glycolic acid (AHA) or salicylic acid (BHA), as these acids are known for their ability to slough away the top layer of the skin. You might also consider the occasional chemical peel for a stronger exfoliation effect.

Recommended exfoliating mask: The Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial is a popular option for exfoliation. This mask uses a blend of lactic acid, tartaric acid, citric acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid (for a total concentration of 25% alpha hydroxy acid and 2% beta hydroxy acid) to clear away dead skin.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial


Check Price

» Learn more about the best face firming creams of 2019, and why they work so well

Homemade masks

Making your own face masks at home has its benefits. It’s cheaper, more accessible, and more customizable to your unique needs. The best homemade masks are the ones that contain ingredients similar to those in your over-the-counter skincare products. Luckily, a lot of the stuff we have in our kitchens and medicine cabinets can be used as substitutes.

There are thousands of DIY mask recipes out there, including ones that use cucumber, yogurt, green tea, oatmeal, and all kinds of ingredients you can find in your local supermarket.

Most of us don’t have face-safe clay lying around—although you can buy bentonite clay to make clay masks at home—so you need to find other oil-busting options. Many people swear by egg white, lemon juice, and tea tree oil for drying oily skin.

And don’t forget to add ingredients that have healing properties, such as aloe vera gel, and glow-inducing vitamin C and antioxidants.

Recommended homemade masks: If you have super-sensitive skin, it’s best to avoid homemade masks that contain irritating or drying ingredients, such as lemon. Make sure to steer clear of any comedogenic oils, such as coconut oil, that can clog pores and worsen acne.


When used as part of a well-rounded skincare regimen, masks can do a lot to heal acne-prone skin. There is just one important thing to remember when choosing or creating a face mask: know your ingredients. If you look for options with ingredients known to help with your specific skin issues, you’ll certainly see some benefit when you use a face mask once or twice a week.

If you are not sure which mask is best for you, you should speak with a dermatologist who can point you to the appropriate product for your unique concerns.

Related Posts