Are Clay Face Masks Good for Acne?

When it comes to treating acne, experts agree: Clay is a miracle worker. In addition to being rich in beneficial minerals, clay can draw out and soak up acne-causing impurities. 

With its absorbent, exfoliating and astringent properties, clay not only tackles the root causes of acne but also treats ongoing symptoms that plague breakout-prone skin. Read on to uncover the benefits of clay masks and why they are a must for your acne skincare routine.

Clay has a long history in skincare. As early as the Mesopotamian era, this remarkable ingredient was used to heal wounds, soothe inflammation and cleanse the skin. Ancient Egyptians combined clay with olive oil to brew skin-softening soaps, and Cleopatra is known to have applied a dead sea clay mask twice a week to purify her complexion. 

Today, clay continues to be a central component of many in-spa and at-home treatments, including detoxifying body wraps and clarifying face masks.

Benefits Of Clay Masks For Acne

Clay is a go-to ingredient in many anti-breakout treatments, especially acne face masks. Here are five ways that clay face masks help improve breakout-prone complexions.

Restore Balance

One of the primary causes of acne is excess oil production. When the skin overproduces sebum, its pores enlarge and stretch to hold in the surplus. In addition to coating the skin's surface, excess oil can become trapped within pores, where it combines with dead skin and bacteria and triggers breakouts.

However, the answer isn't to suck all the moisture from your skin; after all, sebum is essential to your skin's health and helps to lubricate and soften its surface. Clay has the unique ability to absorb excess oil from the skin's surface without compromising the necessary hydration. The result: a perfectly balanced complexion.

Draw Out Impurities & Shrink Pores

Think of clay as a magnet: It is composed of negatively charged particles that bind to positively charged impurities (like toxins and bacteria) and pulls them from your pores.

Every pimple begins with a clogged pore, and a critical first step in treating acne is removing dead skin cells and clearing blockages. Eminence Organics International Trainer Jude Herrera tells us, "Clays help to detoxify the skin and draw out impurities and oil from its surface.

This is especially helpful for those with acne or oily-prone skin." Think of clay as a magnet: It is composed of negatively charged particles that bind to positively charged impurities (like toxins and bacteria) and pulls them from your pores. This produces an astringent action that relieves congestion from pores and allows them to shrink back to their normal size.

Absorb Oil & Minimize Shine

Clay doesn't just draw impurities from pores and expel them onto the skin's surface. Rather, it is highly porous and absorbent - much like a sponge.

When wet, clay swells and binds to impurities and, as it dries, soaks them into its centre. In addition to absorbing sebum and bacteria that have been drawn out of pores, clay sops up excess oil and dead skin cells from the skin's surface. This gentle exfoliating action not only rids skin of acne-causing contaminants but also reduces surface shine and contributes to a more mattified complexion.

Nutrient-Rich

Along with its purifying properties, clay also provides essential nutrients and minerals to maintain your skin's health.

Clay is formed over long periods by the gradual erosion of mineral-rich rocks and, as a result, is rich in beneficial elements like silica, calcium, magnesium, sodium, copper, iron and potassium (to name a few).

Silica, in particular, is required for collagen production and plays a key role in keeping skin plump, firm and elastic. This can help minimize the appearance of ice pick acne scars which are often the most difficult to treat.

Suitable For All Skin Types

To top things off, clay face masks are suitable for all skin types. Jude tells us: "Even if breakouts do not plague you, clay can be rich in minerals and acids that benefit other skin types, too." Clay face masks are often composed of various types that can treat a multitude of skin types and conditions.

For example, oily and acne-prone skin can benefit greatly from montmorillonite clay's purifying and deeply absorbent properties.

On the other hand, dry and dehydrated skin may prefer kaolinite clay, found in the Balancing Masque Duo, which gently unclogs pores and softens skin. The clays you choose will depend on the results you hope to achieve for your complexion.

These Are the Best Clay Masks for Every Budget

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There's a reason mud-masking has been around for centuries. Vitamin and mineral-rich, good-for-you earth is easily one of the best things you can slather on your skin.

Plus, clay masks feel great on the skin, and they're practically made for easy at-home use. What other skincare product can you see working—drying out to unclog and detox pores in a matter of minutes?

So we agree: Clay masks are awesome. But they aren't all created equal. Sure, the formulas will differ, as some gently exfoliate while others refine and a select few plump the skin, but the differences run deeper than that.

The type of clay and even where the clay was sourced can make a huge difference in a clay mask's efficacy, and there are many products on the market to sift through for these differences. So we did the hard work for you and compiled a list of the all-time best clay masks.

Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Face Mask

Upon discovery of this mask, Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue's world was rocked. (You can read all about her Italian beauty experience.) The clay is sourced from Umbria, Italy (otherwise known as the "Green Heart of Italy") and incredibly mineral-rich, which is how it so thoroughly cleanses and purifies the skin.

Sandalwood oil, chamomile flower, and lavender water are also included to calm and soothe your complexion. Just trust us when we say it's so good.

Aztec Secret – Indian Healing Clay

This cult-favourite is a 100% natural bentonite clay mask derived from volcanic ash, making it rich in minerals. It comes in powder form in a big tub, and only a few teaspoonfuls are needed to make an effective mask.

It's highly recommended to mix with apple cider vinegar, which reacts well with the powder clay and essentially turns it into a sponge that absorbs any excess oil and sucks out all impurities. The result? A brighter and tighter canvas. Because the clay is so potent, use this mask as a deep treatment once or twice a week when you need a major skin boost.

Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask

Amazonian white clay is the star ingredient in this creamy, powerful face mask. Fairly sourced from the Amazon River, this light clay really dives deep into pores to clean them out. Say goodbye to sebum and dead skin as the product works as a mild exfoliant to remove toxins, dirt, and dry skin cells.

Although the formula works well with all skin types, it's especially useful for acne-prone skin as it gets rid of impurities that can clog pores and cause blemishes. However, this clay isn't drying thanks to the inclusion of aloe, which majorly hydrates and calms irritated skin.

Elizavecca Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask

A favourite clay mask courtesy of the K-beauty world, this one is ace at removing blackheads for clearer-looking skin, but not without tickling the skin with a little bubble action first.

After applying this mask, watch in awe as it starts to foam and take on a cloud-like appearance. Snap a quick picture (you won't be able to resist) and then rinse it off for the ultimate welcome to glowing skin.

L'Oréal Paris Pure-Clay Detox & Brighten Face Mask

If you're looking for a back-to-basics formula without too many bells and whistles, then this one is for you. It's a mix of pure clay and charcoal to draw out impurities, dirt, and oil. Oh, and it's the same price as most lunches, so you can stock up as often as you like.

GlamGlow Supermud Charcoal Instant Treatment Mask

Even if you rarely use clay masks, you've likely heard of this buzzy product. It's popular because it works like an IRL Instagram filter. It targets everything from blemishes to redness to scars, razor bumps, and even ingrown hair.

And take it from us—after you wash it off, your skin will feel incredibly smooth, thanks to a blend of six exfoliating acids.

Acne Free Kaolin Clay Detox Mask With Charcoal

They say two is better than one, and that's part of the reason why we love this multi-purpose formula. It can be used (you guessed it) in two ways: a detox face mask and a purifying facial cleanser.

Charcoal and kaolin clay pair together in a big way, with results made even bigger with the inclusion of vitamin E and zinc to help draw out impurities, purify pores, and reduce the appearance of excess oil.

Origins Original Skin Retexturizing Mask With Rose Clay

A milder clay, pink clay is a combination of red and white clay and is ideal for fussy skin. The microfine powder is a super gentle polisher without tugging on dragging on delicate skin.

Apart from its fun millennial pink shade, the mask itself is infused with exfoliating jojoba beads and Canadian willowherb, a natural skin soother. After use, skin feels more even and pores look smaller. Apply all over the face, avoiding the eye area, and let it work its magic for ten minutes.

Herbivore Botanicals Pink Clay Facial Mask

clay mask

And the obsession with rose-coloured clay (happily) continues. This time, French pink clay makes an appearance in an intense anti-aging mud powder. It banishes fine lines and improves skin's elasticity due to its iron oxide and silica.

The scent is relaxing—we smell you, rosehip—making this a lovely sensory experience. As wonderful as it smells, rosehip has anti-aging benefits, preventing further wrinkles with its trans-retinoic acid.

Charlotte Tilbury Goddess Skin Clay Mask

Fans of this mask include some serious A-listers (think Gigi Hadid). It's probably because of the megawatt glow and velvety softness that results from a quick rendezvous with this formula. Spanish clay, sweet almond oil, rosehip oil, and peptides work together to detoxify, nourish, and plump the skin.

Take it from the queen herself, Charlotte Tilbury: "It has fail-proof results, dramatically purifying the skin, creating a smooth, clear, youthfully dewy surface, revealing new baby skin."

Olay Pore Detox Black Charcoal Clay Face Mask Stick

If there's one downfall to mud masks, it's the mess. This handy, convenient stick solves all of that. Charcoal and kaolin clay partner up in this mask stick to zap pore-clogging excess oils and exfoliate dead skin.

Don't worry about over-drying. The formula leaves skin feeling well-hydrated and plump after application. Apply the mask to clean, dry skin and leave it on for at least ten minutes. While rinsing the product off, massage it into the skin for full absorption. 

Barbara Sturm Face Mask

Dr Barbara Sturm is an aesthetic medicine specialist: She's applied her knowledge of molecular science to create a line of safe, effective skincare products, and this mask is no exception. Aloe vera, vitamin E, and chamomile rest on a base of white kaolin clay (also known as china clay).

The result is a deep-cleansing clay mask that's somehow super hydrating. Worth the hefty price tag, if you ask us.

African Botanics Mineral Cleansing Mask

This mask targets "redness, inflammation, and acne." Thanks to its long list of minerals—magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron included—it sucks up extra dirt, oil, and debris from pores. Plus, it smells lovely, like a blend of rose and clementine.

Innisfree Volcanic Clay Cluster Mask

This K-beauty buy (and Byrdie Editor Kathryn Vandervalk favourite) uses porous volcanic clusters from the brand's Jeju Island to clear out the pores and absorb grease.

It also contains kaolin and bentonite clay, so it's heavy-duty stuff (but never drying). Try it on areas prone to congestion or as a spot treatment next time a pimple rears its head.

Circumference Green Clay Detox Face Mask

This rich, softening pick from Circumference is truly something special. For Faith Xue, Byrdie's Editorial Director, it's not just the stellar ingredient listing (French green clay, blackcurrant seed, evening primrose, and sacha inchi) but the texture and scent that make it so remarkable.

It's light and airy, almost like a mousse, and smells Earthy but clean like a Byredo room mist, but for your face.

Femme Gentle Green Mask 

It's hard to find a clay mask that feels simultaneously nourishing and cleansing, but this buy from Femme somehow strikes the perfect balance. It's made on a base of kaolin clay and contains glycerin and olive oil to soften and hydrate. It's also quite fluffy in texture, a characteristic Byrdie's Editorial Director Faith Xue is particularly fond of.

Types Of Face Masks

clay face mask

With so many options out there, how do you choose the right face mask for you? Here's what you need to know about each type.

Cream 

Think of the texture of a rich moisturizer — that's the best way to describe the feel of a cream-based mask. 

These face masks do wonders for adding moisture and nutrients back into the skin, helping maintain a plump and young-looking appearance. Eminence Organics International Educator Brian Goodwin lets us in on a skincare secret:

"An insider tip is that most of our cream-based masks can be used as a leave-on treatment." One option is the cream-based Bamboo Age Corrective Masque that smooths the appearance of dry, dehydrated or aging skin overnight.

Gel 

Gel masks, on the other hand, have the consistency of jam or jelly. With their lightweight texture, they are an excellent choice for oily to normal skin types. Many gel masks include astringent ingredients like raspberries and blackberries, which minimize oil and tighten the appearance of pores.

Others are formulated with hydrating ingredients like stonecrop and honey, which replenish the look of dry and dehydrated skin. 

The Citrus & Kale Potent C+E Masque is suited for those looking for a firmer-looking complexion. It contains a cocktail of rhubarb extract, avocado oil, leafy greens and citrus.

Whichever mask you choose, you can amplify your results with this skincare tip from Brian: Apply your favourite gel-based mask before hopping in the shower to make it an active in-shower treatment. 

Clay 

With its absorbent, exfoliating and astringent properties, clay treats ongoing skin conditions related to acne, such as excess oil and inflammation. Pro skincare tip: Did you know a clay mask can double as a spot treatment? Lead Skin Care Trainer Natalie Pergar recommends using the Acne Advanced Clarifying Masque to treat bumpy and congested skin: "It's nice and creamy in texture, and you need a little bit … Just hit those little areas and let it dry."

Exfoliating

Exfoliating masks are formulated to remove dead skin cells and enhance your skin's natural turnover process. This type of face mask may take the form of a chemical peel which employs alpha or beta hydroxy acids to dissolve dead skin cells and clear them from the skin's surface.

Or, it may use finely ground particles, like the maize flour in the Rosehip & Maize Exfoliating Masque, to gently buff and polish your complexion.

Warming

Warming masks contain active spices like paprika and cinnamon that make the skin feel warm. They intentionally cause a tingling sensation, and in some cases, the skin may turn bright red.

The immediate effects last from 20 - 60 minutes before revealing a healthy, glowy complexion. In the same way that increased energy benefits exercise, invigorating your complexion and increasing your blood flow provides a great workout for your skin.