Dec 17, 2019 · 4 min read
Ah, mud. Is there anything more iconic in skincare than a face wearing a kaolin clay mask, cucumber slices resting on the eyes? Peel-off face masks made from mineral-based clays (like kaolin and bentonite) can be good for softening dry, rough skin, soaking up excess moisture, and physically exfoliating the skin. And it turns out, some of the best face masks are cheap as dirt. Here’s my analysis of the best face masks you can get at the drugstore.
What’s in your clay mask? There are tons of obscure and exotic-sounding clays that are used in skincare. Most of the time, it’s going to be a form of one of these:
Kaolin clay is made from kaolinite, one of the most common mineral-rich clays. Other forms of kaolinite in face masks are white clay, pink clay, rose clay, and China clay.
Bentonite clay is formed from volcanic ash — a recent study showed that bentonite may significantly improve wound healing time. Rhassoul clay is another type of volcanic ash clay.
Illite clay, more commonly called French green clay, comes from the sea — a recent study showed that illite clay may have stronger antibacterial properties than kaolinite.
Mineral clay may be ideal for oily and acne-prone skin because of the way it absorbs moisture. As the mask dries, it hardens. So when the dry mask is peeled away from the face, it physically exfoliates by removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. While gently unclogging pores, clays also soak up excess oil. And, as previously mentioned, there’s some clinical evidence that the minerals in natural clays encourage skin healing, which may help treat skin inflammation associated with acne.
Bentonite and kaolin clays are so popular because they draw water out from the skin, which makes pores appear smaller. They’re also abundantly available and relatively inexpensive, meaning you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a good clay facial at home. Combination and dry skin types may also find an occasional clay mask is relaxing and helps to brighten skin — look for masks with moisturizing ingredients like glycerin to help maintain hydration.
Mineral-rich clay is an abundant resource, so give one of these affordable at-home facials a try.
This mask has one ingredient: bentonite clay, with a high amount of calcium, which gives it a greenish hue. It’s probably the best clay mask for sensitive skin, and it also works nicely as a clay mask for oily skin. While bentonite soaks up excess sebum — which is what you want if you’re super oily — dry skin types might prefer facials with added moisturizing ingredients to help add water to the skin.
$7.99 ($0.52 per oz) via Target
A kaolin clay mask with witch hazel and willowbark to help soothe skin. Bulldog is a skincare brand for men, so when it comes to affordability, this is arguably the best face mask for men (although anyone of any gender can use it)! One thing to note is that it contains alcohol, which may be drying — which you might want if you have oily skin — and synthetic fragrance, which might irritate some, so skip this one if you have sensitive skin.
$9.99 ($2.96 per oz) via Bulldog Skincare for Men
One of the best face masks for acne-prone skin. In addition to kaolin and bentonite clay — which help minimize the appearance of pores — aloe is a key ingredient, which contains salicylic acid and has antibacterial properties that may help treat skin inflammation. It also has activated charcoal, which might not really detoxify the skin, but can feel mighty soothing.
$8.69 ($5.11 per oz) via Target
A kaolin clay face mask with salicylic acid to help decrease inflammation while encouraging physical exfoliation — but be careful: this product has the over-the-counter maximum concentration of salicylic acid, so start slowly, and watch out for dryness if you have sensitive skin. This mask also hydrates the skin with squalane and glycerin. It’s a great mask for mature, acne-prone skin.
$12.00 ($7.10 per oz) via The Ordinary
A kaolin, bentonite, and illite clay mask with vitamin C, which may help improve the appearance of dark spots and wrinkles. It also has aloe and is packed with moisturizing ingredients, making this a great face mask for dry, acne-prone skin.
$2.59 ($7.62 per oz) via Yes To
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Physical exfoliation from products like clay masks can help smooth the appearance of skin and unclog pores, but it’s easy to overdo it. Exfoliating once or twice a week is plenty, and if you don’t like the drying feeling of peel-off masks, they’re not a routine necessity.
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