The Acne-Fighting Face Masks That *Actually* Work, According To A Dermatologist

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Everyone loves a good face mask, and there are a lot of great ones that can help with acne — but some will be much more effective than others. In general, the best face masks for acne work to do one or more of the following things: unclog pores, soak up oil, calm inflammation, and provide some surface-level exfoliation. To help narrow things down even further, Bustle spoke with Dr. Hilary Baldwin, M.D., Medical Director of the Acne Treatment and Research Center in Brooklyn, NY. She says the best ingredients for people with blemish-prone skin can be divided into four general groups:

1) Oil-control: This includes clay, charcoal and exfoliating acids like AHAs and BHAs.

2) Anti-inflammatories: Helpful for acne-prone patients with sensitive skin. These include niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and certain botanicals like algae and aloe.

3) Exfoliants: These exfoliate the outer layer of the epidermis and allow over-the-counter acne products to perform better. (Chemical exfoliants include AHAs and BHAs such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid.)

4) Antibacterials: These ingredients (such as sulfur, tea tree oil, and benzoyl peroxide) are actually capable of killing the bacterium (cutibacterium acnes) that causes acne.

“Group three and four ingredients are the most important for getting at the root cause of acne,” explains Dr. Baldwin, although she adds that a retinol might be necessary to treat more than just surface blackheads. Avoid pore-clogging lipids — some nourishing or hydrating masks may contain lipids that work great for dry skin types that don't experience breakouts, but not so well on acne-prone skin, the doctor explains. Finally, “If oily skin is not a problem, or if sensitive skin is a problem, avoid groups one and three" as they might be too drying or irritating.

And now, scroll on to shop six of the best face masks for acne-prone skin.

We only recommend products we love and that we think you will, too. We may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was written by our Commerce team.

The Best Sulfur Mask For Acne

Dr. Baldwin likes this mask from Peter Thomas Roth, which contains antibacterial sulfur, two types of clay to soak up oil, soothing aloe, and glycerin for a lightweight hit of moisture. Fair warning: Because it's pretty serious stuff, you should only apply this mask to the areas of your face that are currently experiencing breakouts, rather than all over your skin. Wear it for up to 10 minutes once or twice a week.

A More Affordable Alternative

This mask from AcneFree has a lower concentration of sulfur (3.5% vs. the 10% in Peter Thomas Roth's mask), but it also has a much lower price tag to match. There's also oil-absorbing clay and brightening vitamin C in the formula to leave skin feeling refreshed and looking clear.

One super cool feature of this mask: It'll turn blue to let you know once it's fully absorbed.

The Best Clay Mask For Oily, Acne-Prone Skin

The Effaclar Shine Control Clay Mask by La Roche-Posay is the doctor's number-one product for oily skin. Effaclar is the brand's best-selling line of acne treatments, and their clay and glycerin mask is excellent for people with oily, breakout-prone skin, thanks to its purifying and mattifying properties. Apply it for just five minutes to soak up excess sebum and give your pores a nice, deep clean.

A Drugstore Pick From Our Expert

Dr. Baldwin prefers acne-fighting ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide to be used as a leave-on treatment (rather than in a face wash), which is why she likes Neutrogena’s Rapid Clear Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Mask. It works to kill acne-causing bacteria, but it's also pretty heavy-duty, so it's probably not the best choice if you have dry, sensitive skin. If your skin can handle it, though, you can use it daily — but only apply it to the affected areas of your skin.

With this purchase, you'll get three masks for just $25, so you'll be stocked for ages!

The Best Clay Mask That Also Exfoliates & Brightens

There's an impressive list of blemish-busting ingredients in Follain's Dual Detox Mask. Shine is reduced with clay, while AHAs, a BHA, and a PHA work to exfoliate skin and unclog pores — and there's also vitamin C and several antioxidant-rich fruit extracts in the formula to encourage a brighter complexion. Expect smoother, softer skin courtesy of the acids.

What sets this mask apart from the rest is its totally clean formula. You'll find no unnecessary additives in here (that means no added fragrance or pigments, which is hard to find in masks in general), and it has a creamy consistency that feels lovely on skin.

The Cult-Favorite Clay Mask That People Swear By

Follan's Dual Detox mask is definitely among the cleanest (blended) masks you can find, but it doesn't get much cleaner than 100% pure calcium bentonite clay, which is the only ingredient in the cult-favorite Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay. It's a cult-favorite around the world for its serious breakout-busting abilities: You simply mix it with water or apple cider vinegar, and you're good to go. You'll really feel your skin pulsate with this mask, like the brand says (don't expect to be able to smile or chew while wearing it). It's hardcore, but it really works.

You can also use this as an all-over body mask (great for back and chest acne), or pour some into your bath to reap its detoxifying properties from head to toe.


Dr. Hilary Baldwin, M.D., Medical Director of the Acne Treatment and Research Center in Brooklyn, NY.