What’s the Best Face Mask for Acne? Clays, Sheets and Lights (Oh My!)

Breakouts suck but they come with a silver lining: you get to pamper yourself with a face mask for acne. 'Cause let's be honest - acne face masks are about more than simply getting rid of acne and keeping breakouts in check. Not only are the best acne masks effective, they're also fun.

So you get the satisfaction of seeing your pustules dry up and disappear while your skin also feels tightened, toned and deep-down clean. You can even make a total sensory experience out of it. Soak in a hot bath surrounded by candles and soothing music. You have not only relaxed your mind, body and refreshed your spirit, you have radiant skin. It feels as special as having a mask treatment at a spa at a fraction of the cost.

And of course, it's that much better when a mask can also help you gain control over your acne-ravaged skin. In a nutshell, acne is caused by sebum (oil) and bacteria trapped inside your pores. So you want an acne mask that opens the pores, controls the oil glands, and cleans bacteria and other contaminants from your skin. Not only will your skin look better in the present, it will be less susceptible to those acne-causing scourges in the future.

Masks that best partner with your regular acne-fighting regimen contain a variety of acne-busting and acne-soothing ingredients, some ordinary, some exotic: tea tree oil, sulfur, salicylic acid, clay, charcoal, licorice, meadowsweet and chamomile, for example.

Become acquainted here with the eight best face masks for acne prone skin, so that you will be informed when selecting which one (or two or three) you'd like to try!

Dermalogica Overnight Clearing Gel

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Dermalogica Overnight Clearing Gel, $39

Ever wish you could just go to sleep and wake up in the morning to clear, acne-free skin? You'll want to meet this overnight acne mask.

The Overnight Clearing Gel is a face mask for acne that, no surprise here, you leave on overnight. While you sleep, the clearing gel draws the build-up of sebum and bacteria from your pores and tames those overactive oil glands. This gel contains a unique blend of botanicals that also cleans the toxins, debris, and bacteria from your skin before they have a chance to settle in and create problems and calms the inflammation that accompanies acne. And it does all this without dehydrating your skin.

Salicylic acid is an effective exfoliant that sloughs off those dead skin cells to keep them from clogging your pores and causing more outbreaks of acne. Tea tree oil is an antiseptic that aids in healing and soothes the skin. Meadowsweet, an herb and beautiful wildflower, tightens, tones, and heals. Green tea soothes irritation. Rosemary extract inhibits bacteria and stimulates the skin's own antimicrobial agents for a clearer, healthier skin.

Before going to bed, wash and dry your face. Apply a thin layer of the gel all over your face or only on the affected areas. Wash off in the morning and be amazed!


Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Masque

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Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Masque, $34

Sulfur has gotten a bad rap for years and years - back when it was called brimstone and was associated with unpleasant situations like eternal damnation. In truth, sulfur has been used for centuries for its therapeutic properties. People have soaked away a whole long list of maladies in sulfur springs. And it is a powerhouse in the acne wars.

This sulfur acne mask is the most potent you'll find - it contains 10 percent sulfur (the maximum allowable strength), kaolin and bentonite clays, eucalyptus oil and aloe. Sulfur disinfects the skin, dries out blemishes, and removes dead skin cells, dirt, and oil buildup. Kaolin and bentonite clays pull oil and dirt right out of those clogged pores. Eucalyptus oil is a potent antiseptic that dries up pimples, the first step to healing; kills bacteria to prevent future outbreaks; alleviates inflammation; and salves the pain of acne boils. Aloe moisturizes.

Cleanse and dry your skin well. Apply the face mask and allow it to dry for 5-10 minutes. Wash off with warm water.

Note: If your skin is sensitive, the Sulfur Masque may cause it to flake or peel. In that case, rinse the masque off in less than five minutes or use it less frequently (2-3 times a week is recommended for normal or oily skin). Following up with a moisturizer will lessen the risks to sensitive skin.


Murad Acne Clarifying Mask

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Murad Clarifying Mask, $34

Murad's Clarifying Mask also contains sulfur (4%) and kaolin and bentonite clay. It is a thick, white, opaque face mask for acne and oily skin that delivers a powerful acne medication and absorbs the dirt and oil from deep inside your pores. This mask is best used for oily and/or blemish-prone skin, as it helps regulate the skin's production of oil.

Sulfur reduces the acerbity of the acne and helps to prevent future outbreaks. Kaolin and bentonite draw out oil and bacteria from your pores and purify your skin. Zinc and licorice extract sooth the inflammation and calm the skin. Grape seed extract, an antioxidant, helps prevent free radical damage.

Cleanse your face. Leave it a bit damp and the mask will glide on nicely (although it applies smoothly enough on dry skin). Leave on until it's dry, 10-15 minutes. Then rinse it off and follow with toner and moisturizer.


Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask

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Origins Clear Improvements Mask, $31

The significant and most powerful ingredient in the Clear Improvement mask is activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is made by burning a source of carbon: nutshells, coal, or wood, in this case bamboo.

The high temperature creates millions of tiny pores in the charcoal that adsorb a wide range of impurities. (“Adsorb” is not a type, it means attracting molecules and atoms to a surface compared to “absorb” which means soaking up a substance. Adsorption is a more thorough and faster way to carry away toxins. Activated charcoal is used in emergency rooms in cases of drug overdoses or ingestion of poisons. It is also used to purify water filtration systems.)

Bamboo Charcoal attracts all the muck that is living deep down in your pores. It also adsorbs the tiny flakes of skin on your face that build up and form milia, tiny, hard, unsightly cysts. White China clay absorbs environmental toxins. Lecithin dissolves impurities and flushes out environmental toxins, dirt, and debris that can clog pores.

To get the most out of this face mask for acne, take a hot shower or apply a warm, damp towel to your face for a few minutes to gently open the pores before you apply the mask. It's a little sticky/goopy so take care to apply a thick-ish, even layer and let dry. Rinse thoroughly with warm water. You will notice immediately that your skin is soft, smooth, and purified. You will notice later that acne outbreaks have subsided or occur less frequently.


Dr. Jart Clearing Solution Sheet Mask

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Dr. Jart Clearing Solution Sheet Mask, $17 for 5 sheets

This brilliant acne mask sheet is a thin, super silky microfiber that gently clings to your skin to ensure that the solution is thoroughly and evenly absorbed into your skin. And that's great news 'cause the solution is amazing.

It's comprised of a clever combination of acne fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and tea tree oil as well as acne scar-preventing ingredients like panthenol, a form of Vitamin B5, that stimulates the skin's healing processes and keeps your skin hydrated and glutathione, a potent antioxidant, visibly evens out and brightens skin tone and improves the appearance of the dark spots left by acne.

As powerful as this formula is, it's suitable for dry and sensitive skin, thanks to ingredients that soothe and calm inflammation like essential oil of chamomile, which fights bacteria, calms inflammation and restores suppleness.

To use, simply cleanse your face and then apply the mask, adjusting it around your eyes and mouth. It's a really pleasant feel - cool and refreshing, especially if you have active, inflamed acne. Leave the mask on for 10 to 20 minutes. When you remove it, pat the serum that remains on your skin until it is fully absorbed. Your face will feel perfectly hydrated and pimples will be noticeably reduced.

The Dr. Jart sheet mask, as thin as it is, is a tad thicker than similar products, which makes it more durable and easier to fit onto your face. It also stays in place better and is saturated with more solution.

Tip: There's usually extra solution left swimming around in the pack. When your mask dries out, go ahead and apply the extra runny stuff in the pack :)​


illuMask Acne Light Therapy

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illuMask Acne Light Therapy, $66

The illuMask is not your average face mask for acne - it's a light-emitting diode (LED) device that treats your face with blue and red lights to combat two of the major factors that contribute to acne: bacteria and inflammation. The dual action technology gently penetrates the skin to clear acne and improve skin tone and texture.

Here's how it works: The blue light has antimicrobial properties that kill bacteria while the red light penetrates skin tissue about 10mm (around one-third of an inch) and treats infections, scars and swelling. It also encourages collagen production, which, among all its other benefits to the skin, rushes that acne away and prevents those abhorrent acne scars.

In case you're worried about the effects of donning a light mask, rest assured - the lights are safe. They do not emit UV wave lengths and they do not get hot. LED light therapy has been used successfully by dermatologists for more than a decade.

For best results, use the mask every day, but not more than once a day. The lights are programmed to turn off automatically when your 10-minute treatment session is over. They are also programmed to provide 30 sessions. The mask is suitable for all skin types and treats mild to moderate acne.

You can multitask or just relax while using your mask. Your peripheral vision will be somewhat obstructed, so you can't drive (but can you imagine, ha!), and be careful walking. Do not use it while sleeping - this is not an overnight acne mask! 


If you're battling a breakout right now, it might be tempting to try all of these face masks for acne, but please, do them one at a time. If you try too many acne treatments at once, you won't know which was helpful and which was harmful.

You will find what works best for your skin, but you might need some patience. Acne doesn't happen overnight (although it feels like it sometimes), and it won't vanish overnight. Just keep in mind, with the proper treatment, your skin will be clear again!

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