Ever feel like you're fighting—and losing—a battle with acne? You certainly aren't alone. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology maintains that acne is the most common skin malady in the U.S. and affects up to 50 million people every year. As all acne sufferers know, it's sometimes super-hard to find a treatment that works. But very often, when combined with a comprehensive, dermatologist-approved plan to tackle it, the right acne-fighting face mask can help banish blemishes for good.
The use of topical healing and skin-rejuvenating face masks (think: natural clay, mud, and herbal concoctions) can be traced back thousands of years, according to Jamé Heskett, MD. But now, Heskett says, we actually have the science to back up these ancient practices, and many of today's best face masks tap into such age-old ingredients to help heal problem skin.
Consider this your go-to face mask guide in targeting acne-prone skin, no matter your skin type. We've rounded up 12 of the best, dermatologist-recommended face masks for acne and asked some skin experts to weigh in for good measure. Add one of these potent treatments to your acne-fighting arsenal and feel confident you're on the right road to recovery.
Just don't pick if you can help it. "Many people with acne struggle with picking their blemishes, which is a vicious cycle," cautions Elyse Shelger, RN. She recommends this "soothing, healing mask that helps calm redness and irritation and tighten pores with nutrients derived from ingredients such as meadowfoam seed oil and lentil seed extract."
Store sheet masks in the fridge before use. The coolness can help soothe inflammation sometimes caused by acne.
"Face masks help restore the skin's natural barrier," says dermatologist Anthony Rossi, MD, FAAD, "which can be inflamed or damaged, either from other acne medications or from inflammatory papules themselves." Sheet masks, in particular, are nice because "they seal in serums and active ingredients while restoring that barrier," he adds. The honey extract in this mask has natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, too.
"This mask reduces redness, takes away inflammation, and calms the skin," says the dermatologist Parvaneh Rafaeloff, MD. And in general, a good face mask that's specifically formulated to fight acne should "dry out existing spots, tighten pores, and minimize oil production," she adds.
Cleansing and Purifying
"This cleanser can be used as a mask that can be rinsed off after 10 minutes," says the dermatologist Melissa K. Levin, MD, FAAD. "It contains glycolic acid to remove dead skin-cell buildup while kaolin, a natural clay mineral, draws out toxic particles and debris."
“You can use this gel as an overnight mask," says organic facialist Athena Allen. "It’s all-natural and avoids the use of dehydrating alcohol preservatives. Try using it twice per week starting with week two of use; reduce applications if skin feels too exfoliated."
"This mask contains probiotics that not only trigger an improvement in the appearance of the skin but also optimize the skin's microflora and its natural defense. I use it myself during bath time because the warm water helps skin's circulation," says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, FACMS, FAAD.
"This mask contains sulfur," says dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, "which kills surface bacteria that may cause acne. It works by breaking down keratin to clean pores and is a skin-calming anti-inflammatory."
Nazarian recommends using this once a week, in conjunction with Proactiv's Detox Hydrogel sheet masks, which are made with activated bamboo charcoal and lava clay to help deeply cleanse and purify acne-prone skin.
"This over-the-counter professional-strength face mask contains benzoyl peroxide, which decreases acne-causing bacteria. Use it once a week to dry oil-prone skin," advises Nazarian.
"This mask is powerful yet gentle," says Allen. "Bentonite clay enables the skin to control oil naturally and restores pH balance and bacterial flora so it can reset, and break the cycle of acne production." Apply a thin layer to clean skin (some tingling is normal) and rinse it off in 10 minutes.
"Colloidal sulfur is the active ingredient in this mask," says dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD. While Hermann does acknowledge that sulfur is more commonly associated with the smell of rotten eggs, this product happens to be nicely-scented, she says, and the sulfur within it is "antibacterial, drying, and also helps to gently slough dead skin cells."
"The aloe in this cooling, skin-brightening mask is a soothing botanical with powerful skin-nourishing properties," says Rafaeloff. "Apply it once per week and leave on for three to seven minutes."
Softening and Exfoliating
"Use this exfoliating mask two times a month," advises Heskett. "Apply for 10 minutes to soften the skin and extract pimples."
Skin Conditions By the Numbers. American Academy of Dermatology.
Acne. Cleveland Clinic. September 1, 2020
Samarghandian S, Farkhondeh T, Samini F. Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research. Pharmacognosy Res. 2017;9(2):121-127. doi:10.4103/0974-8490.204647