These Acne-Fighting Face Masks Virtually Guarantee a Clear Complexion

Updated 10/24/19
A woman applying a face mask to her face while sitting at a vanity table.
 Karina König / EyeEm / Getty Images

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. that affects up to 50 million people every year. And, 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 13 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.

Skin-Saturating

A packaged acne-fighting sheet mask by Skin Laundry.
Skin Laundry Hydrating Facial Sheet Mask $10
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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, who 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 stimulates blood circulation and improves absorption of nutrients," advises Shelger.

Anti-Inflammatory

A pink packet containing a facial mask by Knours.
Knours. Sweet Enough Rescue Mask $6
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"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.

Redness-Reducing

A white pot of Mario Badescu's Healing & Soothing Mask for acne-prone skin.
Mario Badescu Healing & Soothing Mask $20
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"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 & Purifying

A blue tube of Jack Black's Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser for acne.
Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser $22
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"This cleanser can be used as a mask that can be rinsed off after 10 minutes," says the dermatologist Melissa K. Levin, MD, "it contains glycolic acid to remove dead skin-cell buildup while kaolin, a natural clay mineral, draws out toxic particles and debris."

All-Natural

A bottle of glycolic gel with a blurred picture of a woman behind it.
Monastery Rose Glycolic Gel $74
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“You can use this gel as an overnight mask," says the organic facialist Athena Hewett. "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."

Probiotic-Infused

A gray packet of Elizabeth Arden's Probiotic Boost Skin Renewal Biocellulose sheet Mask with a mask next to it.
Elizabeth Arden Superstart Probiotic Boost Skin Renewal Biocellulose Mask $67
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"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 bathtime because the warm water helps skin's circulation," says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD.

Pore-Refining

A white tube of Proactiv's Skin Purifying Mask for acne.
Proactiv Skin Purifying Mask $38
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"This mask contains sulfur," says the 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 (it cleanses and detoxifies) and lava clay (it helps remove dead skin cells) to clear acne-prone skin.

Drugstore Diamond

A box of Neutrogena's Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask.
Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask $9
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"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.

pH Balance-Restoring

A blue pot of HydroPeptide Miracle Mask for acne-prone skin.
HydroPeptide Miracle Mask $32
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"This mask is powerful yet gentle," says Heskett. "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 (Heskett says some tingling is normal) and rinse it off in 10 minutes.

Clinical-Strength

A white pot of Dr. Dennis Gross' DRx Clarifying Colloidal Sulfur Mask acne medication.
Dr. Dennis Gross DRx Clarifying Colloidal Sulfur Mask $42
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"Colloidal sulfur is the active ingredient in this mask," says the 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."

Deeply Detoxifying

A gray pot of Generation Clay Detoxifying Charcoal Clay Mask for acne sufferers.
Generation Clay Detoxifying Charcoal Clay Mask $29
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"This mask is packed with all-natural activated charcoal, which works like a magnet to draw out dirt and toxins," says skintrepreneur Ryan Channing, "and don't leave it on too long as any mask can strip away the skin's "good" oils you need to hold onto." Channing recommends you use the brush that comes with this product so the mask goes on evenly, and you don't introduce bacteria from your hands.

Skin-Brightening

iS Clinical Hydra-Intensive Cooling Masque
iS Clinical Hydra-Intensive Cooling Masque $78
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"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 & Exfoliating

A white tube of Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel for acne patients.
Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel $45
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"Use this exfoliating mask two times a month," advises Hewett. "Apply for 10 minutes to soften the skin and extract pimples."

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