The Best Face Masks for Acne of 2022
Acne doesn’t end at eighteen — actually, adult acne has become increasingly more popular every year. But even if your skin doesn’t evolve, your routine definitely should. Adding an acne-fighting face mask to your beauty arsenal can transform your skin by clearing clogged pores and soothing painful cystic bumps. Between giving you a relaxing self-care moment and their proven-to-work ingredients, using face masks with the right cleanser could be just what the dermatologist ordered.
As Dr. Claire Wolinsky of Berkowitz Dermatology in New York City explains, face masks contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial ingredients that treat acne. Face masks are also great at exfoliating the skin to help unclog pores and prevent future acne flares. “You can find many active ingredients in face masks that exfoliate the skin, such as chemical exfoliants (AHA/BHAs), enzymatic exfoliants (papaya enzymes, for example), and physical exfoliants (crystals),” she tells us.
We researched tons of options and consulted three board-certified dermatologists to find the most-effective face masks for treating different types of acne. The Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser stands out because it uses two dermatologist-approved acne-fighting ingredients to banish blemishes.
There are a lot more to choose from, so keep reading for all of our top picks.
Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask
What We Love: Depending on what issues you’re trying to target, you can use it as a cleanser and mask to treat acne and prevent breakouts.
What We Don’t Love: It bleaches fabrics.
Technically, our top choice is a cleanser, but it doubles as a mask — making it the most versatile choice on this list. All three experts we consulted recommended it because its formula contains 3.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient that kills acne-causing bacteria. It will treat your classic case of inflammatory acne (think: large red bumps and lesions) with kaolin and bentonite clay, which our experts say are ring leaders in the fight against oily skin, by absorbing oil and removing built-up dirt in your pores.
Dr. Wolinksy tells us it’s best for normal, non-sensitive skin because it’s strong, so be sure to do a patch test before applying it. Also, maybe don’t reach for the fancy guest towels to remove the mask or wear your favorite sweatshirt because the active ingredients tend to bleach fabrics. Dr. Robert Finney, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Entière Dermatology in New York City, recommends rinsing it off in the shower after letting it sit for five to fifteen minutes to avoid any mishaps.
Price at time of publish: $11
Active Ingredients: Benzoyl peroxide | Benefits: Deep cleaning | Size: 4.2 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
The INKEY List Kaolin Mask
What We Love: Its simple ingredient list makes it a safe choice for all skin types.
What We Don’t Love: The product probably won’t dramatically improve more serious acne concerns.
Lots of celebrities rave about TikTok-famous brand The Inky List, especially its caffeine eye cream, because the products really work — and its Kaolin Mask is no exception. Clean ingredients, like kaolin and smectite clay, gently exfoliate the skin and remove excess oil that leads to breakouts. Dr. Karan Lal, a double board-certified dermatologist at Affiliated Dermatology in Arizona, explains that “this mask does not contain any actives like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid that cause excessive dryness, thus it’s great for those with dry or sensitive skin.”
We love that its formula is gentle enough for all skin types, but if you’re trying to target deeper issues like cystic acne, you might benefit from a mask with stronger ingredients.
Price at time of publish: $8
Active Ingredients: Kaolin clay, smectite clay | Benefits: Detoxifying | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
What We Love: It’s an option for those with sensitive skin who want an effective and deep clean minus irritation.
What We Don’t Love: You have to stop using current treatments before giving this mask a go.
Users of Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial rave about breaking up with their monthly facial appointments in favor of this face mask. Sure, it’s still a splurge, but your skin will thank you after it looks brighter thanks to the mask’s blend of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and salicylic acid, which banish dead skin cells. And you can use it in the comfort of your own home.
Dr. Finney appreciates that the mask helps unclog pores and smooth out texture. You can credit what it leaves out of its vegan formula (fragrant oils and silicones) and what it leaves in (chickpea flour and antioxidants) for providing sensitive skin users a deep clean without irritation. But even though it’s gentler than other resurfacing treatments, this mask still uses acids, so Dr. Finney tells us to follow it up with a good moisturizing cream and only apply it intermittently. With that in mind, the brand also recommends setting other treatments aside before using this mask because you don’t want to accidentally damage your skin’s barrier or cause irritation.
Price at time of publish: $80
Active Ingredients: Blend of AHAs (glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric), salicylic acid, chickpea flour | Benefits: Exfoliating, evens texture | Size: 1.69 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Combination Skin:
Exuviance Detox Mud Mask
What We Love: The mask uses charcoal and clay to reduce the appearance of pores.
What We Don’t Love: It has a fragrance that could irritate sensitive skin.
Our skin picks up more grit and grime than a Roomba, but we found a mask to vacuum out those clogged pores. Exuviance created the Dyson of face masks for those who have dry and oily skin. It contains 23 percent active charcoal and kaolin clay to absorb excess oil and NeoGlucosamine to remove superficial dead skin cells which, according to Dr. Wolinsky, are ingredients that help unclog pores leading to acne.
It’s on the pricier end, but what would you give for a flawless face? Technically, you can’t actually erase pores, but this mask does a fantastic job at reducing their appearance for an Instagram-filter finish. We only wish the formula didn’t have a fragrance because some users with sensitive skin say it causes irritation.
Price at time of publish: $49
Active Ingredients: 23 percent active charcoal, clay, and NeoGlucosamine blend | Benefits: Clarifying | Size: 3.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Glamglow Supersmooth Acne Clearing 5-Minute Mask to Scrub
What We Love: In only five minutes, the mask exfoliates your skin and unclogs pores for a quick but efficient clean.
What We Don’t Love: The silica beads can be abrasive on sensitive skin.
A five-minute mask-cleanser duo that purges pores and banishes blackheads sounds too good to be true, but Glamglow pulls it off. As Dr. Lal explains, this mask has salicylic acid, kaolin clay, and charcoal which are key for cleaning out your pores. Plus, he adds, this mask is “less drying than benzoyl peroxide masks and is thus better for those with combination skin.”
Note that the mask uses silica beads to exfoliate which are generally less abrasive than microplastic beads. But, if you prefer a smoother scrub look for an exfoliator that ditches beads altogether.
Price at time of publish: $34
Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, charcoal, kaolin clay, and silica beads | Benefits: Refining, smoothing | Size: 4.2 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Repairing Damaged Skin:
EltaMD Skin Recovery Night Mask
What We Love: Amino acids help hydrate and restore damaged skin while you sleep.
What We Don’t Love: It won’t clear skin as well as a mask specifically targeted for treating breakouts.
Except for a few skincare practices everyone benefits from, like wearing sunscreen and avoiding overly hot showers, much of our journey to clear skin is trial-and-error. Whether you’ve unintentionally caused damage from scrubs and peels or developed sensitive skin from the treatments you’re currently using, this mask treats your largest organ to some R&R.
Dr. Finney tells us the formula’s three amino acids “will deeply hydrate and restore the skin barrier to help reduce redness and flakiness.” Antioxidants create a forcefield against pollution and sun exposure that induces free radical damage and leads to dark spots and fine lines. This mask also hydrates your skin, allowing it to balance itself out; drying out your skin too much might cause it to produce extra oil, which eventually causes breakouts. This mask’s primary purpose is to heal and protect your skin, and many users found it reduced redness. Just don’t expect to wake up with completely perfect skin after one use.
Price at time of publish: $50
Active Ingredients: Amino acids, antioxidants | Benefits: Rejuvenating | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Herbivore Blue Tansy BHA and Enzyme Pore Refining Mask
What We Love: Its unique vegan formula uses plant-based ingredients to soothe irritated skin.
What We Don’t Love: The mask’s earthy smell is unpleasant for some users.
Plant-based ingredients mean you’re less likely to experience irritation, so we’re big fans of this vegan formula from Blue Tansy. Dr. Wolinsky also likes that it uses willow bark as a precursor to the salicylic acid to exfoliate clogged pores, while natural ingredients like papaya and fruit extracts soothe inflamed skin.
She suggests that anyone who has a drier complexion sticks to using this mask for a few minutes a week and cautiously consider increasing contact time if your skin is more oily. While it might not smell like a trip to the spa (some reviewers weren’t fans of the “medicinal” smell), we appreciate the fragrance doesn’t come from synthetic ingredients.
Price at time of publish: $48
Active Ingredients: White willow bark extract, fruit enzymes, blue tansy oil | Benefits: Clarifying | Size: 2 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Oily Skin:
Cetaphil Pro DermaControl Purifying Clay Mask
What We Love: Kaolin and bentonite clay reduce oil without drying out the skin.
What We Don’t Love: It doesn’t dry hard on your face like other clay masks, making it easy to leave on too long.
Bentonite and kaolin clay tag team to clear out buildup in pores and exfoliate dead cells for radiant, shine-free skin. Since the formula doesn’t have fragrances and parabens, it’s gentle enough to use up to three times a week. The mask also includes shea butter to prevent over-drying. Be sure to set a timer so you don’t leave it on too long, though. Unlike most clay masks that harden, providing a good indicator it’s time to rinse off, this one remains a gel.
Price at time of publish: $12
Active Ingredients: Kaolin and bentonite clay, shea butter, apple fruit, and cucumber seed extract | Benefits: Unclogs pores, reduces shine | Size: 3 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Mud Mask:
New York Biology Dead Sea Mud Mask
What We Love: The mask gives your skin a deep clean and removes blackheads that cause acne.
What We Don’t Love: Some users find it to be a bit too drying.
Who knew using dirt was the best way to get rid of it? Dead Sea mineral mud removes the grime clogging your pores, reduces excess sebum (fancy word for oil), and gently exfoliates to remove toxins. A blend of plant-based oils and vitamin E brightens and smooths so your skin is beaming from sea to shining sea. Just keep a moisturizer handy and watch the clock because some reviewers found their skin a little dry after removing the mask.
Price at time of publish: $25
Active Ingredients: Dead Sea mineral mud, aloe vera, calendula oil, vitamin E, and jojoba oil | Benefits: Unclogs pores, Exfoliating | Size: 8.8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Vichy Double Glow Peel Mask
What We Love: The formula contains gentle acids making it non-irritating and good for all skin types.
What We Don’t Love: You have to remain consistent to see results.
Vichy uses gentle acids for its peel mask to have your skin beaming, not burning. Volcanic rock particles and Vichy volcanic water work to cool and soothe skin rather than leave you with the redness you might experience from other peel masks.
It uses AHAs, which according to Dr. Lal, make it a great ingredient for all skin types and exfoliates dead skin that clogs pores and causes acne. Since it’s more gentle than other peels on the market, reviewers say it takes consistency to see their acne disappear. However, we’re all for an instant dewy glow and preventative treatment to avoid future breakouts.
Price at time of publish: $20
Active Ingredients: Vichy volcanic water, alpha hydroxy acids, volcanic rock particles | Benefits: Exfoliating, refining | Size: 2.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Dr. Jart+ Dermask Micro Jet Clearing Solution
What We Love: It clears a wide range of breakouts and reduces the appearance of acne scars without drying the skin.
What We Don’t Love: The mask’s formula contains glycerine, which can leave a sticky residue.
Breakouts, pimples, stress flare-ups, hormonal acne — one sheet covers it all. This mask from Dr.Jart+ uses salicylic acid to target acne and dissolves skin debris, but hydrating ingredients like tea tree oil means it won’t dry out your skin. Curious about that G-word printed front and center on the package? The formula includes glutathione, a naturally-occurring antioxidant, to help remove toxins and give you a glow. The mask also contains plant-derived glycerin to strengthen and hydrate the skin barrier, but just know this ingredient can leave your skin slightly sticky.
Price at time of publish: $9
Active Ingredients: Glutathione, niacinamide, salicylic acid, and tea tree leaf oil | Benefits: Brightening, hydrating, oil-reducing | Size: 0.95 ounces (Single-use mask) | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Inflamed Skin:
Rosen Skincare Earth Mask
What We Love: It uses clean ingredients like eucalyptus oil to help soothe inflamed skin and reduce redness.
What We Don’t Love: The liquid consistency drips over clothes and surfaces.
Finding a treatment that diminishes red, angry bumps on your skin without making the inflammation worse is a challenge, but the Rosen Skincare Earth Mask is a worthy opponent. Zinc oxide fights back against acne-causing bacteria while Fuller’s Earth clay clears out clogged pores. To soothe the skin and prevent redness, Rosen included plant-based ingredients like eucalyptus oil. Reviewers even found it was powerful enough to treat painful acne but gentle enough that they weren’t left with irritated skin. We also love that the brand develops all of its products with the concerns of women of color at the forefront, so you can trust they’ve thought through a wide range of issues for everyone.
Avoid applying this mask over your new Brooklinen sheets, though, and opt for putting it on in the shower because its liquid consistency gets a little messy.
Price at time of publish: $18
Active Ingredients: Zinc oxide, niacinamide, eucalyptus oil | Benefits: Anti-inflammatory, Detoxifying | Size: 2 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Sensitive Skin:
Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay
What We Love: It only uses one ingredient to successfully unclog pores and treat breakouts.
What We Don’t Love: The mix-it-yourself application is messy.
If you have sensitive skin and are looking for a product with a short ingredient list, you won’t find one more minimal than this mask. Its solo performer is natural calcium bentonite clay that you can mix with either equal parts water or apple cider vinegar to draw out impurities. Since you make the mask yourself, you’ll probably need to clean your sink after, but the results are worth the work.
I’ve used it since I was a college sophomore, and it has stood up against clogged pores, back acne, cystic acne, and our editors even use it in their hair. Clay is a great choice for acne-prone skin, according to Dr. Wolinsky, because “it has sebum-reducing properties and will help tame oil production in oily and acne-prone patients.” She recommends applying for the shortest amount of time, five minutes, to test skin sensitivity.
P.S. If you’re curious about the product’s new second version, the formula is the same and the only difference is the packaging.
Price at time of publish: $15
Active Ingredients: Natural calcium bentonite clay | Benefits: Detoxifying | Size: 16 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What to Keep in Mind
Reading reviews is tricky because what works for one person could differ drastically from another depending on their skin type. There are a few solid rules of thumb, though. First, Dr. Lal suggests using masks without acids if you have dry skin. Instead, look for ones with hydrating ingredients instead that leave out exfoliants. Anyone with sensitive skin should limit the number of ingredients and avoid fragrances, says Dr. Wolinsky, adding, “It’s important to do a test spot on anyone with sensitive skin as masks can have a slew of ingredients that can be known irritants.” People with oily or combination skin can tolerate a little more and will benefit from masks that include AHAs and BHAs.
Depending on your skin type will determine what ingredients to look for, but there are a few to keep in mind when choosing a face mask. “Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, salicylic acid, and other AHAs and BHAs are great to target active acne,” says Dr. Finney. Other AHAs include glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and lactic acid. Dr. Wolinsky also recommends PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) and azelaic acid for acne-prone skin.
Dr. Lal tells us to avoid vitamin C because it can cause breakouts. Instead, he recommends using clay masks, especially for those with oily skin, because they reduce sebum and remove pollutants from pores.
Know Your Goals
What face mask you choose hinges on if you’re targeting inflammatory or non-inflammatory acne. The latter includes congestion, like small clogged pores, while the former is more along the lines of red, inflamed bumps. “If inflammatory issues are the main concern, using a benzoyl peroxide-based face mask can be very helpful. If small clogged pores and texture are more your issues, look for masks with AHAs and BHAs—specifically salicylic acid to help cut through the oil,” says Dr. Finney.
Your Questions, Answered
How do face masks help treat acne?
Dr. Lal explains, “Acne-targeted facemasks typically have salicylic acid and/or other acids. Both AHAs and BHAs are very helpful in reducing inflammation and sebum production.” They also have a mild antibacterial effect and, “can help reduce the bacterial source of acne,” he adds. If you have combination skin, face masks allow you to apply the product only to oily sections and skip over the dry areas to prevent irritation. Some masks may also reverse the dryness we experience from acne-fighting topicals.
How often should you use a face mask?
It depends on how your day-to-day regimen looks. Dr. Wolinsky recommends starting twice a week and increasing only as tolerated.
Why Shop with Us
Irene Richardson is a writer with over five years of experience covering fashion and beauty trends. For this story, she researched dozens of face masks, read reviews, and consulted three board-certified dermatologists—Dr. Claire Wolinsky, Dr. Karan Lal, and Dr. Robert Finney.