The Best Face Masks for Acne-Prone, Oily Skin

The Best Face Masks for Acne-Prone, Oily Skin

People will try just about anything to get rid of acne, but research consistently shows that the tried-and-true trinity—a good cleanser, salicylic acid (BHA) exfoliant, and benzoyl peroxide—should be your first line of defense against blemishes. You don’t have to stop there—adding a facial mask into the mix can help combat oiliness and clogged pores... but not just any mask will do.

It’s crucial to use a mask with a balance of absorbent and soothing ingredients to help un-gunk pores and soak up excess oil without leaving skin looking aggravated and feeling sucked dry. So, which types of masks are best for acne? You’re about to find out!

Charcoal Masks

Charcoal masks are suitable for acne-prone skin because charcoal has a porous, extremely absorbent surface that attracts certain substances (including our skin’s oil) like a magnet.

Charcoal not only absorbs oil and surface debris, but also traps them so they cannot be redeposited on skin. When you rinse the charcoal mask with water, everything you don’t want lingering on your skin goes down the drain, leaving pores fresh, clean, and less congested.

That said, we strongly advise against creating your own DIY charcoal mask. Applying pure charcoal powder to skin may seem easy, but it’s messy and can be abrasive. For better results, opt for a charcoal mask formulated with hydrating and soothing ingredients. These promote a balance that lets your skin benefit from charcoal’s absorbent properties without feeling dry or tight—and such masks are MUCH easier to remove than pure charcoal powder.

Clay Masks

Clay masks featuring minerals such as kaolin and bentonite help absorb excess oil while also dislodging surface debris from congested pores. The result? Shine-free skin, potentially fewer breakouts, and smaller-looking pores.

Word to the wise: Watch out for clay masks (or any facial masks, really) that contain menthol, peppermint, essential oils, or denatured alcohol. All of these ingredients irritate skin, which makes oiliness and breakouts worse.

Masks with Fuller’s Earth

Another ingredient that you may find in masks for acne-prone skin is fuller’s earth. This is a basic clay-like ingredient with impressive mattifying properties that help soak up skin’s excess shine.

While masks featuring fuller’s earth can be beneficial for oily, acne-prone skin, interestingly, fuller’s earth also happens to be one of the primary ingredients in cat litter. Believe it or not, you can find numerous recipes for making your own kitty litter mask online, but we highly advise against that! Not only is the kitty litter texture too abrasive, but also most of the formulas also contain fragrance and other irritating ingredients that can worsen breakouts. Save cat litter for the cats, not your pores.

What About Salicylic Acid Masks for Acne?

Salicylic acid (Beta Hydroxy Acid, or BHA) is incredibly effective for controlling breakouts, which is why it’s not uncommon to see it featured in face masks for acne-prone skin, but there can be issues with that. First and foremost, salicylic acid is generally more beneficial in a leave-on formula rather than a rinse-off mask because that allows adequate time for the BHA to go to work in pores to dissolve the built-up dead skin and other substances that can lead to breakouts.

Second, it’s important to note that salicylic acid must be formulated within a particular pH range to function effectively as an exfoliant, but many masks don’t meet that criterion. While you may get some minimal benefits from using this ingredient in a mask, where BHA really works is in a well-formulated leave-on exfoliant.

References for this information:
Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, August 2015, pages 455–461
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, December 2012, pages 357–364
Chemosphere, August 2005, pages 1129–1140
Ceska a Slovenska Farmacie, November 2004, pages 304–309
Chemical & Engineering News, April 2004, page 26
International Journal of Toxicology, January 2003, pages 37–102


About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!