The Best Facial Masks for Acne and Blackheads

Dear Megan,

Are facial masks effective for acne and blackheads? If so, which one is the best?


Effective skincare is all about routine.

Facial masks are like the icing on the skincare cupcake.

Masks are mostly good for short-term results, so best to use in the 2–3 weeks leading up to an event.

That being said, the same general principles that apply to skincare products in general do apply to masks. Which means, if you want to mask to rid yourself of acne, use the same ingredients that you would want in your acne medicines (to an extent, hold on).

So, if you want to use masks to help with acne and blackheads (you probably mean sebaceous filaments, actually), here’s what I would suggest:


Masks for Acne:

  • Sulfur – Sulfur is the best gentle OTC treatment for acne (especially for Asian skin – seriously, that’s what research says). Peter Thomas Roth makes a 10% sulfur mask for acne. Personally, 10% is a little high for my skin, so I use Kate Somerville’s EradiKate Cleanser (3% sulfur) and leave it on my face for 10 minutes while I’m showering, then rinse off.
  • Bentonite Clay – Mud, like real mud – or clay, rather – can pull excess sebum (oil) from the skin, helping your skin naturally balance any oil overproduction (source). Quality varies widely on clay masks, so be careful what you buy. Try Skinceuticals’ Clarifying Mud Mask. To learn more, I would suggest checking out Futurederm’s comprehensive review and guide to Bentonite, here.
  • Moor Mud – Moor mud is like thousand year old mud where all kinds of stuff decomposed into this black, scentless, high mineral goop. It has a lot of great properties (read the research here), but Moor mud is right on the edge of science – a little bit “woo woo” science, you know? However, there is some research backing up the thousand+ years of anecdotal evidence for the myriad medicinal uses of Moor Mud. Try Peter Thomas Roth’s Irish Moor Mud Mask. It did wonders for my jawline acne!


Masks for Blackheads/Sebaceous Filaments:

  • AHAs/BHAs – When it comes to blackheads, sebaceous filaments, acne and even aging – chemical exfoliation is your best friend. Try a mask high in AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) or BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids). They’re both great, but not quite the same thing (full breakdown + sources here); BHAs are more likely to help with the acne/blackhead issue. For a combo mask, try Herbivore’s Blue Tansy Mask. I just wrote a review on it last week, so it’s fresh on my mind; it was fantastic.


Skincare Regimen going forward:

Masking is perhaps less important that you think for overall good-looking skin. It’s much better to try to get your acne under control with the help of your derm—whether that’s through a low-dose regimen of antibiotics, regular sulfur washing, benzoyl peroxide wash/cream, or something else entirely.

The most important piece of the puzzle is to find something that works and stick with it.

Your results will add up overtime, so choose you skincare regimen (and ingredients within) wisely!

Here is an example routine:

  • Low pH cleanser in the morning, like Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser
  • Sunscreen in the morning (physical if you can, chemical if not); repeat application every 2 hours if chemical
  • Milky Jelly / low pH cleanser again at night OR your acne wash
  • Mask (totally optional / every other night)
  • Acne cream (BP, Salicylic acid, sulfur – whatever is prescribed)
  • AHA serum
  • Facial oil or moisturizer (your choice; choose wisely)

If you are acne prone and using acne washes/creams daily, don’t forget to wear sunscreen, too! Even 15 minutes outside can and will cause sun damage to your skin, which adds up over time.

Your skin will thank me later!


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Shop These Acne + Blackhead-Blasting Masks:

Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez is a board-certified general practitioner with more than 15 years of patient care experience. She takes an integrative approach to patient care that considers the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – and is deeply committed to assisting her patients in achieving and sustaining optimal health. Dr. Vanessa is also a skilled writer and medical reviewer, specializing in preventive care and health promotion. Her articles are written in an approachable manner that is simple to comprehend and implement in one’s own life. Dr. Vanessa’s mission is to equip her patients and readers with the knowledge and resources necessary to live their greatest lives.

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