Unlike the sticky, peel-off masks of teenage sleepovers, a big pot of clay can make a big difference to the condition of your skin; drawing out impurities and brightening tired, dull complexions.
Used weekly – not just on the few nights a year you set aside for “pamper time” – they can improve skin in the long term too, by helping to prevent breakouts and creating a more even complexion.
The type of clay used varies, from kaolin to bentonite, but they have very similar effects so don’t let the different types bother you too much when choosing.
Many masks also include exfoliating acids to slough away dead skin cells and brighten, and/or nourishing, soothing ingredients such as aloe or essential oils, to mitigate against the drying nature of clay.
Apply a thin layer to your face and neck with your fingers or a flat brush, avoiding the eye area, or use it topically on spots or an oily T-zone (ideal if you have dry cheeks or forehead) and leave on for the prescribed amount of time; most are around 10-15 minutes.
It won’t do much damage to leave it on for longer if the main active ingredient is simply clay, but if your mask contains an acid you need to be more vigilant about timing.
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Kiehl’s rare earth deep pore cleansing mask
Kiehl’s’ ethically sourced Amazonian white clay mask goes on thin and creamy and, while you can feel it hardening, isn’t super drying. Unlike some, we didn't experience any irritation or discomfort around sensitive patches and it isn't overly tightening either; once on, it's easy to forget you're wearing it. The results are noticeably clearer pores, particularly around the nose, and skin that is smoother to the touch.
Alpha-H clear skin blemish control mask
This mask is all about exfoliating, and it’s ideal for oily or combination skin. As well as the all-important kaolin, it contains nourishing macadamia and jojoba oils, and aloe to soothe and hydrate. Eucalyptus, tree tree oil and aloe reduce inflammation and have antiseptic properties, making it perfect for breakout-prone skin.
Liz Earle deep cleansing mask
This is a brilliant choice for those who are breakout-prone and need a mask for regular use to keep sebum levels regulated. It’s gentle, with softening, soothing ingredients such as aloe vera and manuka honey, absorbs excess oil, and is more affordable than other options in our round-up. We’d recommend it for teens too.
Sand & Sky brilliant skin purifying pink clay mask
Sand & Sky is an Australian brand that makes use of the country’s vast natural resources in its formulations, including Australian pink clay to draw out impurities. Liquorice helps stimulate cell turnover and aloe vera soothes. The result is clearer and visibly brighter skin after just one use.
GlamGlow has a huge range of mud masks, all riffing on the classic “supermud”, which has been a cult product for many years. It contains pore-cleaning charcoal and clay, plus six exfoliating acids to slough away dead skin cells and other debris that clogs skin and leads to dullness. We love this for oily skin types or areas.
Susanne Kaufmann healing earth mask
We’ve yet to meet a product from the Austrian spa brand that we didn’t like, including this gentle but effective blend of kaolin, light, nourishing and vitamin E-rich corn oil and soothing cucumber, which helps balance out any irritation from the clay. This is a great choice for dry skins, as it leaves your face feeling buttery soft.
Omorovicza deep cleansing mask
When it comes to mud, Omorovicza, which hails from Hungary with its famous thermal baths, is a reliable choice. Its deep cleansing mask contains water and mineral muds from Lake Héviz and is rich in magnesium, calcium, zinc and copper. Our tester found it left skin smooth and plump as well as cleared, rather than stripping moisture. It also made for an effective overnight spot treatment when applied topically.
Sisley radiant express mask
This is a favourite for a pre-event pep-up: it leaves skin soft and radiant after just five minutes, and acts as a perfect make-up base. It contains red clay to clarify and absorb oil, as well as rosemary and chamomile oils and carrot and rosehip extracts, which impart a beautiful glow. Skin is left toned and bright, and we found it considerably reduced redness.
Tata Harper clarifying mask
This, from the “queen of green” Tata Harper, combines kaolin clay with AHAs (water soluble acids) to slough away dead skin, refining salicylic acid to decongest and hydrating chlorella to soothe. Skin is softer, brighter and more elastic, and pores appear clearer and smaller after use. If your skin isn’t used to acid exfoliation, go easy at first and apply once a week.
Aesop parsley seed cleansing masque
We are absolute suckers for Aesop’s oh-so-chic packaging and how it looks on our bathroom shelf, but we also love this delicious-smelling formula. Kaolin does the pore-clearing work, while aloe vera stops skin leaving tight, and rosehip and parsley seed extracts deliver antioxidants to help protect your skin against environmental factors.
The verdict: Clay face masks
We were hard-pushed to choose a favourite from this lineup, but Kiehl’s wins our best buy for its simple, effective formula. Coming a close second is Sisley’s brilliant, glow-giving radiant express mask.
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