6 Best Face Masks for Exfoliating Dead, Dull Skin

BY Jessie Quinn · October 16, 2018

open jar of face masks

Ask any beauty junkie and they’ll agree: Masking is an essential part of every skin care routine. And while it might not be something we do every day—like cleansing and moisturizing—it can be just as effective.

That said, not all face masks are the same. Some saturate your skin with moisture, some fade dark spots and brighten your skin tone, some soothe inflamed and irritated skin, while some slough off dry skin buildup for a softer, smoother-looking complexion. The latter—a.k.a. exfoliating face masks—offer all the benefits of your favorite face scrub, but without the abrasive rubbing and tugging that can leave micro-tears on your skin. For the right way to use exfoliating masks, plus the best ones out there, read on.

The Skin Care Benefits of Exfoliating Face Masks

There are countless benefits of exfoliating face masks. For one, they “get rid of dry, flaky skin,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “People should exfoliate to rejuvenate and brighten the skin,” she adds.

On top of that, “Regular exfoliation [can] help with any sun damage or skin discoloration from the summer months.” And if you’re looking for a way to up the ante on your skin care routine, exfoliation might help you do so. “When we don’t exfoliate, it leaves [a layer of] dead skin on the surface [and] moisturizers don’t penetrate [as] deep,” explains Dr. Jaliman. As a result, “Skin looks rough and dull,” she notes.

How to Use an Exfoliating Face Mask (And How Often)

Incorporating an exfoliating face mask into your routine is one thing; knowing when and how to use it is another, as every skin type (and need) is different.

“If you use a lot of makeup, exfoliating at night is important to get rid of any remaining makeup that your cleanser left behind,” she explains. In addition, those with dry or oily skin might benefit from exfoliating in the morning—especially if they use products with retinol at night. “Exfoliating in the morning is the way to go because you don’t want to exfoliate at night when using your retinol products. When someone uses retinol, the outer layer of the skin is sloughed off and the newer skin underneath is revealed. Using an exfoliating mask at the same time [might] be too harsh,” notes Dr. Jaliman.

When using an exfoliating face mask, Dr. Jaliman recommends using “a gentle cleanser before the mask to make sure any dirt, oil and makeup is off your face.” And once you’ve rinsed your exfoliating mask, it’s important to “follow [up] with a good moisturizer,” she advises. Post-masking, your skin should be free of the dry, dead skin buildup, making it easier for nourishing serums and moisturizers to do their job.

As for how often you should use an exfoliating face mask? Dr. Jaliman says, “One to two times a week is fine if you are using [it] for the first time. Once you see that you have no reaction, you can use it two to three times a week,” she explains. That said, Dr. Jaliman stresses how important it is to read the instructions when using these at-home beauty treatments. “Wearing an exfoliating mask longer than the suggested amount of time could cause irritation,” she explains.

The Best Exfoliating Face Masks

When it comes to exfoliating face masks, there are a variety of ingredients and formulas that can give you soft, glowing skin. From glycolic acid to pineapple enzyme to charcoal, take a closer look at the best exfoliating face masks, plus the ingredients that give them their exfoliation power, below.

1. SkinCeuticals Clarifying Clay Masque

Key Ingredient: Kaolin + Bentonite Clay

Clay masks might be marketed as deep-cleaning, but they’re also exfoliating. “Kaolin clay draws out impurities from your pores,” notes Dr. Jaliman, while bentonite clay is “beneficial for oily skin, clogged pores or acne,” she explains. Because clay can slough off pore-clogging aggressors, those with acne-prone or oily skin might benefit from adding one to their routine. As for what exfoliating clay mask to try? SkinCeuticals makes a Clarifying Clay Masque that is enriched with both kaolin and bentonite clay along with plant extracts to pull out impurities, balance oil production and gently slough off dry, dead skin cell buildup.


2. Peter Thomas Roth Irish Moor Mud

Key Ingredient: Charcoal

Charcoal is another deep-cleaning powerhouse. But did you know it can also exfoliate the complexion? “Activated charcoal works like a magnet. It attracts dirt and oil to clean the skin,” notes Dr. Jaliman. “You can use it as an everyday cleanser, as a mask or as an exfoliator,” she adds. “The charcoal eliminates excess oil that could lead to blackheads and acne.” With so many uses, adding charcoal to your skin care routine can be ultra beneficial—especially as far as exfoliation is concerned. To give charcoal exfoliation a try, consider Peter Thomas Roth’s Irish Moor Mud. The decongesting face mask features charcoal, lactic acid, AHAs and volcanic ash to slough off environmental pollutants (along with dry skin) that can lead to clogged pores.

3. REN Clean Skincare Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask

Key Ingredient: Glycolic Acid

Not all exfoliants are physical—some are chemical. Case in point: Glycolic acid is a star player in exfoliating face masks. Thanks to its ability to gently remove dry skin buildup, products enriched with glycolic acid can help promote healthier-looking skin with regular use. For an exfoliating face mask formulated with glycolic acid, reach for the Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask by REN. Made with renewal in mind, the luxury at-home facial helps slough off dull skin to visibly enhance brightness while evening out the skin’s tone and deep cleaning for clearer, more radiant-looking skin.

4. Eminence Organic Skin Care Clear Skin Probiotic Masque

Key Ingredient: Lactic Acid

Similar to glycolic acid, lactic acid is another chemical exfoliant that, when added to a face mask, can promote a healthier looking complexion. “Lactic acid gently exfoliates to reveal smoother and more glowing skin,” explains Dr. Jaliman. “It also plumps the skin,” she adds. And while exfoliating face masks with lactic acid are easy to come by, we recommend Eminence Organic Skin Care’s Clear Skin Probiotic Masque. If you have sensitive skin, the yogurt- (lactic acid) enriched face mask gently exfoliates and soothes the complexion at the same time. On top of that, it incorporates other sensitive skin-friendly ingredients like cucumber, shea butter and marigold to cool, soothe and moisturize the skin.

5. Jan Marini Skin Zyme

Key Ingredient: Papaya Enzyme

When it comes to exfoliating face masks, there’s a lot of hype around enzymes—particularly papaya and pumpkin enzymes. Like other fruits, papaya has alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) that can slough off dry, dead skin cells through chemical exfoliation. On top of that, AHAs can support the skin’s natural regeneration. If that sounds too good to be true, reach for Jan Marini’s Skin Zyme. The exfoliating face mask has a formula enhanced by papaya enzymes for the ultimate at-home exfoliation. With regular use, the luxury face mask cannot only help rejuvenate, but it can also fade the look of hyperpigmentation and acne, too.

6. Herbivore Botanicals Brighten Pineapple + Gemstone Mask

Key Ingredient: Pineapple Enzyme

Much like papaya and pumpkin, pineapple enzyme is another natural exfoliating ingredient that wows. “Pineapple enzyme gently exfoliates the skin,” notes Dr. Jaliman. “In general, fruit enzymes are good [as] they naturally exfoliate the skin,” she adds. With that in mind, Herbivore Botanicals formulated the Brighten Pineapple + Gemstone Mask. Enriched with both pineapple and papaya enzymes, as well as rice water, rose distillate and white tourmaline gemstone, the exfoliating face mask doesn’t just lift away dry skin buildup, it rejuvenates, tones, brightens, smoothes and promotes a healthier-looking complexion overall.

Jessica Quinn | Dermstore Blog

Jessie Quinn

Jessie Quinn is a writer and editor with work published in NYLON Magazine, StyleCaster.com, Girlboss.com, Marvel.com, and more. She is a graduate of Academy of Art University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Journa... Read More >

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