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.
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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.
Peter Thomas Roth Irish Moor Mud extracts all the dirt, impurities and excess oil from your skin and replaces them with nutrient-rich moisture and vitamins. The star ingredient, 9,000-year-old Moor mud from the Irish countryside, reverses the damage of environmental stress and pollutants with its blend of organic minerals and antioxidants.Volcanic ash detoxifies pores and shrinks their appearance while black hijiki seaweed hydrates your skin. Charcoal acts like a magnet, drawing out toxins to clarify your complexion. Your skin is left softer, smoother and radiantly brighter after eachBuy now with free delivery
All skin should be exfoliated. Dead skin cells sit atop healthy, smooth ones making your appearance appear dull and lackluster. Exfoliate your skin weekly with the REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask to visibly improve the look and feel of your skin.The potent, bio-active mask reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while combating congestion to banish blackheads and blemishes. Powered by natural fruit acids, glycolic, lactic, citric and tartaric, this radiance-enhancing mask improves skin tone and texture while visibly reducing signs of sun damage, hyperpigmentation and acneBuy now with free delivery
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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.
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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.