How many of us were made to believe that acne was only something we’d have to deal with until we started to climb through our twenties? And how many were distraught to discover that acne is not, in fact, just a teenage malady? But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it; there are plenty of products, like acne-fighting face masks, out there to target whatever your biggest acne struggle is.
Just make sure you choose the right mask for your skin and acne type. Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist based in NYC, tells Her Campus, “If you have dry skin, select a face mask that’s hydrating that will replenish the skin and balance the pH level. For combination and oily skin, you should also use a face mask that will provide moisture in areas needed and control sebum production in oily or t-zone areas.” Masks are great treatment tools when you have a breakout over most of your face and can even help prevent further breakouts – especially if you have oily skin.
Some masks even double as a spot treatment, particularly those containing activated charcoal, tea tree oil, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid. “These ingredients mentioned are very effective at preventing Propionibacterium acnes,” Dr. Green says. “[They] provide gentle exfoliation, getting rid of excess sebum and bacteria, which helps to keep the pores clean.”
You may be tempted to create your own treatment at home, but be careful about DIY masks lest you exacerbate your acne. Dr. Green warns that it’s essential to understand the type of acne you have and make sure you’re treating it properly. If you don’t, your breakout may worsen, and you could end up with severe scarring. “You should see a dermatologist who can diagnose the root cause of your acne and make the appropriate treatment recommendations,” Dr. Green advises.
Once you’re sure what type of acne you have – from whiteheads to blackheads to battles with maskne or hormonal acne, or even the acne scars that come after – here are the ingredients to look out for when shopping for acne treatments, along with a selection of face masks for acne that include them. Plus, you’ll find products designed to help soothe your sensitive skin as well. From The Ordinary to Neutrogena and more, here are the best face masks for acne – many of which you can find at the drugstore.
Masks for whiteheads and blackheads
Dr. Luigi Polla, a dermatologist based in Geneva, recommends salicylic acid, a BHA and chemical exfoliant that can help keep your pores clear by dissolving the dead skin cells that clog them. Zinc gluconate is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that fights bacteria to reduce breakouts.
Dr. Green adds, “Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, meaning it can deeply penetrate the skin and dissolve sebum and dead skin cells within clogged pores.” She also recommends Benzoyl peroxide, which helps kill acne-causing bacteria. “Products containing benzoyl peroxide work best for people suffering from inflammatory acne – pustules, cysts, and nodules,” she tells Her Campus.
With that in mind, for white or blackheads, try The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque ($12, Ulta Beauty), Dermalogica Sebum Clearing Mask ($49, Ulta Beauty), and Neutrogena Clear Pore Facial Cleanser/Mask ($7, Walmart).
Masks for hormonal acne
Dr. Green advises, “There is no one-size-fits-all method.” Hormonal acne is likely to be better treated through prescription medication from your doctor, such as Spironolactone or birth control, to help regulate your hormone levels. “[However,] using a skincare product that combines ingredients such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid is a great way to help reduce the appearance of hormonal acne,” she says.
For soothing hormonal acne, try GLAMGLOW SUPERMUD Charcoal Instant Treatment Mask ($60, Ulta Beauty) and boscia Berry Blend Smoothing Facial Mask with 28% Acid Complex ($44, Ulta Beauty).
Masks for maskne
If wearing a mask is causing irritation and acne on the skin of your cheeks or chin, Dr. Polla recommends salicylic acid and retinoids, which will help prevent dead cells from clogging the pores in the first place (and which can also help with skin discoloration).
Dr. Green explains that maskne is caused by pressure and friction on the skin, which is likely to continue to be a problem for those who suffer from it. She also recommends salicylic acid, as well as glycolic acid, to help keep your pores clean. “It’s important to keep skin well-moisturized in order to maintain the health of the skin and reinforce the strength of the skin’s natural protective barrier,” she adds.
Masks for acne scars
According to Dr. Polla, AHAs will help remove dead skin cells and prevent them from clogging your pores and can also improve the appearance of post-acne marks. Allantoin can also accelerate healing.
Dr. Green also recommends retinoids for acne scars, particularly if your scars are textural or pigmented. “Dead, discolored, and damaged skin cells are sloughed off the surface of the skin to reveal healthier, even-toned skin cells and a smoother skin surface,” she says of the increase in skin cell turnover caused by retinoids (or retinol, which you’re more likely to find over the counter).
If you’re struggling with your acne scars, it may be time to schedule a visit with your dermatologist.
For acne scars, try Andalou Naturals Brightening Pumpkin Honey Glycolic Mask ($16, Ulta Beauty), L’Oréal Revitalift Triple Power Intensive Anti-Aging Night Face Mask ($25, Ulta Beauty) and Shiseido Benefiance Pure Retinol Intensive Revitalizing Face Mask ($70, Sephora).
Masks for sensitive skin
Be on the lookout for allantoin, which comes from things like beets, chamomile, and wheat sprouts, if you have sensitive skin. “[This] skin active ingredient [has] keratolytic, moisturizing, soothing, anti-irritant properties that promote the renewal of epidermal cells,” Dr. Polla says. Colloidal oats, which have soothing properties, and CBD, which has anti-inflammatory properties, are also beneficial ingredients. Finally, look for panthenol. “[It heals the skin and generally improves the symptoms of sensitive skin [and] accelerates wound-healing,” Dr. Polla says. It also increases hydration and can help maintain skin softness and elasticity.
If salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, common acne-fighting ingredients, are too drying for your skin, Dr. Green recommends glycolic acid, an AHA that will gently exfoliate your skin. “By removing dead skin cells and oil, glycolic acid can help reveal a more even skin texture and tone and prevent acne,” she says. It also helps retain moisture in your skin.
She also suggests looking for products that include sulfur. “Sulfur is an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial skincare ingredient, meaning that it can help treat and soothe a breakout without causing irritation.”
She cautions against overusing drying ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and retinoids if you have sensitive skin. “These ingredients can cause dryness, redness, peeling, and irritation if you have sensitive skin and acne,” she says. “Additionally, it is recommended to use exclusively non-comedogenic products in order to reduce breakouts.”
For sensitive skin, try Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Acne Masque ($52, Ulta Beauty) or Truly Golden Leaf Resurface & Brighten CBD Face Mask ($35, Ulta Beauty).
Dr. Michele Green, cosmetic dermatologist