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OleHenriksen Cold Plunge Pore Mask earns our top honor
Clay masks are a trusty old friend — they’ve been around forever and utilize fairly simple ingredients to extract impurities and restore skin to its smooth, soft radiance. Though clay masks work best for people with oily-prone skin, all skin types can use them in moderation to achieve a glowing, clear complexion.
Finding the right clay mask for your skin can be a little confusing, though, so we did the leg-work for you by speaking with four different skincare experts (from dermatologists to nurse practitioners and estheticians) to break down how clay masks really work. Then, we brought together 21 beauty obsessives to try out 24 different clay masks and report on their results. Through the testing process, we analyzed factors such as moisture levels, ease of application and removal, texture, comfort, feel, efficacy, and skin improvements.
Ultimately, OleHenriksen Cold Plunge Pore Mask prevailed as the best overall for its deeply detoxifying effects, refreshing cooling sensation, and non-drying, sensitive-skin-safe appeal. But, there’s 13 more products that made the cut — so, account for your own skin type and needs, and then read on to find the right clay mask for your complexion.
OLEHENRIKSEN Cold Plunge Pore Mask
What We Love: This detoxifying mask clears pores with a refreshing cooling sensation.
What We Don’t Love: It has a somewhat strong peppermint scent. (We think it adds to the overall experience, but several online reviewers find it to be overwhelming.)
Inspired by the rejuvenating powers of a Scandinavian cold plunge, this turquoise OleHenriksen mask actually creates a cooling effect through a blend of active botanicals and clarifying acids. “There is a tingly, minty, and cooling sensation with this mask, but it doesn’t sting or burn — it feels comfortable and refreshing,” says our tester. And as someone with sensitive skin, she was pleased to find that the product isn’t irritating and doesn’t leave her with any redness. “My skin is smoother than before, and my enlarged pores are also visibly reduced,” she says.
We also appreciate the formula’s ultra nourishing ingredients that won't leave you dried out like many other clay masks. “It even feels a little moisturizing,” she adds. Frankly, we love everything about this mask – but it’s worth noting that it has a strong peppermint scent. While we think it adds to the overall experience, it may be too potent for some.
Price at time of publish: $41
Active Ingredients: Lactic acid, salicylic acid, snow lotus, alpine willow herb | Size: 3 oz. | Key Benefits: Shrinks pores, evens skin tone, balances oil | Skin Type: All, including sensitive skin
L'Oréal Paris Pure-Clay Detox & Brighten Face Mask
What We Love: Our tester reports that her typically dry skin feels velvety soft after using this mask (an unexpected benefit!).
What We Don’t Love: This mask has a rich, dark hue. Be careful not to stain your towels during application and rinsing.
This budget-friendly pick packs quite the punch with powerful active ingredients like charcoal, red algae, and yuzu lemon, which work to unclog pores, even texture, and brighten dullness. Our tester found the consistency creamy and non-drying, leaving her skin feeling cleansed, smooth, and balanced.
We noticed that the product spreads evenly, settles quickly, and even has a nice smell. “Plus, my moisture level actually went from dry to normal after using this mask,” out tester adds, an unexpected benefit when the majority of clay masks can feel moisture-stripping. When rinsing this off, be sure not to use your finest linens — because the mask is dark gray in color, we found that it easily stains towels and washcloths.
Price at time of publish: $15
Active Ingredients: Charcoal, red algae, eucalyptus, yuzu lemon | Size: 1.7 oz. | Key Benefits: Purifies, balances, unclogs pores, restores brilliance | Skin Type: All
Tatcha The Clarifying Clay Mask Exfoliating Pore Treatment
What We Love: From the golden spoon (the only included applicator amongst this list!) to the easy-to-wash-off texture, there’s a lot that sets this product apart from others.
What We Don’t Love: The formula doesn’t spread that evenly — it’s thick and requires a bit of massaging into the skin.
Tatcha The Clarifying Mask is pretty special for a number of reasons. First of all, it only needs to be left on for three to five minutes, which is significantly shorter than most of the other products on this list (a win if you ask us). Next, instead of fully drying into a hardened layer like most clay masks, it slowly warms and spreads with a gentle massage, and transforms from a light green color to a sun-toasted red hue (so cool!). Lastly, it’s extremely easy to wash off. “While rinsing, it slides off my skin with no tugging whatsoever,” says our tester. But, the best part? “This mask feels incredibly luxurious, warm, and thick on my face. And afterwards, my pores look smaller, and my skin looks refreshed — even in tone and wildly soft to the touch,” she adds.
Price at time of publish: $70
Active Ingredients: Okinawa kucha clay, Japanese volcanic ash, glycerin | Size: 1.7 oz. | Key Benefits: Clarifies, minimizes pores, decongests | Skin Type: Normal, combination, oily
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Hyaluronic Clay Pore-Tight Facial Mask
Best for Sensitive Skin
What We Love: This mask contains micro exfoliants, leaving your skin feeling totally free of grime and excess oil.
What We Don’t Love: The formula is quite thick, so you have to be quick to spread it across your face before it dries.
Though inducing glow isn’t the main function of a clay mask (detoxing and clarifying are), this one from Glow Recipe pulls through with the added benefit. “After removing the mask, my skin looks brighter than usual and dewier than I would’ve expected with a clay mask,” explains one of our testers. The hyaluronic acid in the formula goes a long way to provide a boost of hydration, while the detoxifying ingredients (including watermelon enzymes and BHAs) completely clear out skin.
The mask also reduces shine and makes skin feel overall fresh, qualities that our tester attributes to the micro exfoliants. “The mask completely extracts dirt and oil from my face, and leaves my skin feeling fresh and so bouncy,” she adds. As a bonus, this is one of those masks that provides results that only get better with long-term use.
Keep in mind that it does require a bit of effort to spread because of the thick texture, but the extra elbow grease is worth it for the glowing results.
Price at time of publish: $40
Active Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, watermelon enzymes, beta hydroxy acid | Size: 2.03 oz. | Key Benefits: Exfoliates, detoxifies pores, hydrates, brightens | Skin Type: All
54 Thrones Kahina Lava Cleansing Mask
Best Deep Cleaning
What We Love: The ingredient list contains rhassoul clay — a specialty active extracted from the Moroccan Atlas Mountains — for a luxurious and deep cleaning experience.
What We Don’t Love: This product takes some leg work. It’s a loose powder that you must mix with water (and the packaging instructions aren’t as clear as they could be).
Once you get over the hurdle of having to personally mix this formula with water (a task that could definitely be made easier with clearer instructions on the brand's part), we promise its deep-cleaning results are worth it. “The mask feels great on my skin with a smooth texture and slight tightening effect,” says our tester. The unique mix of activated coconut charcoal, marshmallow root, gotu kola, and rhassoul clay deeply cleans the skin while also soothing irritation and promoting skin recovery. “My skin looks brighter, clearer, and more even, as if it went through a deep detox,” she marvels.
Price at time of publish: $46
Active Ingredients: Coconut activated charcoal, chamomile flower extract, marshmallow root | Size: 3.3 oz. | Key Benefits: Purifies, detoxifies, balances | Skin Type: All
buttah Charcoal Detox Mask
What We Love: This charcoal mask is specifically formulated to benefit melanated skin tones.
What We Don’t Love: The mask creates a light tingling sensation that may not be preferred for ultra-sensitive skin.
This clay mask boasts a blend of powerfully detoxifying active ingredients (activated charcoal powder and bentonite clay) with nourishing restorative ingredients (shea butter and argan oil) for an overall balancing effect. “The formula is perfect to balance your skin without stripping moisture or being too harsh,” explains our tester.
Specifically formulated for melanated skin tones, but recommended for use by all skin tones and types, the smooth consistency and easy application set this product apart. Easy to spread with two fingers, our tester notes that it goes on seamlessly, but does produce a light tingling sensation that isn’t too strong — which might not feel great for those with especially sensitive skin.
Price at time of publish: $24
Active Ingredients: Activated charcoal powder, bentonite clay, sodium hyaluronate | Size: 1 oz. | Key Benefits: Purifies, detoxifies, evens texture, reduces pores | Skin Type: All
Youth To The People Superclay Purify Clear Power Mask
Best for Oily Skin
What We Love: The formula feels thick and luxuriously high-quality without being too hard to spread (plus, it has a peppermint-y cooling effect and no stinging sensation).
What We Don’t Love: It’s not the easiest to wash off.
Youth to the People is one of our favorite brands for their pro-grade vegan formulas that are made in California and often target oily-prone skin. They use clean ingredients that work to purify and clarify, followed up with ultra-restoring nourishment. This Superclay Mask is no exception. “The consistency feels thick and high-quality, but soft enough to spread across my face easily,” shares our tester. “It has a cooling sensation, but does not sting, burn, or even tingle at any point,” she adds, reporting that her skin felt incredibly moisturized and bright after use.
Though, she notes that removing the mask was a bit of a hassle. “It required a lot of tugging to fully rinse off and took over five minutes to remove,” she says. For a more seamless removal process, we recommend using a sponge to gently scrub the mask off.
Price at time of publish: $36
Active Ingredients: Volcanic clay, niacinamide, beta hydroxy acid | Size: 2 oz. | Key Benefits: Clarifies, reduces pores, evens texture and tone | Skin Type: Normal, combination, oily
Mario Badescu Super Collagen Mask
Best for Dry Skin
What We Love: This is a rare clay mask that doesn’t strip moisture, but actually thoroughly replenishes it (making it great for dry or sensitive skin).
What We Don’t Love: This mask dries rock hard. Our tester notes it’s the type of product she’d prefer to apply before getting in the shower for ease of removal.
Mario Badescu is famous for their pore-clearing, acne-reducing products that aren’t overly aggressive and safe for sensitive skin. We love this Collagen Mask because it's actually formulated for dry skin and works to clarify while also pumping the skin full of hydrating nourishment that ultimately evens texture and smooths fine lines.
“It feels silky, cooling, and moisturizing — a similar feeling to applying a thick, refrigerated face cream,” our tester says. Free from any micro-exfoliants, this mask has a purely creamy consistency and is gentle enough for sensitive skin — no tingling, stinging, or redness here. The mixture of oatmeal and collagen combine to soothe and smooth for an even and bouncy complexion.
“My skin feels more moisturized than before and hydrated enough that I don’t have to apply a cream after,” our tester adds. Though, be warned, the formula dries very hard and can be tough to remove. We recommend applying this mask 20 minutes before entering the shower for the easiest rinse off.
Price at time of publish: $18
Active Ingredients: Collagen, oatmeal, kaolin clay | Size: 2 oz. | Key Benefits: Evens texture, smoothes fine lines, hydrates | Skin Type: All, safe for sensitive skin
Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask
Best for Blackheads
What We Love: Want a quick solution to unclogging those pores? This is it.
What We Don’t Love: This mask is a master at removing blackheads, but it can be drying, so we wouldn’t recommend it for those with dry skin.
Kiehl’s has been a long-time front-runner in the clay mask arena, and the Rare Earth Mask is an established fave. It’s known for being able to actually pull blackheads out after just a single use, and we can confidently say it lives up to expectations. “The mask clears and brightens my complexion and makes my skin much more even,” says our tester.
The formula has a thick clay consistency, similar to non-fat greek yogurt, but it dries quickly and comfortably, with a minty cool sensation and zero stinging. If you’re looking to mattify oily skin, detox impurities, and refine tone and texture, this mask will be your new BFF. But, if you have dry or sensitive skin, it won’t be the pick for you. “It did dry up my nose area a little bit,” explains our tester, but she notes that a dose of toner and moisturizer after use did the trick in restoring her skin’s moisture barrier.
Price at time of publish: $45
Active Ingredients: Amazonian white clay, aloe barbadensis, glycerin | Size: 4.2 oz. | Key Benefits: Clears blackheads, minimizes pores | Skin Type: Normal, Combination, Oily
Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Face Mask
What We Love: It greatly reduces oil production, leaving skin feeling purified and smooth.
What We Don’t Love: Our tester notes that because this product didn’t have the classic “tingly” sensation of most clay masks, she missed out on the “feeling” of it working.
This Purifying Mask from fresh utilizes Umbrian clay (a proprietary ingredient with high-mineral content that’s exclusively sourced from Umbria, Italy) as its hero ingredient to pull out blackheads and clear clogged pores of grime. Mixed with more soothing ingredients like lavender and chamomile oil, it creates a balancing effect that’s not overly-drying and works well for weekly use.
“My skin isn’t as noticeably oily or shiny,” shares our tester. “Plus, my face feels smooth, supple, and soft with tightened pores.” Bonus: The mask works well as an overnight spot treatment. While we enjoy the overall way the mask makes skin look, it lacks the classic tingling sensation most clay masks offer — an attribute that made our tester wonder if it was really working. In the end this is a personal preference, and the results speak for themselves.
Price at time of publish: $60
Active Ingredients: Umbrian clay, lavender, chamomile oil | Size: 3.3 oz. | Key Benefits: Deeply cleanses, minimizes pores and shine, balances | Skin Type: All
Fenty Skin Cookies N Clean Whipped Clay Pore Detox Face Mask with Salicylic Acid and Charcoal
Best for Acne
What We Love: The formula includes mini charcoal beads that draw out dirt and oil from deep within the skin.
What We Don’t Love: This mask can be a little bit messy to apply with fingertips. It’d benefit from an applicator tool.
Ok, we’ll admit, from the very beginning the branding of this product really got us. I mean, a play on cookies and cream?! How fun! The excellent news? In our lab testing, the results really checked out. “My skin feels way more hydrated and looks so glowy and fresh,” reports our tester. “And, the pores on my cheeks seem smaller.”
The charcoal beads in this formula, intended to detoxify pores, aren’t abrasive. In an ingenious stroke, they actually dissolve and burst into the clay upon application to further draw out dirt and oil. Furthermore, the salicylic acid works to break up acne flare-ups and clarify skin. We do wish it came with some sort of applicator because using hands can get quite messy with this mask. “This is a product that requires care and consistency, but it’s from Rihanna, and she does next to no wrong,” shares our tester. For best long-term results, we suggest using the mask two to three times per week.
Price at time of publish: $32
Active Ingredients: Charcoal, salicylic acid, clay | Size: 2.5 oz. | Key Benefits: Reduces oil, minimizes pores, evens texture | Skin Type: All
Cetaphil Pro DermaControl Purifying Clay Mask
What We Love: Even oily skin can be sensitive, which is why we love that this formula is fragrance-free and only includes skin-loving ingredients.
What We Don’t Love: This mask requires a detox period that lasts the first few uses.
We appreciate that a brand like Cetaphil formulates all their products for sensitive skin, and doesn’t forget those with oily skin. This Purifying Clay Mask has a super creamy texture that glides on seamlessly without leaving clumps or uneven patches. It is quite thick, but not in a goopy way — it feels more luxurious than the price-tag.
Upon application, there is no tightening or tingling sensations. “It isn’t rough or coarse on your skin at all; it just feels like a hug for your face,” explains our tester. “It’s a masterpiece of a mask. My skin is instantly softer and smoother after using this. And my pore size? Forget it! This stuff shrinks the huge pores along my nose — you see a difference instantly,” she adds. How about that for a glowing recommendation? Although it's worth mentioning that the first few uses will spur a purging effect, we think it’s 100 percent worth it to stick it out and get to the good part, though, so be patient.
Price at time of publish: $16
Active Ingredients: Kaolin clay, citric acid, apple fruit extract | Size: 3 oz. | Key Benefits: Purifies, deep cleans pores, reduces excess oil, hydrates | Skin Type: Oily, safe for sensitive skin
innisfree Volcanic AHA Pore Clearing Clay Mask
Best for Clogged Pores
What We Love: This is a cult-favorite product that truly works.
What We Don’t Love: Though the mask will feel dry in about 9 minutes, the brand recommends keeping it on for 15 to 20 (on the longer end of products we tested).
This clay mask utilizes real-life hardened volcanic lava from South Korea’s Jeju Island to unclog your pores (how cool is that?). Together with lactic acid, these two ingredients absorb excess oils and restore your complexion to smooth brilliance. “There’s an immediate improvement in my pore size and the mask helps remove dry and dead skin. It also speeds along the healing process of residual scabbing from previous breakouts,” shares our tester. Expect a cooling sensation and slight tightening, but not to the point of tingling or burning. The formula feels creamy, yet light, and spreads easily across the entire face for an overall brightening effect.
Make sure you don’t use this mask if you’re in a hurry, though, because it’s meant to be left on for 15 to 20 minutes — we recommend saving it for low-key self-care nights.
Price at time of publish: $16
Active Ingredients: Lactic acid, Jeju volcanic clusters, kaolin clay | Size: 3.38 oz. | Key Benefits: Reduces pore size, prevents oiliness, evens texture | Skin Type: Normal, combination, oily
Origins Original Skin Retexturizing Mask With Rose Clay
Best for Uneven Skin Tones
What We Love: This powerful formula will even your skin texture with intense exfoliation.
What We Don’t Love: There’s a slight sticky feel to this mask upon application.
A clay mask that comes in squeeze bottle packaging is always a plus in our book for easy application and cleanup. This intense retexturizing formula from Origins combines clay with jojoba beads that deeply exfoliate, clean, and strip away excess grime. It’s definitely too powerful for dry skin types, but we highly recommend it for those with oily-prone skin. “My face feels extra clean and smooth after using this,” our tester says, but notes that it initially has a sticky feeling, and it’s quite drying so it should immediately be followed up by your favorite moisturizer to keep your complexion balanced and radiant.
Price at time of publish: $32
Active Ingredients: Mediterranean rose clay, Canadian willowherb, beta hydroxy acid | Size: 2.5 oz. | Key Benefits: Reduces oiliness, minimizes pores, evens texture, restores brilliance | Skin Type: Normal, oily, combination
Our Testing Process
After extensive research based on trusted recommendations, online customer reviews, and ingredient know-how, we created a list of the 24 best-performing clay masks on the market. Next, we sent samples of each product to our esteemed InStyle testing lab where a diverse group of beauty experts, editors, and everyday people (with a range of ages, skin types, and skin concerns) tried each mask and reported detailed notes on their findings. They paid attention to factors such as moisture levels, ease of application and removal, textural feel, comfort of wear, efficacy, and skin improvements. From there, we narrowed our list down to the 14 masks that received the highest praise, compiling those recommendations for you here.
What to Keep in Mind
Your skin type will dictate the clay mask you should buy, and if you should be using one at all. Clay masks are usually drying, meaning they aren’t great for those with dry or super sensitive skin, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Purvisha Patel.
If you are prone to dryer skin but suffer from clogged pores or acne flare-ups and are wanting to experiment with a clay mask, look for ones that also contain nourishing ingredients like oatmeal (Mario Badescu Super Collagen Mask is an excellent option) or hyaluronic acid (try Glow Recipe Hyaluronic Clay Pore-Tight Facial Mask). Licensed esthetician and acne specialist Jessica Clarke Higgins also reminds us to follow up any clay mask with your standard moisturizer to avoid over-drying.
Across the board, clay masks generally work great for combination or oily skin. “They pull out excess oil and dry up pimples by sticking to the oil on your skin and leaving your face less shiny once washed off,” says Dr. Patel. Though, there are specific products that really target blackheads and clogged pores, like innisfree Pore Clearing Clay Mask and fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask.
Feel and Experience
Clay masks are created in varying consistencies from lightweight and smooth to thick and creamy. Plus, some products like Origins Original Skin Retexturizing Mask with Rose Clay or Fenty Skin Cookies N Clean Whipped Clay Pore Detox Face Mask with Salicylic Acid + Charcoal even contain textured exfoliating ingredients.
The majority of formulas dry quickly and harden on the skin within five to 10 minutes, creating a tightening sensation that's often accompanied by mild tingling (sometimes even a cooling effect, which is the case for OleHenriksen Cold Plunge Pore Mask and Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask). This feeling is totally normal and is even preferred by many users to really experience the mask doing its work. For those reasons, don’t be alarmed if clay masks that harden take a bit of extra work to rinse off. A sponge will make removal much quicker, but give yourself 10 minutes at the sink to complete the process.
Your Questions, Answered
What do clay masks do?
Clay masks are best utilized by people experiencing oily skin and congested pores. “The clay will draw out impurities, like a blackhead or sebaceous filament,” explains Higgins. She adds that they can also help calm redness and irritation, benefiting people with rosacea. SkinSpirit aesthetician Samantha Duffy expands upon this concept, saying, “clay masks absorb oil and can work as gentle exfoliators, some can even be soothing and anti-inflammatory depending on their ingredients.”
Are clay masks good for your skin?
Yes, so long as you use them correctly (in moderation!) and in accordance with your skin type. “Clay masks are composed of rich minerals that offer various protective properties, such as balancing water levels in skin, fighting excessive sun damage, and assisting in skin healing, especially for those that struggle with acne,” says Natalie Aguilar, aesthetic nurse practitioner at Oculoplastic Surgeon Dr. Kami Parsa's practice.
She explains that clay created from volcanic ash (known as bentonite clay) is particularly effective for oily skin as it absorbs more than its mass in water and oil. Meanwhile, she advises, “Those with drier or sensitive skin types should choose kaolin clay because it doesn’t absorb as much water as other clays.”
How often should I use a clay mask?
According to Higgins, you should stick to using your clay mask once a week due to their drying nature. Though, she advises, “If you’re more oily in certain areas of your face (most see this in their T-Zone and nose), you could spot treat with a clay mask more often. If I’m feeling extra congested, I might put one on my nose for a few minutes after cleansing at night.”
Meanwhile, Aguilar adds, “regardless of skin type, it’s best to space out your masking in the beginning to see if your skin agrees with more frequent use of clay masks.” She also advises testing out a new mask on a smaller area of skin rather than the full face. “By testing the mask first, you can decide whether it’s suitable for your skin.”
Do clay masks pull out blackheads?
Technically speaking, clay masks do not “pull out” blackheads, but they do help bring impurities to the skin’s surface. “Blackheads occur when the oil gets exposed to air and turns black,” says Dr. Patel. “Clay dries up the oil so the blackheads are not visible.” She also notes that whiteheads are the effect of oil that has been clogged, while Duffy explains, “Some clay masks can help reduce inflammation in the skin and in this way they can help reduce the size of inflamed whiteheads.”
What Is InStyle Picks?
Did you notice the InStyle Picks seal of approval at the top of this story? That means our team of testers has reviewed every product on this list using a unique methodology to ensure it's really worth your time, money, and attention. We may get samples for free to try but we never promise positive (or any!) coverage in exchange. Put simply: InStyle Picks are products we love, and we've put them to the test to be sure you will too.
Why Shop With Us
Linne Halpern is a freelance beauty, fashion, and lifestyle writer. She is a member of InStyle’s evergreen commerce team where she extensively researches and reviews countless products. For this story, the 14 product recommendations were tested and evaluated by an esteemed group of beauty obsessives. And, their findings were bolstered by professional commentary from notable skincare experts including board-certified dermatologist Dr. Purvisha Patel, licensed esthetician and acne specialist Jessica Clarke Higgins, aesthetic nurse practitioner at Oculoplastic Surgeon Dr. Kami Parsa's practice, Natalie Aguilar, and SkinSpirit aesthetician Samantha Duffy.
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