I spend most of my summer in a clay mask. I get home from work, splash some water on my face, and then I cover it in mud for as long as I can possibly stand it. I cook, I have people over, I do laundry, and sometimes I even fall asleep with it still on my face. It's not as frivolous as it sounds: The more I do it, the better my skin gets. And for the longest time, I would go for the more intense masks—the ones that feel like an octopus sucking your face off. But that's because I'm a mask-ochist; I live for the cracked, dry, pain-as-payment for slightly better skin. But of course, that feeling isn't for everyone (and even if you dig it, maybe it's not best for every day). Below is a selection that's been getting me through summer mattified and relatively breakout-free. I switch these out seasonally, so please leave a review for what I should try next...
The $9, Can’t-Go-Wrong Clay Mask: Boots Botanics Ionic Clay Mask Shine Away
I’m starting here because you’ve got no reason not to buy this. I use this one most often just because ahh price, but it’s great for other reasons, too. It isn't too intense, dries nice and fast, spreads super evenly on damp skin, AND actually works. No fancy spa smell or peel-off effect though. For that, stay tuned.
Main clay at work: Sea Silt. Natural, non-drying, oil-absorbant with anti-inflammatory properties.
The Fan Favorite: Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask
This one is pretty gentle and basic—another good one to jump into if you’re not a mattifying mask fan. I once made a pit stop at an Origins on a hot summer day just to do this mask, collect some samples, and relax in the A/C. It worked because it washes off pretty gently and doesn’t leave you red-faced and super stripped like some masks do. I highly recommend it if you ever need a deep cleanse and are around West 4th or 23rd Streets.
Main clay at work: Kaolin clay, which gets rid of toxins while active bamboo charcoal gets rid of whatever's in your pores.
The Creamiest: Fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask
The texture of this one is so lovely! I like washing my face before and not drying it all the way, applying this one very lightly, and sleeping in it. Works like a charm.
Main clay at work: Italian Umbrian clay. Balancing, soothing, cleansing, and works for all skin types.
The Whole Foods Option: Dr. Hauschka Clarifying Clay Mask
This one is pretty deep cleaning, and it looks like straight up dirt too—no frills here. You have to mix it yourself in the palm of your hand with water before putting it on. Sometimes I’ll add more or less water depending on how thickly I want it to go onto my face.
Main clay at work: German Loess, or "healing earth."
The Best-Smelling One: Aesop Chamomile Concentrate Anti-Blemish Mask
Ah! Like every Aesop product ever, half the experience here is the aromatherapy. It matters more than you think when the stuff is stuck to your face. My skin takes to it quite well: I find it clears me up while also soothing my skin a bit, so I savor this one and barely use it. Sometimes I’ll apply after shaving when my skin's a little more raw.
Main clay at work: Kaolin, a finely textured white clay used to remove dead skin cells and fight acne.
The At-Home Spa In A Jar That You Can't Pronounce Correctly: Omorvicza Deep Cleansing Mask
Repeat after me: Ah-moor-ih-VIT-za. Practice saying it out loud, because this one is luxurious and you're going to tell everyone. It’s thick, takes a while to dry, smells like a seaside spa and MELTS into your skin once it dries. Another mask to savor 'til the last drop.
Main clay at work: Again Kaolin, Hungarian mud and mineral-rich Hungarian thermal water.
The "Damn, What Just Happened To My Face?" One: Boscia Green Tea Oil Control Mask
So this one isn’t a traditional mud mask (although silica is close enough). But it does suck your face off like an octopus SO I’m lumping it in with the rest. It comes out like silly putty and you’re going to need a lot to cover your face—I typically use this where I get most oily (cheekbones, nose, forehead, chin). Once it dries, you peel it off, and your skin no longer feels like skin but like soft suede. Afterwards, I slather on Fresh’s Rose mask, so my skin doesn’t completely hate me after vaccuming it clean every night like clockwork.
Main "clay" at work: Silica, Japanese green tea and Burdock root.
The Sensitive Skin Option: Pai Copaiba Deep Cleanse AHA Mask
All Pai products are made for fussy skin (the founder was moved to create the brand many years ago after dealing with her own sensitive skin drama), but that doesn’t make any of them wimpy! This one in particular sops up oil (please forgive me), while smoothing over skin with exfoliating acids. It gets bonus points for also being non-drying.
Main clay at work: Kaolin, which is balanced by moisturizing glycerin and lactic acid.
The Zit-Zapper: Therapeutic Sulfur Mask Acne Treatment Mask
Oh man this mask stinks, but that’s sulfur for ya. Stinky but mighty effective when it comes to shrinking pimples. Use it as a spot treatment, or slather it all over. Just maybe do it alone, lest you want whoever you’re with to catch a whiff of tantalizing rotten egg.
Main clay at work: Kaolin and bentonite, which is buffered by 10-percent sulfur and aloe.
The Cheapest: The Inkey List Kaolin Mask
...But not cheap. It’ll dry up your oil slicks just fine, but don’t expect it to do much more than that. Hey, the frills will cost you extra!
Main clay at work: Kaolin (duh) and smectite (otherwise known as bentonite).
The Esthetician Favorite: Biologique Recherche Masque VIP O2
The clay gets to the oil, and then everything else—lactic acid, niacinamide, glycerin and vitamin E—smooths skin over and makes your pores look teenie tiny. Chances are your favorite esthetician has a tube (or two) stashed away. And the best part? It doesn’t dry at all, should you want to eat or talk while masking, if that’s your thing.
Main clay at work: Kaolin, along with lactic acid, niacinamide, yeast, and witch hazel.
—Tom Newton and Ashley Weatherford
Photographed by Tom Newton.
This post was originally published July 2016 and has been updated.
If oily skin ails you, Tom Newton has the cure. Read his roundup of the best clarifying face washes here.