Social media loves a good masking moment, and no mask has achieved cult-fave status quite like Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay ($15). The mix-it-yourself solution is lauded for its ability to unclog pores, and the before-and-after photos Redditors have shared of it clearing away their acne are truly unbelievable. But according to board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, while it does its job well, it's not great for everyone.
"This mask can be good for certain people," says Dr. Garshick. "It is great for those who have oily skin or are dealing with shiny skin that they're trying to make more matte in appearance." That's because clay works by drawing out toxins and clearing and tightening pores.
"But it's not for everyone, just because it can dry out the skin," says Dr. Garshick. And because the Aztec clay mask only has one ingredient—bentonite clay—its only focus is removing oil. And when you're using pure clay, it's easy to strip your skin of good oils. "If you are absorbing too much oil, not just what's in excess, then you can experience some dryness and sensitivity of the skin. "
That's especially true during the winter months, explains Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "This time of year you really don't want to overdo it [with clay masks] because of the winter air," she says. "It's bad for dry skin."
All that said, you can still use the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay if you want. You just need to proceed with caution and keep the following tips in mind. However, there are also better, more cosmetically elegant options that provide the deep-cleaning benefits of clay while hydrating and soothing skin (more on those later).
- Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist based in Florida
- Arash Akhavan, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City
- Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medicine
- Mona Gohara, MD, board-certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor at Yale University
- Sharon McGlinchey, celebrity facialist and founder of MV Skincare
How to use the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay mask without drying out your skin
1. Asess your skin type
Because the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask is so drying, you only want to use it if you have excess oil to remove. If you have dry skin, avoid this mask and only use the more gentle options in the next section during the warmer months when your skin can better tolerate it.
2. Only mix it with water
The directions say you can mix the clay with water or apple cider vinegar, and that's because ACV does have some acne-fighting abilities. But putting it straight on your skin can cause serious irritation regardless of your skin type.
"Apple cider vinegar contains organic acids—lactic, succinic, and citric acids—that may kill P. acnes, a skin bacteria that is one of many contributing factors to acne breakouts," says Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, FAAD, a Florida-based dermatologist. "Applying ACV directly to the skin may cause irritant burns if not properly diluted." As someone who had to kick her roommate out of the shower after applying a bentonite-ACV mask to her scalp because it burned so bad, I wholeheartedly second this rec.
3. Never let it dry down
You should never leave your mask on long enough for it to dry. "The one thing pretty much everyone gets wrong about a clay face mask is letting it dry completely," says Sharon McGlinchey, celebrity facialist and founder of MV Skincare. "Everyone does it and most likely believes that very tight sensation they feel after removal is a firming action. It is not!"
A clay mask goes through three stages: the damp phase, the beginning of the dry phase, and the dry phase. "The first two phases are beneficial for the skin: the damp phase, which is when the most beneficial minerals can absorb, and the beginning of the drying phase, which is cooling and a little like exercise for your skin," says McGlinchey. Avoid the third step, though: "The dry phase is when the clay draws moisture back from the surface of the skin." This can lead to dry, irritated, and blotchy skin.
4. Use it sparingly
Even if you are oily-complected, Dr. Gohara still says you should use the mask sparingly, especially if you've already got a lot of other drying ingredients, like exfoliating acids and retinol, in your routine. While clearing away excess oil with these things is usually a good thing, if you clear away too much of it your skin will start to dry out. Then, your body will start overproducing sebum to make up for the discrepancy, and you'll wind up with skin that feels dry, oily, and just plain uncomfortable all at the same time. Because of this, Dr. Gohara recommends using the mask once a month at most.
5 gentler alternatives to the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay mask
Newer non-drying clay masks give your skin that detox while also nourishing it so it's not left super dry. "To also be hydrating, [the clay mask] must have moisturizing ingredients like aloe vera, glycerin, or squalane, or it can have anti-inflammatories like chamomile extract or rosehip and other botanical oils," says Arash Akhavan, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "That way, the clay will either be less drying, less irritating, or both."
That's because moisturized skin is less reactive than dry skin and is able to better handle any potential side effects of the clay. And anti-inflammatory ingredients can keep the skin calm and happy and less likely to get irritated. By infusing these into a clay mask, you're getting the best of both worlds. Just remember that the clay is still there. So avoid these masks if your skin is feeling dry or sensitized and make sure you never, ever let it fully dry down.
We've pulled five moisturizing clay masks at varying price points that are wonderful alternatives to the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay mask. Learn about each and shop for them below.
“I love this detox clay mask, which is made of just three natural star ingredients: kaolin clay, French green clay, and green tea extract. Together, they work together to slurp off the extra oil on my face, without leaving it completely dried out,” writes former editorial intern Jihan Basyah. “The added boost of green tea is a game-changer, too. As someone with oily skin that can get pretty red, having an anti-inflammatory ingredient like green tea is a blessing. Its natural infusion of caffeine tapers my puffiness and relieves redness with every use.”
This detox works as a cleanser or a mask. To use it as a cleanser, massage it into damp skin for two to three minutes and remove it with a warm washcloth. To use it as a mask, apply it and let it sit for at least five minutes and remove it with a warm cloth. It uses bentonite clay to absorb excess oil and reduce surface shine along with kaolin clay to exfoliate. It also includes moisture-replenishing isoleucine, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and moisturizing squalane.
Bentonite and kaolin clays in this formula work with charcoal to remove impurities from the skin and absorb and remove excess oil. Plus, it has salicylic acid to clarify and refine skin. It also includes super moisturizing emollients glycerin and shea butter to nourish the skin while the harsher ingredients do their thing.
“I particularly love that you can do this clarifying clay mask for just three minutes and still get a brightening, exfoliating (but not drying!) refresh for your face,” writes contributor Dominique Michelle Astorino. “It’s amazing to rinse off a clay mask and actually feel hydrated and more clear. You usually get one or the other in a mask, but not this one.” That’s because it blends Okinawa Kucha Clay, bentonite, and kaolin clays with moisturizing glycerin and soothing niacinamide.
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