- A good face mask can work wonders on your skin, but there are so many out there, it can be hard to decide which one is right for your needs.
- Our favorite face mask is the creamy, gentle Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Face Mask because it really works to cleanse your skin and help improve its health in the long run.
Let’s face it – a lot of face masks are totally useless.
Sure, they might keep the Sunday Scaries at bay for 15 minutes or, in the case of the colorful and glittery ones all over social media, make a great selfie. But do they really do anything?
In my six-plus years covering beauty, I’ve tried countless face masks and treatments. Most of them have been entirely forgettable. I kept using some of them out of a sense of obligation and a desire not to waste. But life is short. Do you really want to waste your limited face masking time on products that do next to nothing? I think not.
In general, I use masks for three main purposes – hydration if my skin is feeling dry and tight, calming if I’m irritated, or detoxing and pore-clearing if I’m breaking out a lot. I have pretty sensitive skin, so I don’t like to use anything too harsh all over.
I tend to apply more active masks like the kinds that help diminish breakouts, in targeted areas like the T-zone. I reserve soothing, moisturizing formulas for more delicate areas like my cheeks. The following list features picks from both categories but they all have one thing in common – they gave me results.
Here are the best face masks:
- Best overall: Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Face Mask
- Best soothing face mask: Kiehl’s Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Masque
- Best sheet mask: SK-II Facial Treatment Mask
- Best overnight face mask: Laneige Water Sleeping Mask
- Best detoxifying face mask: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask
Prices and links are current as of 3/19/2020. We also added a selection of masks we tested and liked but that ultimately didn’t make our top picks.
The best face mask overall
Cult-favorite Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Face Mask truly is as good as everyone says because it won’t dry you out or leave your face feeling tight.
I’ve had a jar of the Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Face Mask languishing in my face mask drawer (yes, I have a whole drawer) for longer than I care to admit. I finally tried it for the first time a few months ago and I’m kicking myself for not testing it sooner.
Like most clay masks, this one is designed to heal blemishes, decrease the appearance of pores, and minimize oil production. Unlike most clay masks though, it’s really gentle. Fresh’s version is chock full of soothing ingredients like sandalwood oil, chamomile flower, and lavender water. I counteract any dryness I feel afterward by misting with a hydrating toner.
I tend to focus it on my T-zone where I experience the most blackheads and breakouts, but I have used the mask all over my face without irritation. You’re only meant to leave it on for three to five minutes, so it doesn’t have a chance to dry down and become really hard to remove. The mask can also be used as a cleanser and a spot treatment.
Pros: Gentle and effective clay mask, easy to wash off, non-irritating
Cons: High price tag
The best soothing face mask
Got sensitive skin? Keep Kiehl’s Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Masque on hand to combat irritation and redness.
I never know just when my skin is going to react poorly to a situation; it can certainly get red and itchy at the mere suggestion of overstimulation. There are so many factors that can set me off – too much sunshine, an ill-fated skin-care experiment, too many active ingredients.
It’s a soothing, hydrating gel mask, and the perfect follow up to more intensive treatments that might leave skin inflamed. As the name suggests, the formula contains calming calendula flower petals and aloe. When you apply it to the skin, it feels instantly cooling, but not in that artificial, hurting-not-helping way some products have.
There’s some debate over the effectiveness of calendula as a soothing ingredient, but from my own experience, this mask is great at calming down the redness in my skin, possibly thanks to the aloe.
As FutureDerm points out, the ingredients list boasts brightening ingredients as well, but you may want to be wary if you’re sensitive to citrus oils. I’ve used it as a follow-up to particularly drying treatments and after a long day outside that resulted in harsh sunburn on my face. I definitely see myself picking up a second jar after I finish the first.
The Kiehl’s Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Masque has also been recommended by Allure.
Pros: Soothing and hydrating mask, easy to wash off
Cons: Avoid if sensitive to citrus oils, might have a tingling sensation if left on too long
The best sheet mask
When your skin needs an instant boost, reach for the SK-II Facial Treatment Mask.
Sheet masks are great for that instant boost of hydration and brightening effects. I love to use them on flights or before a big event. My favorite is the SK-II Facial Treatment Mask, which I used right before my wedding. It’s totally worth the 15 minutes you’ll spend looking like Jason from “Halloween,” I promise.
This is basically SK-II’s popular Facial Treatment Essence in sheet mask form. A cocktail of amino acids, organic acids, vitamins, and minerals work together to brighten and rejuvenate the skin. Each individually-packaged mask is sold in packs of 1, 6, or 10.
Apply the essence-saturated cotton sheet to your face for 10-15 minutes, discard, and pat the rest of the serum into your skin – do not rinse. If you wash your face, you’ll be wasting all the good stuff. Let the essence absorb and move on with the rest of your skin-care routine.
As with most SK-II products, the Facial Treatment Mask is really pricey. But you can’t beat the instant results you get. Countless beauty editors and experts agree. It’s been recommended by Allure and Harper’s Bazaar, among others, and here at Insider Picks, we rated it our top sheet mask pick overall.
Pros: Hydrating and brightening mask, great for special events, packaged individually, fragrance-free
The best overnight face mask
If hydration is a top concern, reach for the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask 2-3 times a week for major moisture.
This mask combines Laneige’s proprietary Sleep-Tox and Moisture Wrap blends that respectively repair and hydrate the skin overnight with hydro ionized mineral water to ensure your skin retains moisture longer.
Plus, it smells like the feeling you get during the relaxing end of yoga class with notes of rose, orange flower, and sandalwood.
The texture is more like a very thick gel moisturizer than a traditional mask. It goes on clear, albeit a bit wet, and dries down to a slightly dewy finish. You could leave the house in this if you wanted, though it feels a bit tackier than your average moisturizer so I only use it at bedtime as directed. When I wake up, I wipe any residue off with micellar water.
Pros: Hydrating, lightweight, dries clear, can be worn outside
The best detoxifying mask
The Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask exfoliates the skin and draws impurities out of pores like a vacuum to improve your complexion’s clarity, tone, and texture.
The Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask has been mythologized by the internet. It has thousands of reviews, high ratings, YouTube trials, and testimonials with millions of views – and it deserves the recognition, especially for the cost.
It’s a tub of 100% natural calcium bentonite clay, a highly absorbent natural resource that occurs when volcanic ash ages over time. The clay should be mixed with equal parts raw apple cider vinegar or water before being applied to the face, but I’ve had better results, particularly with texture, when using apple cider vinegar. If you find it too strong, consider diluting it with half apple cider vinegar and half water.
Once applied, the mask quickly dries and tightens. This mask is strong, so if you have sensitive skin, try a patch test on your forearm before using it on your face.
After washing it off, my skin’s texture is baby-smooth and very red (this should subside over the next 30 minutes). Current blemishes appear less angry and inflamed, and they recede faster. With repeated use, I think it has helped me fend off impending breakouts too. Apple cider vinegar and clay are powerful exfoliants, and, over time, my tone has become a bit more even.
You can leave the mask on for five to 10 minutes according to the company, but celebrity dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman recommends you leave it on only until you feel the clay tightening and drying on top of your skin (likely between two to five minutes). If you delay taking it off, and it sucks up too much oil, your skin may start to compensate by producing even more oil than it did before. In this instance, the clay works too well.
Pros: Exfoliates dead skin, works to improve tone and clarity, affordable
What else we considered
- Glow Recipe
- Glow Recipe Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Face Mask ($49): Insider Reviews Style and Beauty Editor Ashley Phillips has been testing this Glow Recipe mask and she has found that it’s softened her skin with overnight use. It contains encapsulated retinol which is gentler than other types of retinol, and the avocado’s antioxidant properties help detoxify. Still, it’s a thick formula and takes a while to soak in making it feel sticky on your pillow, which is why it ultimately isn’t one of our top picks.
- Glow Recipe Watermelon + AHA Glow Sleeping Mask ($45): Glow Recipe’s Watermelon Mask is the long-beloved product that put the K-beauty startup on the map back in 2017. Insider Reviews Senior Style and Beauty Reporter Mara Leighton tested it for our larger review of the brand, and she found that while it did give her short-term hydrating results without clogging her pores, it wasn’t enough to solve her dry skin problems. We’ve also had experience with the mask pilling upon drying.
- Peter Thomas Roth 24k Gold Mask ($85): This mask has a cult following in beauty blogger circles thanks to the fact that it actually does contain 24 karat gold, which is said to help maintain collagen and elastin levels in the skin. It’s an over-the-top luxury mask that gives a youthful glow with its caffeine and peridot-infused formula. If it were more affordable we’d be happy to recommend it. But at $85, it’s just too expensive for us to justify the cost.
- Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Mask ($55): This is another popular mask from Peter Thomas Roth, and though it’s more affordable than the 24k Gold Mask, we actually prefer the Gold Mask a bit more. The cucumber mask is refreshing and hydrating, and it contains aloe, so it’s a great choice if you’re trying to calm your skin after getting a bit too much sun. But it stays sticky while applied, making it a bit uncomfortable.
- Tata Harper Resurfacing BHA Glow Mask ($65): Insider Reviews Style and Beauty Reporter Remi Rosmarin has been testing the all-natural Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask and she’s loved how its exfoliating properties have given her instant results. Some users, however, have found that the pomegranate enzymes and BHA have been too harsh, causing them to break out. It’s also very expensive at $65 for one ounce of product.
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