How to choose a skincare mask


There are a lot of masks out there – which one should you use to boost your skincare routine into hyperdrive? Let me help!

What is a mask?

A mask is a treatment that you put on your face for an extended period of time (between 10 minutes and 10 hours). You’re not meant to be seen in public while it’s on. The effects of a good mask will last around 1-3 days.

There are a bunch of different types of masks, good for different purposes. There’s a bit of crossover, especially if you’re mixing the mask yourself, but these are the basic categories:

Clay masks

Clay masks have clay as their main ingredient, and are helpful for sucking oil out of your pores, along with any random gunk in the oil. There are a range of clays with slightly different textures, but since all sorts of ingredients (oils, humectants like honey, etc.) can be mixed into a clay mask, it’s hard to say what effect a particular clay mask will have without trying it (though we can safely say that none of them will detox your body).

Kaolin clays are less absorbent than bentonite, so kaolin-based masks (usually white or pink in colour) are generally better for dry and sensitive skin, while bentonite masks (usually green in colour) are recommended for oily skin (I’m using handwavy language on purpose, because there is a LOT of variation – look up reviews of that specific mask before you buy).

How to use: You can apply a clay mask with your fingers (my preferred method) or a brush (feels posher, but requires more clean-up). Wait 5-30 min depending on your skin’s tolerance, then wash off (you may need to use a cloth to soak it off – I find that sticking my face under the shower head for 5 seconds helps tremendously). You don’t need to wait for it to dry before removing, but letting it dry will result in more oil absorption (but also more irritation potential).


Examples: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay is pure powdered calcium bentonite clay that you can mix into a mask yourself. If you mix it with an acidic substance, you’ll end up with a more skin-friendly pH and a very absorbent mask (here are some recipes for mixing bentonite with non-stinky citric acid and for mixing with slightly stinky ACV). You can make it less absorbent by adding humectants and oils. I’ve also got The Cosmetic Kitchen Raw Chocolate Clay Mask, which consists of pre-mixed Australian pink clay and raw cacao powder (antioxidant).

If you don’t want to go through the fuss of mixing, Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque is a popular option which contains both kaolin and bentonite, but I find that the anti-acne sulfur in it smells very unpleasant (lots of other people disagree). Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil Absorbing Mask* is another example, but I found it quite itchy. Moreish Emergence Clay Mask* is a premade kaolin clay mask that’s super gentle, with lots of humectants and oils thrown in.

Hydrating masks

Hydrating masks are a pretty broad category – there are oil-based masks which soften your skin, there are humectant-based masks which help water bind and absorb. I’m lumping them together because most oil-based masks have some humectants in them. These masks aim to leave your skin smooth and plump.

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How to Mix an Aztec Clay Mask Without the Smell



Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay makes a great mask, but it’s alkaline so you need to mix it with apple cider vinegar to bring the clay to a skin-friendly pH. But then you slap it on your face and try to relax, but you can’t because all you can smell is vinegar. What can you do?

I was stuck with that conundrum, when I realised that there’s a safe, non-stinky acid you can buy at the supermarket: citric acid! Citric acid is used for baking, jams and making bath bombs. It comes as sugar-like crystals, and only costs a few dollars. It smells extremely mild, so you can do your mask and feel pampered and not like you’ve stuck your head into sauerkraut. It’s a win all round!

(Technically, citric acid is also an alpha and beta hydroxy acid and has nice effects on skin, but it doesn’t seem to be as effective as glycolic or lactic acids, and there’s only a tiny chance that it’ll do anything with the concentration, pH and application time we’re using.)


I picked myself up a shaker of citric acid, did some calculations (skip to the bottom of the post for those) and played around with proportions. A ratio of 1:8 acid to clay worked well – that is, 1/8 tsp acid for 1 tsp of clay. I added enough water to get the consistency I wanted (about 1 tsp), and the final pH ended up as ~5. This recipe gives a pretty thin mask – double it if you prefer a thick layer.

I also tried 1:4 acid to clay (1/4 tsp acid mixed with 1 tsp clay), which gave a pH of 4-5. While it was OK going on, the mask stung a little by the time it was dry, though it didn’t leave the redness I usually get with 1:1 clay/ACV. My skin also looked particularly nice afterwards. If your skin is pretty resilient to acids (e.g. you’ve used chemical exfoliants a lot), you could perhaps cautiously try this stronger version out.

If you decide to try these recipes, please be cautious the first time you do it – either test the pH with strips, or patch test it behind your ear, or at least be ready to jump into the shower and wash it off your face immediately if you feel an unusual amount of irritation. It’s quite likely that our measuring methods and our ingredients are a bit different (different degrees of packed down, levelling scoops etc).

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Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay and apple cider vinegar – a tale of pH

Apple cider vinegar and Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay are two budget-friendly, cult status beauty products that work beautifully together. Why are they such perfect partners? Well… it’s got something to do with the magic known as pH. What is pH? pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity – the amount of hydrogen ions (H+) in something. It’s a …

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