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Chances are you've used a blackhead mask or two as a teenager. But even if you’re well past your teen years (raises hand), know that blackheads can still rear their ugly heads. After all, plenty of people experience acne well into their 30s, 40s, and beyond.
“A blackhead forms when an open pore becomes clogged with sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria,” explains dermatologist Dr. Marie Hayag. “The mixture forms a waxy substance that builds up inside the pore over time.” As for their characteristic black hue, it's a result of oxidation: “As air mixes with the gunk inside, it turns black,” says Hayag.
That’s where those blackhead masks of your youth come in—although the formulas available today are arguably better than they were years ago. When choosing a blackhead mask, Hayag suggests looking for ingredients like activated charcoal, salicylic acid, and calcium bentonite clay. As for how you go about using a blackhead mask, Hayag advises being cautious, particularly when it comes to peel-off varieties, which can disrupt your skin’s barrier by stripping skin of its natural oils. In general though, blackhead masks “appear to be safe,” says Hayag, “although overuse could cause skin dryness, redness, and sensitivity.”
Here, we’ve rounded up the best blackhead masks to clear your pores and give you brighter, smoother skin.
This blackhead mask has a powerful yet gentle formula making it safe and effective for all skin types. Ingredients include grape marc (the remains of grapes after being pressed) to detoxify, pink clay and coffee to absorb dirt and oil, papaya enzymes to brighten, and organic essential oils like lavender and sage to fight bacteria. Users rave about the ease of use and how soft, smooth, and clear their skin looks and feels after using it.
Coming in at a bargain price, this blackhead mask gets the job done without wrecking your wallet. The coolest thing about this charcoal mask: It warms upon contact with your skin. The mask, which comes in single-serving packets, works in just one minute, thanks to the activated charcoal in the formula.
“Activated charcoal helps draw out debris such as dead skin cells and excess oils from the pores, which could lead to blackheads,” says Hayag. “Also, it helps clear pores without adsorbing vitamins and nutrients that are vital for the skin.”
Salicylic acid—one of the best-known acne-fighters—plays a starring role in this drugstore blackhead mask. At 1% salicylic acid, this formula not only targets existing breakouts, but it also helps prevent new ones. This clay mask also does a great job at absorbing excess oil—plus, ingredients like aloe and glycerin ensure skin doesn’t get dried out.
Salicylic acid is derived from willow bark. It’s a beta hydroxy acid, meaning it’s oil-soluble. “Due to its molecular structure, it can more easily penetrate into the pores of the skin,” says Hayag. “It can help dissolve clogged pores, including blackheads, as well as act as an anti-inflammatory.”
Volcanic clusters from Jeju Island in South Korea are an incredible oil-absorber, while lactic acid is a powerful alpha hydroxy acid that exfoliates dead skin cells and shrinks the look of pores. In fact Faith Xue, Byrdie’s Editorial Director, can’t get over how much gunk this blackhead mask removes from her pores.
Recreate the spa at home with this luxe blackhead mask. At 3% sulfur, the formula gets deep into pores to blast blackheads and whiteheads, while azelaic acid brightens skin and green tea provides antioxidant protection and calms redness. While sulfur can sometimes stink, this blackhead mask earns high praise from fans for its refreshing citrusy scent.
Normal, combination and oily skin types will benefit from this natural blackhead mask. It features a potent combo of star aster to shield skin from free radicals, white clay to absorb oil and dirt, and papaya enzymes to gently exfoliate dead skin cell buildup. The formula is 100% natural and free of synthetic ingredients.
If you have oily skin, then you’re most susceptible to blackheads. Enter this mask, formulated especially for your skin type. Sulfur unclogs pores and fights bacteria, apple fruit extract nourishes skin, and kaolin clay sops up excess oil. When you apply the mask, it fizzes upon contact, so you know it’s working.
Good news, sensitive skin types: You too can use a blackhead mask. It’s all about finding one that’s gentle enough for your skin—and this one fits the bill perfectly. This peel-off blackhead mask relies on red clay to absorb dirt and oil, rosemary leaf oil to unclog pores, and glycerin to protect skin from moisture loss so you don’t have to worry about irritation. Plus, the mask is free of potentially irritating fragrances.
This next-gen peel-off mask for blackheads will give your skin a serious glow. It’s powered by activated charcoal to banish blackheads and balance oily skin, as well as squalane, plant stem cells, and garden cress extract to improve skin tone and elasticity without drying you out. Users appreciate that this peel-off mask doesn’t hurt to remove, in addition to how clear and smooth it makes their skin look and feel.
Consider this blackhead mask a true multitasker: You can use it as a daily cleanser to maintain clear skin and as a weekly mask for a deeper clean. Kaolin and bentonite clays are paired with acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide to deliver a one-two punch against stubborn blackheads.
“Calcium bentonite clay is typically found in its dried formed and needs to be ‘activated’ with water or apple cider vinegar,” says Hayag. “It has been proven to absorb and remove toxins, heavy metals, impurities, and chemicals.” She adds that calcium bentonite clay can also help exfoliate skin and absorb excess oil, for a pore-shrinking effect.
Brighter, clearer skin is coming right up when you use this charcoal blackhead mask. Not only does it effectively remove pore-clogging dirt and oil, but it also refreshes dull skin for an overall more radiant appearance. Users enjoy how this mask tightens pores and results in smoother skin.
Three types of clay—kaolin, montmorillonite, and Moroccan—as well as red algae extract come together to put the kibosh on blackheads by absorbing dirt and oil, unclogging pores, and exfoliating dead skin cells. Users note the mask’s fast-acting results—tighter pores and clearer, smoother skin in just 15 minutes.
Sheet masks are all the rage, and this particular variety is a major blackhead buster. Formulated with charcoal, this blackhead mask draws out impurities like dirt and oil for fresher, cleaner skin. The formula is 99% natural and gentle enough to be used by sensitive skin, thanks to the addition of soothing honey.
While we try not to play favorites, team Byrdie really can’t go past the Caudalie Instant Detox Mask. It’s one of the few masks on the market that really feels nourishing, but still brightens and deeply cleanses the pores thanks to a mix of papaya enzymes, pink clay, and coffee extract. The Biore Charcoal Instant Warming Clay Mask is a great budget option for an at-home spa experience. And if you’re trying to nix breakouts, the Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask is unbeatable. The charcoal, kaolin, and bentonite clays absorb oil and dirt, while lecithin clears out pores.
Hayag suggests testing a blackhead mask on a small patch of skin before using one for the first time. And “if you have sensitive skin, avoid masks with fragrances, dyes, parabens, and other chemicals that may cause a reaction,” she says.
What to look for when choosing a mask to treat blackheads
What are blackheads?
For all intents and purposes, blackheads occur when the opening of a hair follicle (otherwise known as a pore) becomes clogged or plugged with dead skin cells, bacteria, and oil. The black color occurs when the congestion is exposed to air, thus oxidizing and darkening in color. They’re super common, and most often occur in areas of the face and body where oil flow is at its highest (like the nose, chin, and back).
How can a mask help?
Certain masks can help by softening the pore and absorbing some of the stuff trapped inside. Blackhead-specific masks might also offer a gentle form of exfoliation, working to both clear out an already clogged pore and remove bacteria and sebum that might cause blackheads to occur.
How often should I use one?
Masks targeting blackheads are typically made of clay and can be used once or twice a week. This is a generalized statement though, so following product instructions is the safest way to go. We also suggest using your mask after showering as the steam will relax the pores.