Therapeutic masks constitute a significant share of the commercial treatments available for clearing facial acne. Designed to be applied to the face and left to harden for several minutes, facial masks may have several active ingredients, including sulfur, botanical extracts and even clay. Clay masks have absorbent, exfoliating and astringent properties that address the root causes of acne.
Heredity, hormones and other factors may cause a person to produce too much sebum, the natural oil the body uses to keep skin from drying out. When excess sebum is excreted through the pores, it can cause pore blockages, as can dead skin cells that are improperly shed when they die. These blockages cause skin irritation that forms a blemish -- usually a whitehead or blackhead. Excess sebum on the surface of the skin can also encourage the spread of bacteria, which can further aggravate the blemishes.
Clay Mask Function
Clay face masks benefit the skin by using capillary action to absorb substances on and beneath the skin's surface. They can absorb sebum, bacteria, water and various toxins and irritants from the skin and can exfoliate dead skin cells and blackheads without friction. Clay can absorb up to 200 times its weight in water, according to Annie Berthold-Bond, author of "Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living."
The specific steps in the clay mask process vary depending on the products involved. Some masks that contain clay are sold at drugstores as creams and can be applied directly to facial skin without premixing. However, pure clay is readily available in a powdered form and can be mixed into a paste with a small amount of water just prior to use. When using a powdered clay, it is best to use distilled or bottled water to minimize impurities. Prepare for your mask by steam cleaning your face, which can be done by boiling therapeutic skin herbs in a large pot of water, removing the pot from the heat and positioning your head over the pot, draping it with a towel to allow the steam to collect on your face. Steam cleaning opens pores, making it easier for the clay mask to absorb impurities.
Types of Clay
Several different types of clay can be used in facial skin masks, notes Valerie Ann Worwood, author of "The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy." The types are often identified by their colors, which vary depending on each clay's mineral content. These minerals can also affect the skin in different ways. White clays, for example, have strong astringent properties and can increase blood flow to the skin. Brown clays are effective for removing dead skin cells but are not appropriate for dry skin. Green clays are the most versatile, as they're gentle on all skin types and tend to be rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
Clay facial masks can actually bring on short-term acne breakouts, warns Naweko San-Joyz, author of "Acne Messages Crack the Code of Zits and Say Goodbye to Acne," but this is a normal part of the healing process. Since clay masks work by drawing impurities to the skin's surface and into the clay, this can temporarily irritate the surface pores. Clay masks can also over-dry skin by drawing out moisture; those with naturally dry skin should stick to white clays and mix them with moisturizing ingredients like aloe vera gel or glycerin, suggests Berthold-Bond.