Blackhead Masks: The Scientific Guide to DESTROYING Blackheads!

by | Last updated Apr 18, 2020 | 64 comments

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Welcome. Today’s your lucky day because you’ve just stumbled on the last internet page you’ll ever need to destroy the bane of your existence: BLACKHEADS.

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around the interweb about treating blackheads, so let’s first discuss what you should not be doing.

Feel free to skip ahead to the end for the actual blackhead mask annihilation method! Trust me, YOU DON’T WANNA MISS IT.

Pore Strips: Avoid These With A Ten-Foot Pole.

Oh, the dreaded pore strips. If you take anything away from this blog post let it be this: never use these skin waxers again.

It’s no secret that using pore-strips can be satisfying. You pull them off and see all this debris. Proof that they worked, right? Not quite.

Pore strips like these are a very ineffective way of treating blackheads for two reasons:

  1. They’re irritating as hell.
  2. They contain Polyquaternium-37.

Polyquaternium-37 is a anti-static substance that’s used in hairspray. It works by adhering to the surface of skin instead of the blackheads themselves.

The result? Tugging and pulling that stretches out the pore and makes it more susceptible to clogging in the longterm. Not to mention, increased risk of broken capillaries that can only be removed with vascular lasers.

Think of it like waxing the skin. Rather than removing the gunk inside pores, it’s ripping off the surface layer of skin via mechanical action. Or as my friend eloquently put it:

“I hate how more often than not pore strips don’t get the clogged pores, but rip out your skin and soul instead. Thnx!”

And beside being ineffective, they can even be somewhat dangerous. This will be particularly true for people that have compromised epidermal barriers, as is the case with skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea etc., or those that are using chemical exfoliants, retinoids, or Accutane as these tend to thin the stratum corneum (outer most layer of skin).

Now that we’ve gotten what you shouldn’t do out of the way, let’s discuss what actually works — clay or “blackhead” masks! 😀

What Are Blackhead Masks? How Do They Work?

A blackhead, or clay mask, is just that — a mask you put on skin that’s made out of clay. :p

Rather than tugging and pulling like pores-strips do, clay masks gently draw out impurities without damaging the skin. They work by absorbing excess oil and dead skin through capillary action. No tearing at your pores needed! It’s a far more gentle and superior way of treating blackheads than pore-strips.

And beside treating blackheads, they have additional benefits! Indeed, some studies have shown that mud masks increase collagen synthesis in mice after 7 days. Collagen being the structural protein that holds connective tissue together, prevents skin aging, and improves acne scarring.

“One study that examined the mechanism of action of clay reported that keratinocytes incubated with microalgae derived from black mud had overexpression of collagen genes and upregulation of MMP-1 expression in fibro- blasts. Clay and other biomaterials, when implanted in skin lesions, have been shown to stimulate collagen synthesis.” (1)

Some clays also exhibit antimicrobial or anti-inflammatory effects, which could be particularly good for acne-prone individuals. (2)

With that said, not all clay masks are treated equal! Depending on your skin type, some might be better than others. Let’s discuss the different kinds out there and give recommendations.

Different Types of Clay Mask.

There are three main types of blackhead masks:

1. Kaolin

This can be used for all skin types, but is best for sensitive or dry skin. It’s the most soothing of the 3 that I will list here.


1. Frontier 100% Kaolin Clay

2. Green French

Best for oily-skin types and has additional healing properties. (source)


  1. Frontier French Green Clay Powder
  2. Rainbow Research French Green Clay

3. Bentonite

By far the most popular and widely available. I consider this the “heavy duty” stuff. It’s more absorbent than kaolin and best for normal, combination, or oily skin. Avoid if you have dry or sensitive skin.

Fun fact: cat litter is actually made out of bentonite clay.


  1. Aztec Secret Healing Clay
  2. Molivera Organics Bentonite Clay

The Importance of pH When Using Clay Masks. Must Read Or You’ll Die.

Alrighty, pay attention! This part is very important. Depending on what type of clay you’re using you’ll have to either use water or raw apple cider vinegar.

Why? Because the pH of some clays are highly alkaline! (Not good for skin.)

In case you didn’t know, the skin has a small protective film on its surface called the acid mantle. This little guy is naturally acidic and has an average pH of 4.7. Messing with it by putting on stuff outside this healthy pH range can be very destabilizing for skin and lead to things like acne, eczema, dullness etc.

For more information about the importance of pH in skincare — click that link.

With that said, here are the various pH levels of different clays:

  • Bentonite = 8-9
  • French Green = 7.75
  • Fuller’s Earth = 7.5
  • Rhassoul (a.k.a. Red Moroccan or Red Clay): 7-7.5
  • Dead Sea Mud: 7
  • Kaolin: 6

If you’re using bentonite or french green clay you’ll want to use raw apple cider vinegar NOT water.

Yes, it has to be RAW apple cider vinegar! The generic or “distilled” kind won’t work because it’s far too acidic (pH 3). Raw apple cider vinegar has a pH around 4-5, which makes it less irritating and a perfect candidate for lowering the pH of clay (bentonite and french green) to a happy medium for skin.

If you’re using kaolin clay, use water instead.

How to Use Blackhead Masks: The Best Method.

Alrighty now for the meat and bones of this post! Do the following steps precisely to get the most out of your clay mask and DESTROY THEM BLACKHEADS HOMIE. Credit goes to Fiddy Snails for popularizing this method.

Step 1: Cleanse your face.

Pretty self explanatory. Wash your face using a gentle cleanser.

Note: if you don’t want to wash your face twice, do this whole thing in the morning before proceeding with the rest of your skincare routine.

Step 2: Apply a BHA.

You’ll want to have a 2% salicylic acid (BHA) product on deck for this method!

Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant that dislodges the gunk stuck inside pores. It’ll give the clay an extra kick by loosening up all the blackheads before the mask goes on.

Simply apply your BHA and wait 20-30 minutes for the acid to neutralize.

Here are some great and vetted BHA products:

  1. Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (very gentle, hydrating, and good for sensitive skin)
  2. Paula’s Choice Anti-Redness (most expensive, good for all skin types)
  3. Stridex (by far the most affordable and convenient option, great for normal to oily skin)

Step 3: Make yo’ mud, dawg!

Mix 1 tbsp of clay with 1 tbsp of water OR apple cider vinegar (see section above to know which is right for you).

PRO-TIP: use a sandwich bag for this step! It makes the whole process a lot less messy, and you won’t have to clean any bowls afterward. :p

Note: make sure to use non-metal utensils for this step! Glass, ceramic, and plastic won’t react with weak acids like metal can.

Step 4: Paint on that clay GURL (or boy :))!

After you’ve left the 2% salicylic acid sitting on your skin for approximately 20-30 minutes, apply the clay! You can do this with your hands or a brush.

PRO-TIP: using a brush to paint a clay mask on your significant other can be especially romantic. If you do this, feel free to comment with photos below. Yes, I’m sappy as hell! 😀

Step 5: Rinse. And be leery of the plumbers!

After you’ve let the blackhead mask sit for about 10-15 minutes, rinse it off.

Note: clay can cause drainage issues which will result costly plumbing bills. If you decide to use your sink to rinse off the mask, make sure to use a sink stopper like this first.

After you’re done getting the mask off, scoop up the clay from the sink and voila — no plumbing issues.

Note #2: This will be less of a problem in the shower where there is enough water to wash down suspended clay particles. Fun fact, the average person uses 9 liters of water per minute while showering vs. 2 liters in the sink.

Step 6: Dump some oil on your face.

That’s right, it’s time to oil cleanse! If you have no idea what oil-cleansing is, here’s a quick guide.

Make sure to only massage your face with oil for about a minute or so; doing it for longer can stress out the skin and result in broken capillaries.

Oil cleansing after using a BHA and clay mask will further loosen up and dislodge any remaining blackheads that might still be lingering.

Warning: it’s not uncommon to get “grits” during this step. That would be the blackheads literally POPPING out of your face.

To give everyone a sick sense of satisfaction, here’s a link to several photos of what that looks like. Enjoy! 😉

Step 7: Tidy up.

Finish off with the rest of your skincare routine and BAM — you’ve just annihilated every blackhead on your face.

Feels good doesn’t it?

How Often Should You Use A Clay Mask?

For most people once a week is plenty. Don’t exceed this when first starting out or you run the risk of irritating your skin. By their nature, clay masks can be drying especially if left on the skin for too long.

Should this happen to you either use it less frequently, reduce the time you leave it on, or opt out for a more gentle variety like kaolin.

More is not better. Use that willpower, young cricket!

Alrighty, that does it for this blog post! Hope you’ve enjoyed it and feel free to share.