As somebody with acne-prone, oily skin, trust me when I say the relationship I have with my skin is tumultuous. While sometimes a great moisturiser for oily skin is all I need to keep things in check, other times it feels like I can try every skincare product I own, only to be left needing to resort to prescription acne treatments.
While I know I should accept and love my skin just the way it is, I'd be lying if I said it didn't get me down. Even when my acne is under control and my skin is clear, its oily nature still leaves me with major gripes—most notably large, visible pores. And look, I get it, visible pores are totally natural. In fact, if we didn't have them, we'd cease to exist. However, the pressures of modern society and the heavily filtered world we live in teaches us that pores are unsightly and that butter-smooth skin is the goal.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for embracing skin texture, but my pores seem exceptionally large, so I've dedicated many years to finding the best products to lessen their appearance. (Despite what you might have read, pores can't actually shrink—they can just appear to.) And I can safely say the best product out there is a great, hard-working clay mask.
Seriously, nothing rids my pores of oily build up better than a clay face mask. Once or twice a week, I use a gentle but hardworking cleanser, slather a clay mask on for a few minutes, rinse, pop my serum and SPF on and my pores and basically undetectable. "Clay-based masks can help to draw out oil and impurities from within the pores, leaving skin refreshed and shine free," says Gerwyn Powell, National Education Manager at Kiehl's.
How to use a clay mask
Come summer, my skin needs decongesting most‚ with SPF and sweat build up seemingly supersizing pores. "After a day relaxing in the sun, it's beneficial to use a deep cleansing clay mask to ensure your complexion stays clear and uncompromised," says facialist, Kate Kerr.
It's worth noting that, if used on the wrong skin type (for example, dry or irritated skin) then a clay mask can be drying and exacerbate problems—so finding the right formula is key. "Look for masks that contain sulphur, which not only deep cleans but also has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties," says Kerr. If you're skin is oily in some areas but dry in others, just use your clay mask where it's needed (typically the t-zone).
What are the best clay masks for large pores?
As I'm sure you can tell, I've spent many, many years of my career trying to find the very best clay masks for minimising the apparent size of my pores. In the process, I've wreaked havoc with my skin thanks to bad formulas—I've had major breakouts, eczema flare ups and even peeling from where I've dried my skin out too much from harsh clay mask formulas.
But after years of trial and error, I can firmly say I have found my clay mask safe space—there are 9 masks I know I can lean on in various situations without causing my skin any upset. So here it goes, the 9 best clay masks out there (and I've tested them all).
1. Omorovicza Ultramoor Mud Mask
Omorovicza Ultramoor Mud Mask
I'll be honest, in my experience the best clay mask formulas tends to have hefty price tags—and that annoys me. If you're asking me, £74 for a clay face mask is excessive. Having said that, this one feels every bit as luxurious as the price would suggest. Made with Hungarian moor mud and hectorite clay, it effectively rids pores of the sort of oil and gunk that causes them to appear larger. It also contains a patented complex which delivers optimal hydration and glow, alongside a bunch of plumping and firming benefits.
2. The Body Shop Himalayan Charcoal Purifying Glow Mask
The Body Shop Himalayan Charcoal Purifying Glow Mask
This mask means business, and for £20 it's one of the more affordable options. Not only does it contain Himalayan clay to absorb excess oil and decongest, there's also a hint of tea tree oil in there for extra pore purification. The powerful concoction means it has a tingling sensation which is not for the faint hearted—unless your skin is oily, you'll want to steer clear. However, if like me, you're looking for a supercharged product to take down oiliness and enlarged pores, this is a great mask to use on your t-zone.
3. Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore-Purifying Face Mask
Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore-Purifying Face Mask
Fresh's Umbrian clay is iconic for being exceptionally great for oily skin types—and this mask really showcases that. However, while so many clay masks can be drying and irritating, this one contains sandalwood oil, chamomile flower and lavender water to help soothe the skin and deliver hydration while it works.
4. Beauty Pie Super Pore Detox Purifying Black Clay Face Mask
Beauty Pie Super Pore Detox Purifying Black Clay Face Mask
Price shown is members' price.
This face mask has seen my skin through some really tough times. Again, it's not for the faint hearted, but my word is it good. The hero is, of course, kaolin clay to decongest, but there's also a very potent blend of exfoliating acids in there, including glycolic, lactic and salicylic. The result? A decongested, glowing complexion that oozes radiance.
5. Eve Lom Rescue Mask
Eve Lom Rescue Mask
This mask is divinely spa-like. For starters, it smells sensational and the texture is one of dreams. With the addition of honey to the kaolin-clay-based formula, it's soothing, nourishing and plumping all at once, leaving skin silky soft and pillowy plump.
6. NIOD Flavanone Mud Mask
Niod Flavanone Mud
Do not slather this mask all over your face. Even the most tolerant of skin types will likely experience redness. Amongst other high-tech skin ingredients, it contains black Amazonian clay to dissolve oil build-up and copper-filled Brazilian clay to smooth. It packs a serious punch, so my advice is just to apply it to the areas you need, let it dry and rinse it off. Personally, when my nose is looking speckled with blackheads, this is the only thing I've ever found to work instantly.
7. Caudalie Purifying Mask
Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Mask
This particular face mask has been in my rotation the longest, and for good reason. It's hardworking without causing a hint of upset. It's the sort of clay mask I'd recommend using once a week to just keep on top of things. Like some of the other masks on this list, it also contains zinc to help soothe the skin, and it's just an all round treat to use. Long live French skincare.
8. Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Masque
Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Masque
This Kiehl's face mask is considered the best of the best for oily skin amongst beauty editors. The formula is a sort of cream/clay hybrid that feels great on the skin but also minimises the appearance of pores (almost entirely). The thing I love most about this mask, however, is how well it mattifies the skin. One use and you can expect a noticeably less oily complexion for days afterwards.
9. Wildsmith Skin Double Clay Refining Mask
Wildsmith Skin Double Clay Refining Mask
Having tried virtually every clay mask in existence, I want to make it clear that this is hands down the best I have ever tried. Not only is Wildsmith a brand that has really impressive sustainability credentials, this product is perfection. It contains two types of clay (bentonite and kaolin) to decongest and minimise oil, while hyaluronic acid plumps and delivers skin-soothing moisture. The secret ingredient, though, is capsicum, which creates a soothing warming sensation on the skin while it works. It's expensive, I know—but wow is it a winner.
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Shannon Lawlor is the Executive Beauty Editor at Marie Claire. With nearly a decade of experience working for some of the beauty industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear, Glamour UK, Stylist and Refinery29, Shannon’s aim is to make the conversation around beauty as open, relatable and honest as possible. As a self-confessed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for hard-working perfumes, fool-proof make-up products and does-it-all skincare.
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