How To Customize The Perfect Clay Mask For Your Skin's Hopes And Dreams

A clay mask is the perfect medium for you to be a creative little beauty with ease.
Publish date:
May 21, 2014

I don’t know how I ever did without face masks. Who knows what ever stopped me from performing this little bit of self-love weekly or before a big event!

I will always remember my first facial-mask love: my mom’s NuSkin green clay mask. It smelled like mint and was creamy and goopy. After NuSkin came Freeman’s cucumber peel-off mask. Boy, did I love watching Now and Then and slathering this goo all over my face with a friend at a sleepover and then peeling it off. (Thora Birch forever! Also, she had my name in Hocus Pocus, which was my favorite movie for about five years.) Freeman's became harder to find, and I started using Queen Helene’s green clay mask, which is still a cheap, long-lasting purchase.

Nowadays, I have an all out mask OBSESSION, with a weekly honey mask, a weekly clay mask, and a weekly moisturizing sheet mask, because I am told that my skin is fairly dehydrated despite being oily. My thought process is to use the honey whenever I feel like it, since it both treats acne AND moisturizes, and use a clay mask after hair washing day to mitigate any conditioner-related issues. The sheet mask thing started when I went to oo35mm and decided to bring an antioxidant mask with me on vacation to help fight free radicals. I've now tried quite a few brands, affordable and not, and honestly haven’t been disappointed once.

But I (and my breakout situation) will not ever give up on the power of the clay mask.

For once, the word "detox" actually means something, as excess oils, dirt, makeup, bacteria, basically anything you don’t want in your pores gets absorbed by the clay, and whatever you decide to add to a mask can have a different effect or benefit. That is the essence of why a clay mask is the perfect medium for you to be a creative little beauty with ease.

First, determine what effect you want the mask to have. Perhaps consider mixing a different formula for your T-zone and cheeks if you have combination skin. Do you want an astringent mask to blast away oil, tighten and stimulate your skin? Or do you want a moisturizing mask to plump you up and maybe help boost collagen, while reducing redness and irritation? You can do all of these things with a clay mask.

I love that I can always mix up a blend to suit not only my skin’s needs that day, but also to suit my mood. If I am grouchy, a calming frankincense and myrrh mask can turn the frown upside down, while being antimicrobial and (supposedly) wrinkle-preventing. Like lavender? Put a veritable sh-ttonne in that mask; but I wouldn’t wear it in the tub or on a clean pillowcase--you might pass out from over-relaxation.

Clays are powdered, dried mud, and need to be rehydrated to form a paste to then apply to the skin. They generally remain on the face for 15 minutes or longer if it is a moisturizing formula. The mask is your own 15-30 minutes to be a gloriously unnattractive Medusa demigoddess, so take full advantage by using this as an excuse to hide in the bathtub.


Choose a clay, this can be bentonite, kaolin, French, Australian (there are a few types), Dead Sea, volcanic, ocean, fuller’s earth, and rhassoul. There are probably many more. Some are named for place of origin, others for the type of minerals found in the clay. All clays are rich in minerals, and which ones vary. Rhassoul is known for it’s high silica content, Australian Black is full of iron, bentonite comes from volcanic ash, and the list goes on. Choose a clay that speaks to you, and remember that some can stain (some are even used as colorants)!

Now decide what to hydrate your clay with. This should be a water-based liquid, such as tea, vinegar, or a hydrosol. Most days I use a mixture of ACV and water.

I usually mix my clay in an espresso cup or other small receptacle, and I save ill-begotten takeout cutlery for mixing and applying my masks. I almost always eyeball-mix this, and coming from my usual DIY school of thought of "measure twice, cut once" (lying--I only do this 50% of the time) I promise even you can eyeball this recipe. The trick is to add the liquid in small increments until the paste reaches a consistency that you like.

The consistency is also up to you completely. A thicker mask will use more product, take forever to dry, and dry super-tight when it finally gets around to it. A thinner mask will not be as drying, so go ahead and make yours a little bit watery and apply with a brush.

Additives also factor in, so keep the liquid handy incase you need more after you have added other ingredients.

Other Ingredients to Add

Moisturizing ingredients:

• honey

• glycerin

• aloe vera gel

• a capsule or two of vitamin E

• your favorite carrier oil (sweet almond, grapeseed, jojoba, etc.)

• a bit of your favorite exotic oil (evening primrose, sea buckthorn, tamanu, rosehip seed)

• rosewater

Free-radical-fighting ingredients:

• vitamin C powder

• a capsule of beta carotene

• Green or white tea (as your liquid)

Acne fighters:

• zinc oxide powder

• tea tree oil

• calcium carbonate

• essential oil of thyme, rosemary, oregano (ONE DROP ONLY!)

• tincture of myrrh or turmeric

• activated charcoal

Exfoliants (add water and scrub away after designated time):

• oatmeal

• cornmeal

• Epsom salt

• sea salt

• sugar (must be coarse)

"Interesting" ingredients:

• frankincense essential oil (said to help with wrinkles)

• fresh or dried thyme leaves

• fresh or dried mint leaves

• calamine lotion

• milk of magnesia

Pro Tip: If you are very breakout-prone, you can mix any non-perishable dry ingredients in a clean jar and mix with honey/water/both daily for a spot treatment.

Pro-Pro Tip from my aesthetician friend April: wear your fav serum under any mask; the mask will help the serum penetrate deeper as well as work with the mask to treat skin.

There is so much to choose from! You can really go crazy or be minimal, depending on what you want to do, but follow a few simple guidelines:

• Always apply a mask to cleansed and toned skin.

• Don’t use citrus juice or straight vinegar as a hydrator.

• Add other ingredients after initially hydrating the clay.

• Don’t use metal implements with any acidic ingredients.

• Keep the essential oil use really really conservative. (I buy my frankincense already diluted so I can have as much fun with it as I like.)

• Limit any astringent masks to once per week.

And of course, share your own clay variations below!

Photos by Darnell Scott