- Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin to reveal a brighter complexion.
- Exfoliating masks are a form of chemical exfoliation which draw out any surface debris that may clog pores, leaving skin brighter, smoother and more even-toned.
- DIY exfoliating masks designed for your individual skin can be an effective part of your skin care routine.
While physical exfoliants buff dead skin cells through friction, masks do so through chemical exfoliation. Masks typically use either alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) to gently dissolve dead skin cells that adhere to the outermost layer of skin.
What Is an Exfoliating Mask?
Exfoliating face masks offer all the benefits of a manual face scrub, but without the abrasiveness that can leave micro-tears in the skin. Once applied to the skin, you simply let it dry for the prescribed amount of time, and in the process, its ingredients work to exfoliate your skin and draw out any buildup of dirt, oil or dead skin.
There are a variety of exfoliating masks available in-store that are formulated for all skin types as well as specific skin concerns. These include gently moisturizing glycolic acid (an AHA), acne-fighting salicylic acid (a BHA) and replenishing lactic acid.
Most of these masks can also be made at home using simple, natural ingredients that are cost-effective.
Benefits of Exfoliating Face Masks
Exfoliating face masks offer multiple skin care benefits depending on the ingredients used. In general, they typically provide the following:
- Sloughs off dead skin buildup for a softer, smoother complexion
- Draws out excess oil, helping to clear up and prevent acne
- Brightens by clearing away dry, flaky skin, for an overall rejuvenated appearance
- Fights the signs of aging by boosting collagen production, leaving skin firmer and plumper
- Minimizes sun damage and skin discoloration by reducing hyperpigmentation
- Unclogs pores to enable skin care products to penetrate the skin more deeply
How to choose an exfoliating mask
There is an abundance of exfoliating masks with a variety of ingredients designed to treat different skin types as well as specific skin concerns. Whether considering a commercial product or DIY recipe, it is important to choose the ingredients that will effectively address your specific needs.
Exfoliating Face Masks for Normal Skin
If you have skin that is neither dry nor oily and is blemish-free, you have a normal skin type and can experiment with different exfoliants to determine what works best for you.
Exfoliating face masks that include a combination of AHAs and BHAs (such as a mix of glycolic and salicylic acid) work to simultaneously soothe and exfoliate for an overall refreshed complexion. Iris root, a naturally nourishing ingredient would also be appropriate for normal skin.
DIY rice flour and green tea exfoliating face mask for normal skin
The needs of normal skin are basic, therefore this type typically requires a combination of exfoliating and replenishing skin care ingredients to maintain healthy-looking skin.
Rice flour gently exfoliates to leave skin bright and smooth; green tea has powerful antioxidant properties to repair and renew skin while protecting it from environmental damage and pollutants.
Rice flour and green tea can be used in a paste for topical application.
- 1/2 cup freshly brewed green tea, cooled
- 1 tbsp rice flour
- Stir rice flour into tea until blended and smooth
- Apply the paste in light circular motions to maximize its exfoliating benefits; avoid the eye area
- Leave the mask on for 15 minutes
- Rinse off with lukewarm water
Even though there is a lack of scientific research regarding this particular homemade face mask, there is anecdotal evidence for the exfoliative and antioxidant benefits of this type of mask.
Exfoliating Face Masks for Dry Skin
Glycolic acid is one of the most popular AHAs found in exfoliating skin care products because it is one of the milder AHAs, yet still effective. Along with the ability to exfoliate, glycolic acid has also been found to increase collagen production and hyaluronic acid levels in the skin to help repair and hydrate dryness.
Lactic acid also promotes a healthier complexion for those with dry skin, gently exfoliating to reveal smoother, brighter skin. It also plumps the skin, for a fuller, firmer appearance.
DIY baking soda and honey exfoliating face mask for dry skin
Dry skin is prone to flaking which can be irritating and unsightly. This flaking can be reduced by using a mask that will soothe and exfoliate. Some key ingredients to use in an exfoliating mask for dry skin are baking soda and honey.
Baking soda gently sloughs off dead skin cells that clogs pores, while honey is packed with antioxidants and is naturally antibacterial, as well as hydrating. Vitamin E is also a potent antioxidant and is effective at protecting skin from environmental stressors.
- 3 tbsps baking soda
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp vitamin E oil
- Combine all ingredients
- Apply a thick layer to your face by applying the mixture to your skin in a circular motion
- Let the mask dry for 15 minutes
- Rinse with lukewarm water
- For extra exfoliation, massage with your fingertips as you wash away the mask
Combining baking soda with antioxidant-rich honey, a potent antibacterial and antimicrobial, may help soothe and hydrate dry skin. However, there is no research on the combined effects of baking soda and honey in face masks.
Exfoliating Face Masks for Oily Skin
Bentonite clay is ideal for oily skin, as it draws oils and impurities from pores, while sloughing off pore-clogging dead cells and debris.
Exfoliating masks containing salicylic acid are also well-suited to oily skin (particularly those with acne), as the powerful BHA penetrates deep to clear up pores and prevent the buildup of dead skin cells and oil.
DIY gram flour, turmeric, lemon and milk exfoliating face mask for oily skin
Gram flour removes dead skin cells as well as excess oil and dirt, while turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties would be especially beneficial for those prone to acne.
Lemon’s antibacterial and antifungal properties reduce excess oil and brighten the skin for a more even skin tone; the lactic acid found in milk works to remove dead cells from the skin’s surface, while hydrating and nourishing to prevent overdrying.
Gram flour, turmeric, lemon and milk can be used in a paste for topical application. The texture should be thick enough to hold its shape—but not overly so—in order to spread the mixture easily across the face.
- 2 tbsps gram flour
- 5 drops lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2–3 tbsps milk
- Water as needed
- Combine all ingredients
- Apply evenly to your face; wait 20 minutes
- Wash off with lukewarm water
While there is little research on the combined effects of these ingredients, their individual benefits should prove effective in a face mask option for those with oily skin.
Exfoliating Face Masks for Acne
If you have acne-prone skin, consider trying an exfoliating face mask with charcoal among its ingredients. It works like a magnet to attract dirt and oil, deeply cleansing the skin and eliminating the excess oil that can lead to blackheads and acne.
Enzymes, particularly from papaya and pumpkin, are also commonly added to exfoliating masks to slough off dead skin cells. With regular use, these enzymes can work to fade acne as well.
DIY kefir and honey lactic acid exfoliating face mask for acne
Those with acne-prone skin can benefit from an antibacterial nourishing skin treatment that reduces the presence of bacteria associated with flare-ups.
By working to reduce inflammation and acting as an antimicrobial, honey helps reduce the signs and symptoms of acne, while kefir, a natural source of lactic acid, clears away impurities, and exfoliates and hydrates skin.
Kefir and honey can be used in a paste for topical application. This paste should be thick enough to adhere to the skin to rest and allow the ingredients enough time to absorb.
- 1/4 cup plain kefir
- 1 tsp honey
- Combine all ingredients
- Apply an even layer to your face; wait 20 minutes
- Wash off with lukewarm water
While there is limited research focused on the efficacy of these ingredients combined in a face mask, lactic acid and honey are safe to use on skin, and both have been found to provide exfoliating and acne-fighting benefits.
How to Use an Exfoliating Mask
It’s important to consider your skin type and lifestyle when integrating exfoliating masks into your skin care routine in order to maximize their skin care benefits.
Always be sure to perform a spot test when using an exfoliating mask for the first time.
When using an exfoliating face mask, use a gentle cleanser beforehand to ensure dirt, oil and makeup are removed.
The best time to exfoliate depends on your personal skin type and skin care routine. Nighttime exfoliation is typically recommended for those who wear heavy makeup to ensure all makeup is removed and to provide the skin to readily absorb any nighttime serums or creams you may use.
However, If you have oily skin when you wake up, or you find your skin looks particularly dull, morning exfoliation may be a better option. Exfoliating in the morning will help brighten skin and remove any excess oil that has built up overnight.
Once you’ve rinsed off your exfoliating mask with lukewarm water, it’s important to follow up with a moisturizer of your choice to lock in hydration and prevent your skin from drying out.
To begin, use your exfoliating face mask once or twice a week. Over time, if you see there are no adverse reactions, you can use it two to three times a week, or as needed.
Although exfoliating face masks are generally considered safe when used as instructed, there is a potential for negative reactions between different ingredients. Therefore, it is important to research the interactions between the ingredients in your chosen exfoliating mask and any skin care products you are already using.
It is also important to read the accompanying instructions when using at-home treatments, as wearing an exfoliating mask longer than the suggested amount of time could cause irritation, dryness or flakiness.
Although exfoliation can be beneficial to all skin types, overexfoliation can harm your skin and cause inflammation; skin can become more vulnerable to sensitivities and infections.
If you notice any of the following signs of overexfoliation, stop treatments and wait until your skin returns to normal.
- Stretched, taut skin
- Sheer, translucent-looking skin
- Skin that is more sensitive than usual
- Increased dryness
As a general rule, those with dry skin should avoid exfoliating masks with salicylic acid as it tends to dry out the skin.
Oily skin types should avoid any ingredients that strip skin of its natural oils (such as alcohol), as they do not keep oil at bay for long and can irritate the skin. When skin becomes irritated or damaged, it activates the immune system, which reacts to heal the damage. This reaction causes inflammation and, as recent research suggests, an activation of the sebaceous glands, causing overproduction of sebum, making the skin even oilier.
Additionally, avoiding oils high in oleic acid is wise (such as coconut oil), as it tends to sit heavily on top of the skin.
Alternatives to Exfoliating Masks
As an alternative to chemical exfoliation, you may choose physical exfoliation, although this form is losing popularity, in part because it only works on the surface of the skin rather than penetrating to the skin’s deeper layers as chemical exfoliants do. Many also find it too abrasive.
You may also opt for the gentle use of a manual exfoliation device. A brush or a glove, used with care, can act as an effective exfoliant if you are sensitive to chemical exfoliants for any reason.
Although scientific studies are limited, much anecdotal evidence points to the benefits of homemade exfoliating masks, including softer and brighter skin. These DIYs will suit those who wish to avoid more abrasive techniques such as manual exfoliation or chemical peels.
Exfoliating masks can and should be chosen specifically for your skin type. For instance, include soothing ingredients such as honey in masks for dry skin, and more powerful exfoliators such as AHAs for oily or acne-prone skin.
While DIY masks are easy to make, and most often use gentle exfoliative ingredients, it is still important to use exfoliating masks as instructed and not to overexfoliate. Exfoliating your skin too much will inevitably lead to skin irritation, resulting in redness, irritation or flakiness.
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