As someone with very sensitive skin, I realized early on that I couldn't just slap any old face mask on and call it a day. The first few times I tried using drying face masks such as charcoal or mud masks, my face would be very red and irritated and dry afterwards. So for a few years I stopped using them entirely, opting exclusively for hydrating sheet masks instead. Unfortunately, hydrating sheet masks don't really do anything to help with blackheads.
I've recently waded into the waters of charcoal masks again, but this time is different because I actually have a solid routine that I follow that makes the charcoal mask not only super effective, but also not too irritating for my skin. I mean, I'll be honest: The entire routine can make my rosacea-prone skin a little pink afterwards, but since it's so effective I only have to do it a couple times a month. If you use a charcoal mask in this way, it will really draw all the impurities out of your pores. Another nice thing about this charcoal mask routine is that you probably already own everything that you need to do it. You most likely won't have the same exact products that I use but that's OK — you can take my product recommendations or simply use what you have on hand.
A note before we start: This routine works great for me, but I'd always advise talking to your dermatologist too — especially if you have stubborn or cystic acne. Now, are you ready to get all that gunk out of your pores (and maybe be a little grossed out by all the discussion of pore gunk)? Alright, here we go.
Stridex Pads, $7, The first step is to chemically exfoliate. I recommend using something with salicylic acid if you know your skin can tolerate; Stridex pads are extremely cheap and effective. They're also pretty harsh so I wouldn't use them on my face every day, but every once in a while before using a charcoal mask is fine.
Just swipe on the chemical exfoliant of your choice and let it sit for about 15 minutes; it will start to eat up the contents of clogged pores, leaving your skin primed for the charcoal mask to suck up the rest. Sorry if that grosses you out! Let's soldier on.
2. Leave The Charcoal Mask On For The Correct Amount Of Time
The next step is to apply the charcoal mask. I like to use Yes To Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Mud Mask. It's pretty affordable, not too drying, and has a nice, clean scent.
Slather the mask on in a really thick layer, then wait for it to dry partially — about ten minutes or so. Be careful not to let it dry all the way because then it will end up depleting your skin of its natural oils and drying your skin out way too much. If you can't move your mouth without the clay area around it cracking, you probably left it on for too long.
When you're ready to wash the clay mask off, I suggest using this handy little Precision Pore Cleansing Pad. It's not mandatory (you could just use your fingers) but I find it makes it a lot faster to wash the mask off.
3. Finish With An Oil Massage
Some people like to do the oil massage before applying the clay mask, others like to do it after the clay mask. Since I have dry skin, I like to do it after. Gently massaging an oil onto your skin for a good five to ten minutes helps to dislodge anything the mask left behind in your pores. I use Decleor Micellar Oil, which is actually an oil cleanser.
Since I don't want that grime just sitting around in a pool of oil on my skin afterwards, I like to use this micellar oil cleanser so that I can rinse it all off afterwards and have clean, refreshed skin.
By the end of it, my skin is a little pinker than normal but my nose in particular (a prime spot for blackheads) looks a million times clearer.
4. Don't Forget To Moisturize
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel, $52, Charcoal masks can be drying so it's important to finish off this routine with a gentle, hydrating moisturizer — especially if you have dry, sensitive skin like me. I like to use Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Gel. It's extremely hydrating without feeling heavy or greasy since it's a gel moisturizer.
At the end of doing this routine, my skin looks clearer and brighter than ever. I do it once or twice a month when I see my pores getting particularly clogged. It takes a bit longer and involves more steps than just slapping a mask on and washing it off, but the results are completely worth it. Now that you know the proper way to use a charcoal mask, your skin will thank you.
Images: Kelly Dougher