This $11 clay mask is the only thing that has helped clear up my skin
There are a few things that the majority of people who know me would be able to recite off-the-cuff that I love. That list would include the Scribd reading app, comfort and convenience in general (twill flannel-like sheets, fluffy robes, and non-spilling wine glasses), and, lastly, face masks.
For the last few years, face masks have been a pivotal part of 'relaxing' for me. Long day? Throw on a face mask! Horrible commute? Face mask. It became the creature comfort version of Penicillin for every daily ill.
While I've tried everything from the Allure Best of Beauty 2017 $80 TLC Babyface Facial to whatever was under $6 in the TJ Maxx pile, the changes in clarity specifically were always minimal or too fleeting to warrant much shouting from the rooftops or jazz hands in the streets. Sheet masks and hydration masks always moisturized wonderfully, but clay masks remained entertainingly garish and lavish (so, more mentally helpful) rather than actually noticeably improving the clarity, texture, and tone of my skin.
That is, until I tried the $11 Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask that has almost 16,000 reviews on Amazon and a 4.4-star rating. Even though I've been obsessed with face masks for years, this is the only one that I would go so far as to claim has actually markedly (and for the long-term) improved my skin. After a few weeks of using it once a week, my temperamental combination skin is smoother, clearer, and more even overall.
The Aztec Clay Mask basically acts like a vacuum for your pores in the 5-20 minutes it's on. The 100% natural calcium bentonite clay draws out all the impurities deep in your skin for what has been called 'the world's most powerful facial'. I can't say it's "the world's most" anything, but it is the first thing I have ever used that wasn't prescribed by a dermatologist and actually works. In fact, it's the first topical treatment I've ever used (prescribed or not) that has actually worked.
Like all of my best purchases, I found it through a recommendation. A couple weeks ago, I asked the Business Insider staff to send me the best things they had ever bought on Amazon for under $25 and I bought this mask after seeing a colleague mention it as her "most recommended product." Apparently, it had been hiding in plain sight. Once I had heard of it, I couldn't stop seeing it everywhere: in articles, videos, Youtube testimonials with over 1 million views, and even the Sephora beauty blog, which is typically filled with luxe options from of-the-moment brands. But, all in all, the Aztec Clay Mask is worth the eerie, cult-favorite hype.
However, you should be careful to only use the Aztec Clay Mask for the recommended 5-10 minutes if you have delicate skin, and be prepared to feel the mask become scaly and tight on your face. I actually have to drink out of a straw when this stuff is on. It's powerful, so you'll see some redness after you take it off, but that has always dissipated within 10-15 minutes or so for me, despite having the sort of sensitive, pale skin that makes yoga teachers worried they aren't giving the class enough water breaks.
Thanks to its massive popularity, you can grab it from basically any retailer, but it's a few dollars cheaper on the organic food site Thrive Market ($6.59 versus $10+ elsewhere as of now — though you'll need a membership to access it).
All in all, I can say from experience that this cheap wunderkind clay mask is absolutely worth a try if you'd like to see clearer and smoother skin immediately. Skin care is a touchy thing, and even with nearly 16,000 reviews you can't know for sure that it will work for you, but it is so far the only thing that has ever really made a difference in the clarity and appearance of my skin — and it seems I'm not alone in feeling that way.
*Update: After many suggestions from Amazon reviews and a reader writing in, I tried the Aztec Mask mixed with Apple Cider Vinegar. It worked markedly better than before even. You may find the smell unpleasant, but it is worth it for the soft skin, even texture, and improved tone — and absolutely at $11.