Shay is a beauty blogger with a mass of Iranian hair and endless patience for product testing. She specializes in acne skincare.
I discovered Aztec Healing Clay during my own quest for better skin. When used about once a week, it can improve skin tone and reduce facial oil, blackheads, and pimples. Best of all, it is all-natural, ridiculously simple to make, and incredibly inexpensive. In this article, I'm digging into the many benefits of bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar, and, of course, I'll be offering a how-to guide to lead you to sweet clay-mask glory.
My Experience With Acne
I am almost 30 years old, and I have been dealing with acne in some form for over a decade. I get breakouts mostly in my T-zone, with regular hormonal breakouts on my chin and along my hairline. Recently, I've started developing more skin discoloration, some acne scars, dark spots, and hyperpigmentation. Over the years, I have tried the following in attempts to keep my skin under control:
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Salicylic acid
- Clindamycin (a topical antibiotic)
- Birth control
- Spironolactone (an oral testosterone/androgen blocker)
- Doxycycline (an oral antibiotic)
Most of these medications have not worked for me. Some have actually made my skin worse. It got to the point where I was sick of dealing with these issues and sick of throwing my money away (and poisoning my body) with products and pills that didn't work.
Recently, for the first time in my life, I went to a real, honest-to-goodness dermatologist. I was pleasantly surprised because he was not the kind of doctor that pushed expensive products or procedures. He advocated simple, natural skincare, which I love. One skincare treatment he recommended was so simple, I was surprised I hadn't heard of it before.
The first thing my dermatologist recommended was the use of an acidic clay mask. He sold his own variety at his office for a comparatively low fee (for a dermatologist's product), but I knew that, given my financial situation and distance from his office, I would want to find an alternative. I looked at the ingredients on the back of the jar I purchased from his office and saw clay, water, and vinegar were the first three ingredients. It seems simple enough, right?
After a quick Google search, I learned that the clay in question was likely bentonite clay. Bentonite clay is a subset of green clay. Green clay is also the big mama to French green clay, aka montmorillonite, and non-swelling green clay, aka illite. These clays are known for their healing and restorative properties.
Aztec Clay is available at the Vitamin Shoppe for about $8. If you don't have one nearby, you can find it online.
Apple Cider Vinegar
From the jar of clay, I also saw that vinegar was a main component in the mask. Apple cider vinegar is widely used for skincare because of its concentration of malic and lactic acids.
Malic acid, which comes from apples, is a subset of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). It is good for:
- Evening out skin tone
- Reducing the appearance of pores
- Treating melasma and rosacea
Lactic acid is also a member of the AHA family. It is commonly found in sour or fermented milk but is also found in apple cider vinegar. Lactic acid is good for:
- Hydrating the skin
- Stimulating collagen
- Preventing sun damage
- Treating acne-prone, oily, and problem skin through its antibacterial and astringent properties
I use an organic raw (unfiltered) apple cider vinegar from Trader Joe's. If you don't have a Trader Joe's nearby, check out Whole Foods or a similar organic market. You can also find it online.
Effective on Both Wrinkles and Acne
These two very simple ingredients, bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar, are very effective for skincare. They are great for cleaning out pores, exfoliating skin, restoring the pH balance of your face, calming inflammation, reducing oil, and neutralizing bacteria—all factors that can contribute to blemishes.
While fighting acne in this manner, green clay and apple cider vinegar can also work to prevent or reduce fine lines and wrinkles. This is good news for those that are in what I call "the super awesome crossover age group," i.e., those who are young enough to have pimples but old enough to be concerned about aging skin.
Step 1: Mix Your Mask
You will need a small glass, wooden or ceramic bowl, non-metal mixing utensil (I used a plastic disposable knife), and plastic tablespoon. Why non-metal? Your mask mixture can react to it.
Note: Be careful using vinegar around marble, granite, or any other natural stone surface. The acid in the vinegar can permanently etch the finish.
- 1 tablespoon Aztec Healing Clay
- 1 tablespoon organic raw apple cider vinegar. (If you particularly hate the smell or your skin is sensitive or not super oily, you can substitute some of the vinegar for water. Try a 50/50 ratio of water to vinegar instead.)
- Wash your face with a mild cleanser and pat dry. If you aren't wearing makeup and your face isn't particularly dirty, you can also just splash your face with water.
- Measure one tablespoon of the Aztec clay powder and add it to your bowl.
- Measure one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and add it to your bowl.
- Mix. (It will fizz a bit.)
If it is too thin, add more clay; if it's too thick, add more vinegar.
Step 2: Apply! Apply!
Once you have your mask "paste," apply it in about an 1/8- to a 1/4-inch-thick slab on your face. Don't put it on too thinly or it won't work as well. If you have true combination skin, and your face is oily in the T-Zone but dry on your cheeks, you can try putting it on your chin, nose, and forehead only.
Let the mask dry for 15 minutes and draw out impurities for another 15 minutes or so, for a total of 30 minutes. My dermatologist told me to put his mask on for 45 minutes to an hour, which I have also done with this recipe, but I usually find it too drying to do it that long. If your skin is sensitive or not excessively oily, leave it on for a shorter period of time. The jar of clay states that you can even leave it on for five minutes, so it's entirely up to you and what you think is best for your skin.
Note: Even if the mask has dried for an hour, the mask may not turn the same, uniform light green color throughout (see my super hot photos below).
Step 3: Let It Dry!
Moving your face can be uncomfortable, so do your best not to talk or smile. You will feel your face tingle a bit and you might experience a mild burning sensation. Your face will also pulsate. Really. It says so on the jar.
Once you've dutifully waited for the acne mask to magically purge your face gunk, wash it off with warm water. It'll take a little work to get it off, but trust me, it will wash away. If your skin is sensitive, restrain your urge to pick the dried hunks of mask off. It's hard to do, I know.
You might make a little mess on your countertop. Wipe everything up and clean everything off before it hardens.
When you remove the mask, you may notice that your face is a bit red (the photo here is of my face immediately after removing the mask). The jar of Aztec Healing Clay states that the redness will fade in 30 minutes, but I've never risked it during the daytime. Reduce your risk of redface mess and only use the mask at night before bedtime. Your face should be fine in the morning.
As with any skincare product, if you start having an adverse reaction or your skin gets super irritated, stop using the product immediately and see a doctor if necessary. If you're concerned about serious allergic reactions, ask your doctor first and foremost. If you aren't allergic to any of the ingredients, you can test your sensitivity to the ingredients mixing up some of the mask and applying a small bit on your arm.
Attention Retin-A Users
I've used Retin-A while using this mask. It didn't irritate my skin, but I never applied Retin-A directly after using it. In fact, I don't apply anything. Not lotion, not anything. If your skin is drier, you can apply whatever mild moisturizer you feel comfortable with.
If you are concerned about the topical acne medications you are using in conjuncture with this mask, don't apply them the day of (or even the day before) mask application. This step will help minimize skin irritation.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: I'm using Aztec bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar every other night before bedtime for almost two months now. I just noticed that my pimples just keep on popping on my face. My question is, how long does the effect of Aztec would take place?
Answer: You'd likely see the benefits of the mask by now. If it's not helping, I'd stop using it.
Question: I am taking doxycycline can I still use this mask to help my acne?
Answer: Yes. I have used this mask while on doxycycline.
© 2012 Shay Marie
What Is Your Favorite Treatment or Product for Your Skin Issues?
JustinAllison on August 29, 2017:
I have tried so many products and mask obviously I had too high of expectations, and became greatly disappointed. Dermalmd serum is great on my skin. 1. Easy to apply. 2. Makes your skin feel very soft (no irritation).3, seeing a difference in my skin texture. I am 68 years , and have concerns over acne scars. It's not a miracle but I see difference in skin texture.
Vaughan on December 22, 2016:
Is it true you shouldn't let the clay dry entirely on your face? I used a mask earlier and am bright red over an hour later. Yikes! 2 days before Christmas... hope it clears up by morning!
moumita mallick from India on January 04, 2016:
Sometimes taking 2 liter water a day also proves to cure acne. But this process sounds really useful.
Jean Sparks on November 05, 2015:
I have just started using bentonite clay so far i am liking it after i wash my face I use almond oil on my face feels great
Shay Marie (author) from Southern California on August 08, 2015:
@Antam - If you have severe acne, a good dermatologist (that actually knows about acne products - a lot of them don't) can be enormously helpful - I'll always recommend this first; a doctor has access to way more than what is available over the counter. You can also try switching up cleanser types, as most derms will not suggest it (ie try a non-foaming cleanser, non-comedogenic oil, or water washing instead of a traditional foaming cleanser). AHAs and BHAs can be helpful (Paula's Choice and Acne.org have good acne lines). Lastly, if nothing is working, a lot of people see major acne improvements by switching up their diet. Sugar and dairy can both be acne triggers. Good luck!
Antam on August 06, 2015:
I have a ridiculous amount of acne and accutane is the only treatment I haven't tried. I don't want to because of the risks. My acne gets painful and my skin is oily and dry and red. Can you please recommend some products or masks to try? Besides this?
starryeyedlady on May 08, 2014:
Love this mask!
Anna from chichester on April 27, 2014:
Wow I had no idea there was such a simple solution out there! I will definitely be sharing this with friends if mine who really struggle with acne. Thanks for this!
Shay Marie (author) from Southern California on April 14, 2014:
@Brite-Ideas: The Dove "Beauty Bar" is a pretty awesome product for sensitive skin. If he ever does have skin problems he can't seem to get rid of, I recommend looking into using soaps (face wash, shampoo, etc) that are sulfate free.
Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on April 14, 2014:
wonderful tips here - I've been very lucky to be blessed with good skin, however one of my boys has very dry skin and it's quite sensitive too (he has to be careful with the products he uses) - he doesn't have acne problems; I think he likes Dove for sensitive skin (I think)
marsha32 on April 14, 2014:
I wish I had known about this when my teen was a bit younger. She loves to try homemade remedies. Fortunately her acne is scarce now.
helpmyacne on February 11, 2014:
i found that clay masks really help with acne and can sooth your skin and reduce redness of the skin will try this one for sure ;-)
Angela F from Seattle, WA on January 24, 2014:
Good job on introducing everyone to a non-chemical facial mask. I've used bentonite clay but not with apple cider vinegar. Will definitely be giving it a try.
girlfriendfactory on October 05, 2013:
Wow, what a fabulous, well written lens about something so many people suffer with everyday. I thought when I became an adult pimples would be a thing of the past. Ha! Now I have pimples and crows feet. I'm thinking I'll end up in the ground with both! lol I think you have give such terrific explanations, plus warnings and hints that this needs a purple star on it! I can't wait to try it! I pinned it so I wouldn't lose it and FB'd it too! lol Great job!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on April 22, 2013:
Mud baths are well known for their cleansing beautifying qualities so it makes sense that a clay mask would work as well. Nice information on it's healing for acne use.
NibsyNell on March 09, 2013:
Wish I had known about this when I was younger lol!
nifwlseirff on November 30, 2012:
This sounds like something I need to try! I have combination skin, but not your usual type - mine is super oily underneath, and the top layer can't stop peeling! So frustrating!
Joan Haines on November 02, 2012:
Wow. I want to feel my face pulsate. So cheap. Sounds good.Thanks.