Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/9/2021
If you’re prone to acne breakouts, or if you’ve recently noticed signs of aging such as wrinkles or age spots, you may have looked into the skin care effects of face masks.
Cleansing face masks for men come in several forms. Some are sheet masks that you can fit directly to your face, then remove after a certain amount of time.
Others are creams or clay-like masks that you’ll need to apply to your face manually, then peel off after the treatment is completed.
Face masks offer numerous benefits, from being able to remove excess sebum that can cause acne breakouts to moisturizing your face and stripping away dead skin cells that can contribute to wrinkles and other signs of aging.
Below, we’ve explained how face masks work, as well as the key ingredients to look for if you’d like to add face masks to your skin care routine.
We’ve also listed several other science-based treatments that you may want to consider to treat acne breakouts, reduce the effects of aging and keep your skin looking its best.
Like with other over-the-counter acne products, choosing the right face mask is far more about looking for the right ingredients than picking the correct brand.
While ingredients like fruit extracts, essential oils and exotic-sounding plants often sound appealing, the reality is that these ingredients often aren’t backed up by any high quality scientific research.
Instead of looking for glamorous ingredients, it’s best to stick to what’s proven to work — peeling agents such as alpha and beta-hydroxy acids, topical retinoids and moisturizing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid.
When it comes to skin care, a high price doesn’t always mean good quality. Many of the most effective face masks are priced relatively fairly, meaning you don’t need to spend a fortune to enjoy good skin.
Face masks work in the same way as most other topical products for acne and skin aging — by applying certain ingredients directly to your skin.
Men’s face masks come in several different varieties. Some are sheet masks that are applied to your face directly. These often contain moisturizing ingredients that enhance your skin’s texture, or ingredients that help to clear away comedonal acne such as whiteheads and blackheads.
After you’re finished with a sheet mask, you can peel it off and discard the sheet before washing your skin clean.
Others are clay masks that are applied to your face like a cream, usually for 10 to 30 minutes at a time. These masks are often designed to control sebum production, clean out your pores and cleanse the outermost layers of your skin.
After you’re finished with a clay mask, you’ll need to rinse your face and carefully wash the clay away from your face.
Since face masks are applied to your skin for longer than products like facial washes or creams, they generally aren’t intended for use every day. Instead, most face masks are designed for use between one and three times per week.
You can find face masks in most drugstores and supermarkets, as well as online from a variety of different online merchants.
Search for men’s face masks online and you’ll find numerous products made with essential oils, activated charcoal, Dead Sea mud and even more exotic-sounding ingredients sourced from the lava flows of Japanese volcanoes (yes, seriously).
While these ingredients sound awesome and are very aggressively marketed, the reality is that rubbing your face with ancient volcanic mud isn’t really proven to do anything.
At least, not in a scientific sense. While certain skincare ingredients are backed up by thorough research and rigorous testing, most of the exotic-sounding ingredients in face masks and other skin care products aren’t supported by much in the way of research at all.
In fact, many of these ingredients may be used purely for marketing purposes, usually to make an otherwise unremarkable product stand out from the crowd.
As such, we generally don’t recommend choosing the most exotic-sounding face mask you can track down online or in your local department store.
Instead, it’s best to stick to simpler, less flashy-sounding ingredients that are backed up by real scientific research. These offer two advantages:
First, they actually work. Unlike many exotic-sounding ingredients, the staples of modern skin care are supported by a lot of evidence that shows they’re effective, including large studies involving hundreds or even thousands of people.
Second, they’re pretty affordable. Since the most effective ingredients in face masks and other skin care products have been around for some time, most are available at far lower prices than the latest products containing trendy ingredients.
You can check a face mask’s ingredients by looking at the list on its packaging. You’ll usually be able to find the ingredients list on the back of the product’s box.
With this out of the way, let’s get into our recommendations for specific face mask ingredients to look for.
Exfoliating agents, or peeling agents, work by removing the outermost layer of your skin, known as the stratum corneum.
Over time, dead cells left behind by your skin’s cellular turnover process can collect in this layer of your skin, contributing to acne breakouts and worsening common signs of skin aging such as wrinkles.
Exfoliating agents work by removing this layer of your skin, allowing new skin cells to grow in its place. This can help to prevent acne and improve the appearance of your skin.
Common exfoliating agents used in men’s face masks include:
Salicylic acid. Salicylic acid helps to control skin cell growth, unclog pores and reduce the swelling and inflammation that can develop during acne breakouts.
Azelaic acid. Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid. It’s used to get rid of acne and reduce swelling and redness. This ingredient works by reducing production of keratin — a type of protein found in your skin that can contribute to acne breakouts.
Alpha and beta-hydroxy acids. These ingredients, which are also referred to as AHAs and BHAs, are used to treat certain signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, mild changes in skin tone and age spots.
Popular AHAs and BHAs include glycolic acid, tartaric acid, lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid and mandelic acid.
Bacterial growth plays a major role in certain forms of acne, including inflamed acne lesions like pustules, nodules and cysts.
Many face masks designed to treat and prevent acne contain antibacterial ingredients that work by stopping acne-causing bacteria from growing.
One popular antibacterial ingredient is benzoyl peroxide — an over-the-counter acne medication that’s used to kill bacteria that can multiply on your skin and cause acne to become swollen and painful.
You can find benzoyl peroxide in many over-the-counter acne masks, as well as facial washes, creams and other topical acne treatments.
Moisture carries out an important role in your skin’s health. When your skin is dry, it’s more likely to become flaky, cracked or itchy. Dry skin is also more likely to show fine lines and other signs of aging.
Many face masks contain moisturizing ingredients that are designed to trap moisture inside your skin and prevent it from becoming dehydrated.
One moisturizing ingredient that’s particularly effective is hyaluronic acid, a substance that your body uses to store water.
You can find hyaluronic acid as an active ingredient in many face masks, as well as many other skin care products and anti-aging creams for men.
In fact, our Everyday Moisturizer is formulated with hyaluronic acid specifically for its abilities to moisturize and protect your skin.
You can learn more about how hyaluronic acid works, its benefits for your skin and the science behind its effects in our guide to hyaluronic acid for skin care.
While face masks may help to control your acne and improve the appearance of your skin, they aren’t the only options available.
Other products, such as facial cleansers, skin care creams and certain prescription medications can have an even bigger impact on your skin and produce noticeable improvements.
Below, we’ve listed science-based ingredients that you may want to look into if you’d like to get rid of acne or protect your skin from the effects of aging.
Retinoids are medications derived from vitamin A that work by increasing the rate at which your skin produces new cells.
Topical retinoids are widely used to treat the effects of aging, as well as acne breakouts. In fact, they’ve been referred to in research as the mainstay of therapy for acne.
Several different topical retinoids are available as skin care treatments:
Retinol. This mild retinoid is available over the counter and can be found in creams and other topical products for treating acne and preventing aging.
Adapalene. This moderate-strength topical retinoid is available over the counter in skin care products like Differin® gel. It’s also used, typically at a higher strength, in skin care treatments available with a prescription.
Tretinoin. This more powerful retinoid is only available with a prescription. It’s one of the most well-studied and effective medications available for controlling acne and preventing skin aging.
Tretinoin is one of several active ingredients in our prescription skin care treatments. You can learn more about how it works and the science behind it in our Tretinoin 101 guide.
Topical antibiotics work by stopping the bacteria that cause inflammatory acne from growing on your skin.
Although antibiotics won’t slow down the effects of aging, they can be helpful if you’re prone to acne breakouts that include papules, pustules, cysts or other types of infected acne.
One common topical antibiotic is clindamycin, which stops bacterial growth and helps to reduce swelling that can develop with acne breakouts.
While this can’t be found in over-the-counter facial masks, it’s one of several active ingredients in our Customized Acne Cream.
Men’s face masks are readily available from drugstores, online vendors and other retailers that specialize in skin care.
If you’re searching for a men’s face mask that can get rid of acne and protect your skin from the effects of aging, you’ll get the best results by choosing a product with science-based ingredients such as those listed above.
For better results, consider combining occasional face masks with science-based treatments for acne and skin aging, such as our proven skin care medications.
You can also learn more about caring for your skin in our guide to skin care for men in their 20s, 30s and 40s.