Medically reviewed by Patrick Carroll, MD
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/8/2020
From clay to cream, facial skincare masks use a variety of interesting, often natural materials to moisturize, exfoliate and replenish skin.
Because facial masks are believed to help you maintain smoother, acne-free skin, many people use them in combination with other acne prevention treatments. Tretinoin, a topical retinoid, is one of the most widely used and effective topical acne treatments on the market.
A derivative of vitamin A, tretinoin is a fairly powerful exfoliant, meaning it can cause your body to shed dead skin cells at a faster rate than normal. Because of this, it’s natural for tretinoin users to have concerns about using tretinoin in combination with masks and other exfoliating products.
For the most part, you can use facial masks while you use tretinoin without any major negative effects. However, like with most skincare treatments, it’s important to take several steps to keep your facial skin healthy and free of irritation while using these products.
One of the most important things to do is wear sunscreen every day while using tretinoin to protect your skin from the sun. And of course, if you have questions about what to expect while using a certain product while you are using tretinoin, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider.
Below, we’ve explained how tretinoin and facial masks can work together to give you smoother, less acne-prone facial skin, as well as the main steps you should take to avoid excess irritation from using tretinoin in combination with facial skincare masks.
Because tretinoin increases exfoliation by affecting your body’s skin cell turnover cycle, it’s best to avoid using external exfoliating products while you’re treating your skin with tretinoin so as to avoid over-exfoliation.
This is particularly important during the first few weeks of tretinoin usage, in which the “purge” side effects of tretinoin are most common.
When you use an external exfoliator alongside tretinoin, it’s possible to over-exfoliate your skin, leaving you with skin that’s overly shiny, tight and prone to breakouts. Over-exfoliation can also increase your risk of developing dry, flaky and peeling patches of skin on your face.
As a general rule, it’s best to avoid all exfoliating masks while using tretinoin. Facial masks that contain hydroxy acids (such as glycolic or lactic acid) are the most important to avoid, as these naturally-occuring acids can act as powerful skin lighteners and chemical exfoliants.
Tretinoin is a relatively fragile chemical. It degrades quickly when exposed to sunlight, washes off easily when exposed to moisture and can fail to absorb properly when it’s mixed with other topical skincare products.
Because of this, it’s best to use tretinoin and facial masks separately to avoid compromising the tretinoin’s absorption rate.
Our guide to using tretinoin cream covers the basics of applying tretinoin cream to your face. In general, it’s best to apply tretinoin at least 20 minutes (preferably one hour or longer) before you use other skincare products, as this gives the tretinoin enough time to soak into your skin.
Facial masks that contain clay are designed to soak up excess oil, resulting in drier skin that’s less likely to develop acne.
This characteristic makes clay masks useful for helping to prevent acne. However, it also means that clay masks, when used in combination with tretinoin, can potentially cause your face to become overly dry, flaky and irritated.
To avoid developing overly dry skin, it’s best to use facial masks sparingly. If your skin feels overly dry and sensitive, take a break from masks and use a moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated and irritation-free.
On the whole, it shouldn’t cause you any major problems if you use facial masks with tretinoin. However, it’s important to avoid masks that exfoliate or dry your skin to an excessive level, as these two tasks are already taken care of by topical tretinoin creams and gels.
Use chemical-free masks in moderation with tretinoin and you’ll notice smoother, acne-free skin without dryness, itching, peeling or irritation. As with everything skincare-related, moderation is key — avoid using facial masks excessively and you’ll get all of the benefits with few downsides.