At some point, somewhere, you’ve probably come across the Indian healing Aztec clay mask—particularly if you’re a beauty fanatic. For years now, this $15 jar of calcium Bentonite clay has been touted as a miracle product for just about everything. Have acne? Beauty bloggers swear it will clear up your skin. TikTok, meanwhile, loves it for their curls. It’s got just shy of 60,000 glowing Amazon reviews—and counting. Even Mindy Kaling can’t get enough of it! So, after spotting it on the shelves of Whole Foods while picking up my Sunday night groceries, I could resist the temptation no more—I had to try this stuff out. While I expected to be in for a night of astonishingly radiant skin, however, my experience took a rather...surprising turn.
My mission was seemingly doomed before I even started, as the instructions left much to be desired. “Mix clay with equal parts of raw cider apple vinegar and/or water (works best with apple cider vinegar).” OK, great…but how much of each? A tablespoon? 3? I needed specifics! Naturally, I turned to the internet for a good old fashioned mask recipe.
What I found instead, however, was advice from plumbers. Yes, my friends, you read that right—plumbers, like the kind who deal with drains, which can apparently take quite a beating should this miracle clay be rinsed down the pipes (as I had fully intended). According to Lancaster Plumbing Services in Pennsylvania, the same clay that hardens on your face does a real number on your pipes, coating them before hardening and causing clogs that may require a professional to handle. Uh, come again?
With no warning on the label, I had been unprepared to handle the clean up. Rather than abort my entire mission, however—I had come this far, after all—I decided that I would go ahead with the mask using a ¾ teaspoon measurement for the clay and apple cider vinegar both before removing the mask with warm paper towels and disposing of them in the trash can. I made my mixture, applied what I thought was the recommended ⅛-inch to ¼-inch to my face and awaited my skin transformation.
After 10 minutes (the maximum amount of time recommended), parts of the mask had changed from a muddy gray hue into a dry, chalky color while others remained semi-wet. I set to work rubbing the warm paper towel over my face to remove the mask in its entirety. As you can imagine, it wasn’t the most tidy endeavor. The paper towel kept ripping, and my face was quickly starting to feel like raw meat the more I scrubbed. (And scrubbed. And scrubbed.) Eventually, though, I felt relatively clay free, and headed over to the mirror to check out my sure-to-be stunning results.
Instead, I found that I was red—beet red. My entire face looked like a giant tomato, with a clear line at the jaw where I had applied the mask. (Cue the panic.) Now, to be fair, the back of the tub does say that “slight redness of skin is normal and will disappear in about 30 minutes.” But this looked neither “slight” nor “normal.” “Relax,” I told myself. “You just scrubbed your face with 5 pounds of scratchy paper towel. Of course it’s red. It will get better in a few minutes!”
But it didn’t. 15 minutes later, I still looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. Group boards, which only served to remind me that I should’ve done a patch test before trying a new product (doh), were entirely unhelpful. Eventually, however, I stumbled onto this blog, which assured me that yes, my tomato face was entirely normal, and happening as a result of the Bentonite clay found within, which serves to introduce inflammation and bring extra blood to the surface of the skin (in turn providing extra nutrients)—something known as cutaneous vasodilation. As Dr. Dendy Engelman, Dermatologic Surgeon at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery Centers told Forbes in 2018, “Redness or flushing occurs when there is vasodilation of the superficial blood vessels, which is a fancy way of saying when blood rushes to the surface of your skin."
With another suggestion to check my skin after 30 minutes to ensure no deeper damage had occurred within my cells from improper application or removal of the mask (apparently, you want to get the stuff off before it turns into a dry chalk), I waited out my fate. After another 15 minutes, I went back into the bathroom with bated breath, and lo and behold, my skin had returned to normal, just as the directions had promised. Beyond that, it felt relatively soft and clean.
So. After all that, was I a convert to the Aztec clay mask? Not exactly. While I admittedly should’ve done my homework before slapping it on my face, the lack of disposal instructions, near pipe clog-miss and the redness weren't quite worth the hassle. Maybe I didn’t use it long enough to experience the magical effects others did, or maybe my combination-to-oily skin wasn’t the target beneficiary, but I’d much rather luxuriate in the sweet, sweet scent of the Peter Thomas Roth pumpkin enzyme mask any day of the week. It’s quick (just seven minutes will get the job done), effective (my skin looks downright radiant after using it!) and it smells like an apple pie on your face. More importantly, however, it can be safely washed down the sink the moment the treatment is over. Sold, sold and sold!