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The 10 Best Exfoliating Masks to Clear Congested Skin

Acids are the key to even, glowing skin.

By: Hannah Baxter
Photography: Jake Rosenberg

Fall is upon us and, sigh, with the cooler temperatures comes the annual skin freak-out. Like many of you, we often suffer from dry, congested skin after months of sunshine, sweat, and AC on full blast, but that doesn’t mean clear skin is unobtainable this time of year. Enter exfoliating treatments to the rescue. There is no better way to clear clogged pores (save visiting your favorite esthetician for manual extractions) and even out skin tone than with a mask formulated with chemical exfoliants. Think alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids. The former are hydrophilic, meaning they have an affinity to water and can break the bonds that attach dead skin cells to healthy skin, while the latter are lipophilic, meaning they have an affinity for the oils clogging your follicles and help clear your pores. Remember, acids are your friends.

There are several exfoliating masks on the market, each promising to banish skin congestion and brighten your complexion. Just make sure to always perform a patch test before applying a mask to your face, since the concentration of acids varies from brand to brand and can irritate sensitive skin. While the formula might leave your face a little pink after the recommended time, it should fade after a few minutes to reveal your freshest, glowiest skin. Check out our 10 favorite masks below!


Summer Friday Overtime Mask: This brand-new mask is the newest addition to the cult-favorite Summer Friday line. It’s clarifying, packed with vitamins A, K, and C, and is totally sulfate-free.

goop by Juice Beauty Exfoliating Instant Facial: Gwyneth swears by this mask—she says she uses it almost every day—and her skin is pretty much the definition of luminous.

Kate Somerville Exfolikate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment: An OG industry favorite, this alarmingly green mask is a one-two punch of chemical and physical exfoliants.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Baby Facial: Editors are obsessed with this mask, and for good reason. It has the highest allowed concentration of AHA’s, at 25 percent, to totally resurface and rid your face of dead skin cells.

Peach & Lily Super Reboot Resurfacing Mask: This jelly-like mask combines the usual exfoliating acids with plenty of hyaluronic acid, so it simultaneously moisturizes skin rather than just stripping it dry.

Caudalie Glycolic Peel Mask: Glycolic acid penetrates the deepest of all the AHAs, meaning your pores will be cleared and your complexion brightened with this mask.

Marie Veronique Probiotic Exfoliation Mask: An all-natural exfoliating mask that’s safe for all skin types. The probiotics also help keep your skin’s microbiome in balance.

Peter Thomas Roth Pumpkin Enzyme Mask Enzymatic Dermal Resurfacer: With physical, chemical, and enzymatic exfoliants in the formulation, congested skin is no match for this resurfacing mask.

Ren Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask: The AHAs in this mask are all derived from fruit—pineapple, passion fruit, lemon, and grape, specifically—which gently dissolve dead skin cells and even out your complexion.

Joanna Vargas Exfoliating Mask:: Celebrity esthetician Joanna Vargas frequently uses this mask on her clients for bright, glowy skin. The blend of volcanic ash, clay, and enzymatic acids will clear your pores in no time.

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