Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reader Question: Do Aspirin Masks Work?

Hi Meg, Love your blog! I have been reading a lot today about the benefits of aspirin face masks. I had never even heard of an aspirin mask until about 2 hours ago! The benefits most people seem to experience from weekly use of an aspirin mask are almost too good to be true. Just wondering what your thoughts are on aspirin masks. Have you ever (or would you ever) try one? Thanks a lot, Becky

Hi Rebecca! Your e-mail made me nostalgic, as it reminded me of a stage I went through a couple years back where I was obsessed with aspirin masks. It all began when I got hooked on the Makeup Alley skincare message board, which is a fabulous resource for discussing products, but also very addictive. The problem with highly specific message boards is that there's a group mentality that forms, and when everyone on the board is raving about some product or trend, you start to feel like you're the only person in the world who's not in on the action.

The aspirin mask was the first trend I got sucked into and for a few months I was using them 3-5 times a week (far more than anyone probably should). I think that they are an effective spot treatment for acne (do NOT try one if you have dry or normal skin, it'll dry you out) and they did make my skin look smooth and "glowy," which was nice. The effect is pretty short-lived though. It was great to put one on before I went out for the evening, but by the morning my skin looked normal again.

Back to the issue of efficacy... aspirin is made out of salicylic acid (aka BHA or beta hydroxy acid), the same chemical used in many drugstore and prescription acne products. Salicylic acid works by exfoliating the cells of the epidermis, which is great for clearing out a whitehead or blackhead (my zits definitely cleared up faster than usual when I used it). It also supposedly helps improve the appearance of wrinkles and mild pigmentation in skin. You can learn more about BHA here.

The downside is that it's very drying, and no matter how serious your acne is, when you strip your skin of its natural oils, it overcompensates by producing more. I used a ton of different acne products when I was younger, but the only thing that made a real difference was by using a gentle facewash, a moisturizer with sunscreen and two prescription strength products (Retin-A Micro and Duac). Ironically, using a non-comedogenic moisturizer has really been the key to my skin improvement.

If you're going to use an aspirin mask, I recommend not using it more than once a week or so. You could also just use it as a spot treatment. I've read a lot of reviews online by people who say they use it daily, but that seems really excessive to me, and it certainly dried my skin out when I did that.

To make an aspirin mask, crush up UNCOATED aspirin in a tiny bit of water to create a paste. I liked to add a squirt of Cetaphil (or another gentle cleanser) to prevent the mask from flaking or falling off. Make sure it's not too watery and apply it to your face, being careful to avoid the area around your nostrils. When the mask dries you can end up inhaling little bits of aspirin and that isn't good for you (I got headaches a couple times from having the mask on for too long). After 5-10 minutes, get your hands wet and gently massage the mask to exfoliate and then wash it off (again, being careful not to get anything in your mouth or nose). Keep in mind that you will look ridiculous while this mask is on (it's very crusty and weird looking and I know I freaked out a number of my hallmates when I walked back and forth to the bathroom with it on).

I eventually gave up on the aspirin masks because I was lazy and embarrassed to look like I had wet cement on my face all the time. Also, crushing the aspirin and getting powder all over my room made me feel like I was some kind of drug dealer. If you've got acne-prone skin that isn't sensitive, I'd recommend giving it a try sometime to see if you like it. It's also just about the cheapest mask you'll ever use, and often more effective than the pricey brands.

Has anyone else tried the aspirin mask? Love it or hate it?


CompassRose said...

I use them occasionally. My reason was that *I* got "hooked" on Sage products, in my continual quest for a sunscreen to which my extremely sensitive skin wouldn't react.

Well, Sage wasn't it. After a couple of months of using it, I developed a weird cystic acne thing (I don't usually get acne, just rashes from reactions) in my cheek that left a horrid red scar, and another similar smaller one on my chin.

I came upon aspirin masks as a suggestion to reduce such red markings. After using them two or three times a week for only a month or so, the scars were visibly reduced, and it did improve the texture of my skin (although that effect, as you say, isn't really lasting). I still use them once in a while.

The recipe I found, though, doesn't seem to be as drying. I've got combination skin that can get quite dry on the cheeks, and I didn't find the masks uncomfortable.

The recipe is this:
For one mask: 2-3 aspirins (you can in fact use coated ones; it'll just leave bits of coating in the mask. I can't usually get uncoated ones ANYWHERE.) Crush in a mortar and pestle.
about the same amount (a scant half-teaspoon) of white or green clay (this is the fancy fine medical-grade clay, available in health-food stores)
a little bit of honey (a quarter tsp or so)
a little bit of yogourt, just enough to make a paste

Spread on skin, avoiding eyes; let dry. Rinse with plenty of water, scrubbing as you do.

sparkler said...

I do these every now and then. I generally let the aspirin soak in a tiny bit of water for a few minutes to make them easier to crush. Then I add a little honey, about a quarter-sized dollop of aloe vera gel, and sometimes lavender oil if I have it. Mix it all up and go!

I definitely wouldn't do it more than once a week. But the honey and the aloe vera do keep it from being over-drying and give it some structural integrity.

TheWhirlyGirl said...

I'm an aspirin mask convert. I use it once an week and for the first time in 25 years I am zit-free! I've never done it with honey or yogurt - more than two ingredients and that counts as cooking, which I don't do.

If you don't have a mortar and pestle, put a few aspirins and a teaspoon or two of water in a freezer-type ziploc bag then seal it.(Take out as much air as you can.) Go make yourself a cocktail, then take a rolling pin or soup can and smush the bejeezus outta of the little aspirins.

You can keep the baggie in a bathroom drawer and take out a scoopful as needed. (Just wait until your nosy Bunco party guests root around in your bathroom and find what looks like a nice stash of cocaine - its hours of fun! And possibly an indictment!)

Anycrap, it works.

Anonymous said...

Aw, I only have ibuprofin in the medicine cabinet, so I can't try it. Does anyone know if that would by any chance do the same thing?

But, speaking of BHA, I am genuinely happy with the Paula's Choice BHA 2% liquid stuff, which I put on under acne medication or any creams or lotions. If you are having problems with acne, this might be less drying for you and maybe have the same effect? I use it twice a day with no problems, and I don't generally use a moisturizer, yet it doesn't irritate my skin. It is really the first product I've used, besides prescriptions, where I've seen a dramatic improvement with my skin in the first couple weeks, and honestly, I've only had one zit in the past six months (which for me is GREAT!)

Kimmi said...

i used coated tablets and the mask worked fine. i put them in a little water, and before dinner they were completely dissolved and ready to use. so much simpler than mortar and pestle!

wellesleychic said...


Small nitpick--aspirin is actually acetylsalicylic acid--with an extra acetyl group (two carbons, one oxygen) which makes it larger and less effective in cleaning out the pores as the smaller salicylic acid molecule.

Much of the benefit comes from the physical rather than chemical exfoliation, and both aspirin and salicylic acid are anti-inflammatories. Plus, not harsh like many other exfoliants, so you have fewer negative reactions.

I would definitely counsel against doing it too much. Once a week is good. For sensitive skin, I would say only twice a month if you're using other exfoliants.

Your last post on dressing for yourself is very profound. It's very empowering, especially when everyone else is wearing sweats :)

Meg, could you talk about makeup for the professional world? I'm pretty much set, but it's a hard topic--you want to look good, but in a different way than the "flushed cheeks, glossy lips" styles so prevalent in mags, and definitely not in a sexy way.

On that note, maybe write something about work-appropriate scents?

The Glitterati said...

Oh the Aspirin mask! I was all over that for a while (um, okay, 2 weeks) before I quickly got too lazy to deal with it all. Mostly due to the crumbliness factor -- it was a bit messy.

If I used the uncoated aspirin(Walgreen's brand), I just needed to add a few drops of warm water to the tablets in my palm, and it would start to dissolve right away on its own.

Adding the crushed aspirin to a dollop of sour cream and microwaving it very briefly (careful!) worked well for me -- not so drying -- but it smells a bit weird. Just aspirin and water was fine too though.

The mask had a brightening effect, but I'm kind of convinced that it was all due to the physical exfoliation. Not that there's anything wrong with a great, cheap scrub! And there's the anti-redness factor mentioned by wellesleychick.

But ah, one is not a true MUA-addict until one parades around in an aspirin mask while wearing the Lash Blast that took you 8 drugstore trips to find! :D

Anonymous said...

Hah, I'm sitting here with Lush's Brazened Honey face mask on my face as we speak. I've been considering trying an aspirin mask lately because the post-Diane35 hormonal imbalance has sent my skin in all sorts of directions. *sigh*

Anyway, Meg:

You mentioned how one thing that has worked effectively for you, has been the use of a good non-comedogenic moisturiser. Which do you use?

Teek said...

I make mine with 3-4 asprin crushed and mixed with extra virgin olive oil. (and castor oil when I have it - drop the castor if you have dry skin.) It's just the right combination of drying and moisturizing, and the olive oil is great at dissolving trapped oils in pores. I have very hardy combination skin with a tendency to whiteheads and cystic acne. All I regularly use otherwise is Cetaphil and moisturizer.

Anonymous said...

"it never rains, it pours..." - I hadn't heard about aspirin masks until a week ago, and reading your blog was the 3rd time I've read about it...must be a sign - actually, I do have a few post-exam-stress-coming-out-zits -

My problem too is combination skin with cystic pimples if I get them now. Truderma products (basically Proactiv) helped clear up my zits - but made my nose/cheeks get really red, flaky and sensitive. I'd be interested in non-comedogenic moisturisers that people may have found helpful.

Thanks for another great blog Meg

Jess said...

I've never tried aspirin masks, but I am a *religious* user of plain, full-fat yogurt masks. Every two or three days I put a light coating of yogurt on my face and let it dry (about 30 minutes) until it gets flaky. Then I wash it off with a washcloth. It looks bizarre and smells kind of funky but I swear to you that your skin will be so soft and zit free, and if you use it consistently, you will look like you're glowing & wearing foundation/concealer (in a good way) when you're really not. My skin is easily dried and the yogurt is really gentle.

I really like to use it in the summertime when my eyeglasses keep the top of my nose-bridge from tanning; the yogurt keeps my skin tone even.

Has anyone else ever used yogurt? Did it work for you?

Ophelie said...

I did aspirin masks about once a week when I was a hardcore Makeup Alley addict. Then I realized how little it did for my (already pretty clear, on the dry side) skin. I'll use it if I have a blemish, but that's it. I've found that my skin looks a lot better if I use a gentle cleanser (with a bit of sugar for exfoliation once a week) and my favourite moisturizer ever, Clean and Clear.

Tamara said...

Be careful! Even though chemical absorption through skin is slower than taking aspirin orally, it still makes it way to your bloodstream and to your liver. That's a lot of stress to put on your liver for a little face mask!!

courtney said...

I like to use it as a spot treatement, for red marks, I bought some other stuff that was supposed to reduce remarks, and it worked great for the first week, but then I started noticing that I was breaking out in the same exact spots over and over again. I guess I had a reaction to the stuff, so back to asprin it was!