For years, my skin care routine has consisted of cleansing and moisturizing with drugstore products, applying the occasional facial mask when I’m in the mood, and always forgetting to put on sunscreen. I’ve never been a big skin care person—I spent a few years working at a luxury magazine, and testing overpriced products left me a bit jaded. But when the pandemic hit, I waded into the self-care waters, adding “temporarily researching skin care routines” to my list of coping mechanisms. I wanted to come up with a simple regimen that would be easy to stick to, and I figured adding two more basic steps—toning and exfoliating—would do the trick.
I wasn’t in the market for a face mask. I’ve been slowly making my way through a collection of algae, lava, and silica mud masks that generously came with a resort stay a few years ago. But then I came across Aztec Secret in Amazon’s best-reviewed beauty product list. The one-pound tub consists of just one ingredient, calcium bentonite clay, a pale-green powdered substance derived from volcanic ash. The packaging, which features a clipart-style image of an Aztec temple, reminded me of those hilarious, old-school hair gel tubs. While reading through some of the 14,000-plus Amazon reviews, most of which gave five-star ratings, I kept seeing words like “magic” and “lifesaver.” And in place of the typical wellness musings, the label read, in all caps: “FEEL YOUR FACE PULSATE” and “DEEP PORE CLEANSING!”
The mask’s listing boasts that it helps solve a strange mix of ailments and can be utilized in a variety of ways: “Facials, acne, bodywraps, clay baths, foot soaks, chilled clay for knee packs and insect bites!” If that wasn’t intriguing enough, it only cost $12.75. I wasn’t completely sold after testing it the first two times (as a face mask—I’ve yet to use it for its other functions), but after giving it a few more tries, this humble mask won me over.
For the past five months, I’ve consistently used it at least once a week, which is more than I can say of other products I bought during that time—a charcoal toothpaste that promised to brighten my teeth just left them feeling less clean than when I started. I think part of my commitment to Aztec Secret has to do with just how satisfying the prep is: you mix the powder with equal parts apple cider vinegar until you get a creamy, mint-colored paste that looks like something you could have extracted straight from the earth. It’s cooling and not overly drying upon application, and unlike more expensive products, you don’t have to think twice about slathering it on. After multiple uses, I started seeing results. My skin feels better than it ever has: softer, clearer, and firmer.
In the end, I realized I could embrace my lazy-person routine and get away with ditching a few daily steps, like toning, because the after-effects of the mask seemed to last. And the fact that I live in a dry climate and the mask isn’t dehydrating means that my skin doesn’t revolt if I’m not super on point with moisturizing. After growing disillusioned with $100 serums and the next-best ingredients, the unassuming Aztec Secret made me realize that I was right all along: when it comes to my skin, less is more.