this thing's incredible

My Mom Still Swears by This ’80s Mud Mask — and Now I Do Too

Photo: Ambar Pardilla

My mom and I share everything, from a devotion to disco to an aversion to disorganization of any kind. But when it comes to our skin-care routines, we couldn’t be further apart. Let me explain my mom’s philosophy: She doesn’t really have one. A moisturizer is a must, sure, maybe. Sunscreen is only really for the beach (we’re working on it). Serums are superfluous. What she does believe in is the holy trinity of límon, Vaseline, and Vicks — there’s absolutely nothing those three can’t fix. As for me, while I can’t call myself a Rio-level obsessive, I’m getting there. I have a pharmacy counter on top of my dresser that includes different creams for different body parts, a number of cleansers to alternate between every day of the week, and a color-coded makeup organizer.

So it came as a shock when, after a particularly bad breakout, my mom suddenly remembered a mask she’d once used to help with the same problem more than 30 years ago. It was the very end of the ’80s when she and my dad had just started dating, and he gifted it to her as a sort of spa-in-a-jar. She loved it immediately. The mask would leave her face squeaky clean, as if it was just washed. It shrunk her pores, even when she looked at them up close in a mirror. Best of all, the mask would make her skin feel like a literal baby’s butt (her words). My mom couldn’t remember its name, but she gave me all the clues: glass jar, brand probably starts with a B, shade similar to Oscar the Grouch green. Some Google finagling was involved, but I figured it out.

If Borghese sounds familiar, it’s the same brand that makes Miranda Hobbes’s favorite conditioning gloves to wear while watching infomercials. The Italian princess-founded skin-care company launched the first of its mud masks (a version of this one) in 1985. The packaging does have a distinctly ’80s-maximalism vibe with its gold lettering and coat of arms — like something you’d have seen on a department-store shelf with Estée Lauder and early SK-II. It even smells vintage, like one of the subtler scents in Grandma’s fragrance collection mixed with mud right after a rainstorm — not bad, but definitely grassier than the berries and roses dominating the mask landscape right now. My mom confirmed that it smells and looks exactly the same decades later, except for being slightly smaller. But for the 7.5 ounces you do get, it’s actually more bang for your buck than other masks on the market now. (For context: Youth to the People’s Superclay and Caudalie’s Instant Detox, both of which I’ve used up already, are 2 ounces for $36 and 2.5 ounces for $39, respectively.)

I was doubtful that the mask would work for both of us, but her recommendation was so strong I couldn’t resist. My mom’s skin errs on the dry side, and her top concern is stubborn dark spots. Mine is oilier, resulting in uninvited pimples on my cheeks and blackheads on the sides of my nose. The ingredient list looked hopeful, however: bentonite clay (you’ll find it in that cult-favorite Aztec Secret mask) to clear clogged pores, almond oil to help with texture, and hydrating hyaluronic acid. Even though we’re on different sides of the skin spectrum, our complexions are the same once we rinse it off: shiny, smooth, and better than they looked before.

The miracle mask just as it’s starting to dry. Photo: Ambar Pardilla

The mask takes all the best parts of other types of masks. It has the gooeyness of a cooling sheet mask, the moisture of an overnight mask, the “it’s working” tightening factor of a firming mask, and the deep clean of an exfoliating mask. (Phew.) But instead of putting on multiple formulas, I just apply some Borghese now. The pores on my nose are less noticeable, there’s generally much less oiliness slicking my face, and I only have to deal with the occasional stress-induced pimple rather than a full-on breakout.

While I follow the instructions on the back of the jar to a T, my mom — ever the rule-breaker — slathers on a handful, puts on a thin layer underneath her eyes (she swears by this), and keeps it on a little past the 15-minute mark. The mask has helped fade some hyperpigmentation — there are a couple of dark spots near her smile lines that are definitely lighter than they once were. She also says the dullness she once saw has brightened considerably.

But the biggest change has been to our skin-care philosophies. In fact, I’ve taken after her a bit, subtracting a couple of steps from my routine and using this one mask instead of rotating between several — it does a better job than all of them combined, anyway. As for my mom, it’s convinced her that she does need some self-care, something she never really realized skin care could help with. Now, every Sunday, she sits completely still while it’s on, her green face like a “do not disturb” sign. She also just bought her first cleanser and introduced a night cream (also from Borghese) to her expanding routine. (I couldn’t be prouder.) Thanks to this mask, her skin-care curiosity is growing by the day — so finally, in this way too, we’re not so different after all.

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My Mom Still Swears by This ’80s Mud Mask — and Now I Do Too