I Smuggled This Cactus Mask Through TSA

Urban Outfitters

Like many among us, I've long believed that French girls have the wholeВ effortless style thing on lock. That being said, a recent trip had me questioning whether I'd been attributing It-girl beauty to the wrong country-nay, the wrong continent. When a friend and I embarked on a girls' weekend in Mexico City this past August, we were struck by the way every woman we came into contact with had radiant skin, great taste, and an air of ease and confidence to boot.

Whether we were exploring Frida Kahlo's studio or languishing over beer and sopes (Mexico City has some seriously upscale vegetarian food, FYI, and the cultural norm is to spend approximately 10 hours eating lunch), our conversation couldn't help but return to how awed we were by these chic, glowy women. Perhaps my wonder was piqued because my own complexion, by contrast, was a disaster.

Air travel had left my face parched and peeling; add in heat, humidity, and my naturally overproducing sebaceous glands, and I was suffering from the terrible plight that is being dry and oily at the same time. (For those of you with combination skin, I see you, and I am here for you.) So when I spotted what appeared to be cosmetics during a leisurely post-taco stroll, I had to get a closer look.

It turned out I'd fortuitously stumbled upon Botanicus-a Mexican beauty brand that offers fair trade, cruelty-free, and eco-friendly haircare and skincare products. Intrigued by the prospect of authentic Mexican maquillage (and super-cute packaging), we perused aisles of organic soaps, serums, and creams before seeking out expert aid for my complexion crisis. And after a short explanation of how my skin was suffering (okay, to be honest, I mostly just pointed at my face), I was introduced to a peel-off mask with an ingredient I'd never considered smearing on my face-cactus.

Botanicus Mascarilla Facial Mask $12Shop

While somewhat threatening in its natural form (in cuisine), the prickly plant has practically been slated to replace coconut as the warm-weather superfood du jour. The plant's powers have been shown to ease ailments from hangovers to high cholesterol, thanks to amino acids, anti-inflammatory flavonoids, and a veritable alphabet of skin-nourishing vitamins.

Thus, I wasn't too surprised to learn that cactus could also be used to soothe and smooth damaged, dry, and aging skin. After all, prickly pear's close cousin aloe has also been shown to mend all manner of skin woes. My life-saving salesperson explained that the mask also harnessed the power of zit-zapping tea tree oil, so I would be getting a two-for-one treatment that hydrated while tightening my pores. I immediately snagged a bottle and dedicated a few hours of our itinerary to achieving glowing, even skin.

That evening at our Airbnb, my friend and I put my purchase to the test. The peel-off formula went on smoothly, completely clear, with a distinct tang of cactus scent. (To be honest, I was surprised I even knew what succulents smelled like, but that scent happens to be weirdly specific and memorable.) We waited our requisite 15 minutesВ until our faces were dry and opaque; at the point, we got to unpeeling, revealing our newly healed skin. (My travel companion, who describes herself as staunchly un-girly, was especially delighted by the peel-off process.)

Afterward, we both agreed that our skin felt tight and pleasantly tingly. For an extra hint of hydration, we followed up with Botanicus's delicately scented, supremely skin softening rosewater toner and called it a night.

Botanicus Agua de Rosas $12Shop

Not only were our pores visibly minimized that evening, but my skin stayed so mattified for the rest of the trip that I ended up foregoing my setting spray after that night. The following days included miles of walking, two dance parties, and countless plates of cheesy, greasy treats-all without a single blemish. I was hooked. Of course, my Botanicus purchases had been so off-the-cuff that it was only as we were packing for our return flight that I realized, tragically, that they were over the four-ounce liquid limit.

So I did what any enterprising beauty buff would do: I hid my mask at the very bottom of my suitcase, inside a shoe, and committed to playing dumb if I was apprehended. Luckily my smuggling mission was a success, and I can safely endorse the mask in L.A.'s less humid autumnal climate as well. And as it turns out, my brave efforts weren't entirely necessary; Botanicus's online shop ships worldwide.