Face masks are one of the trendiest ways to care for your skin today, and for a good reason. Dermatologists say that when used correctly, skin masks can improve your skin in several different ways.
Let's face it — face masks are not pretty. Whether they're made of an unrecognisable green goop or a plastic sheet that you adhere to your face, both result in you looking more like an alien than you'd ever imagined.
However, the claim that face masks can improve the appearance and health of your skin is appealing, and it has many Americans searching for a quick but effective skincare fix in mask form. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're the best way to enhance your skin.
"While they certainly can have benefits, they can also do more harm than good — especially if they're not used properly, or the incorrect mask is used," says Chérie Ditre, MD, Director of the Skin Enhancement Center and Associate Professor of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Medicine at Radnor.
Face masks can help absorb excess oils, open clogged pores, and reduce inflammation. And let's admit it, skin masks also feel luxurious and can be a fun way to give yourself a relaxed spa feeling in your own home.
Face masks can play an essential supporting role when you're dealing with dry skin, dehydrated skin, or oily skin and want to do everything possible to help. The question is: Should you use one?
If there's ever a time to pull all the sheet masks, magnetic masques and clay elixirs out of your skincare closet, it's now. "This is the time to pamper yourself," says Delhi-based dermatologist and medical director of ISAAC Luxe, Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta. "You can add face masks, sheet masks and DIY face packs into your repertoire now that you have the time," she says. While regular skincare products do their job to brighten, moisturise and exfoliate, face masks work like an added extra credit that provide instant gratification. But how often should you add one to your routine? Are they always safe? How long should you keep one on? We asked Dr Gupta and Mimi Luzon, a celebrity facialist, for their take.
How Often Should You Add A Face Mask To Your Routine?
This depends on the face mask formula, your skin type and your needs. Sheet masks or cream masks, which work like amplified moisturisers, can be used every day, as they work to plump and hydrate the skin by force-feeding ingredients into the skin. On the other hand, clay masks and peel-off masks work like exfoliators and are best used in the same frequency as a physical or chemical exfoliator: once or twice a week.
Luzon is a fan of mixing and matching masks through the week, including them into a weekly routine to create a 360-degree regimen. "It's extremely beneficial for our skin to use a face mask with a different function every day; it could be firming, luminising, moisturising or detoxifying, depending on your need," she says.
The Magical Mask: How Do Face Masks Even Work?
Wash face, moisturise face, apply makeup. Skincare is simple, right?
There's nothing wrong with a basic skincare routine, especially if it's working. But if you're one of the millions of Americans plagued by skin conditions from acne to redness, you may be looking for a skincare boost. And unfortunately, professional skincare procedures, such as facials, can be pricey.
This is where face masks come in, offering intense skin treatment for a fraction of the cost.
The "magic" behind face masks is simple, explains Dr. Ditre. "The ingredients from a face mask are kept longer in contact with your skin because of the occlusion phenomenon of the mask on your skin."
The mask traps the moisture or ingredient in the skin and creates a film that helps to either hydrate, moisturise, dry or exfoliate the skin depending on the ingredients used and its purpose. Therefore, face masks allow ingredients to penetrate better into your skin in a short amount of time. Whether it's salicylic acid for acne, vitamin C for fine lines or retinoid for brightening dark spots, a face mask can offer a more concentrated dose and more intense version of its ingredients than other forms of applications.
Choosing a Face Mask and Routine
Whether you scour social media or search the aisles of the drug store, trying to find a suitable face mask can be overwhelming. There are thousands of options out there, and just because your favourite Instagram model uses one mask doesn't mean it'll work for you.
Start with what kind of mask you'd like, such as:
- Overnight masks that are hydrating and may contain hyaluronic acid, which is ideal for mature or extremely dry skin
- Clay, sulphur or mud masks, which can soak up oil and have a slight exfoliating effect
- Sheet masks containing antioxidants, which are hydrating and, if you store them in the fridge, anti-inflammatory
You'll have to wear it for anywhere from 10 minutes to the entire night, so make sure you choose a mask that comforts your skin.
Now, you can move onto the exciting part: the targeted skin benefits. Are you looking for a moisturising mask during the dry months of winter? Are you hoping to prevent signs of aging? Or maybe you're trying to tackle that T-zone that is prone to breakouts.
The benefit of a face mask depends on its ingredients. Some common skin issues and the ingredients that may address them include:
- Acne: salicylic acid and alpha-hydroxy acids
- Fine lines and wrinkles: antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and resveratrol; ferulic acid or retinoids such as retinol and retinaldehyde; and humectants such as hyaluronic acid
- Redness (rosacea): niacinamide
- Dark spots and pigmentation: kojic acid, retinoids, and vitamin C
Once you find a mask that works for you, work it into your skincare routine, says Dr. Ditre. "Masks should be applied after serum but before moisturiser, or for nighttime masks, instead of your nighttime moisturizers."
Though it may be tempting, don't overuse face masks. They should only be used about once a week at the most to prevent irritation.
What Face Mask is Best for My Skin Type?
If you already have a great complexion, a face mask isn't an essential part of your skincare routine; however, even if your facial skin generally looks fantastic, a face mask can still be useful for those times when skin looks and feels less than optimal.
Regardless of your skin type or concerns, the best face masks are loaded with beneficial ingredients (such as antioxidants, emollients, and humectants), come in opaque, air-restrictive packaging (to prolong stability), and avoid ingredients that are drying or irritating (including denatured alcohol, fragrance, and essential oils.)
How do you apply a face mask?
While slapping on a face mask before you head to bed will work just fine, taking the time to prep the skin for a mask is key.
- Take it all off
If you have makeup on, take it off by double-cleansing the skin and then using a toner to make sure it's all off. Exfoliating is a good call, too, especially on the T-zone, brow area and jawline, which will help to unclog pores and allow the face mask to penetrate deeper. Because face masks usually cover the skin (especially sheet masks), trapped dirt and makeup can cause acne underneath.
- Open the pores
To boost the mask's efficacy, try taking a hot shower to open up the pores and get them ready to accept the ingredients. A facial steamer, or simply a hot cloth on the face, can help.
- Apply it right
If you're applying a sheet mask, ensuring that the skin is dehydrated will ensure that it sticks on. For a messy one (like a DIY face pack, mud mask or clay mask), using a mask brush is ideal. Slathering it on with fingers can cause bacteria and dirt to be fed into the skin, which can cause infections or acne. Plus, a mask brush is easier to clean than underneath your fingernails and will help to increase the precision of where you apply it.
- Set a timer
Dr Gupta says that leaving a mask on for too long can be way more harmful than helpful, so knowing when to take it off is important. "If you leave a sheet mask on for more than 20 minutes, the serum-soaked layer is already dried out. It then pulls out moisture from the skin, rendering it even dryer than it was," she says. "Leaving a clay mask on after it has hardened can leave skin prone to redness, itchiness and irritation," she says. Setting a timer will ensure you take it off when you need to.
- Don't forget the post-mask steps
After taking off a sheet mask, the remaining serum can be massaged back into the skin, as a rinse is normally not needed. With a cream or gel mask, the excess can be taken off with a tissue, while the rest can be massaged in as well. For masks that need to be removed, following instructions is key. Some require a muslin cloth and cool water, while others require magnets or a special scraper to be removed. Applying a soothing moisturiser can help to round it all off, in addition to a circulation-boosting massage.
How To Apply A Face Mask According To Texture
The first step in applying your face mask is choosing the right one for your skin type.
- Hydrating. Hydrating cream or sheet masks are suitable for dry skin types. Some experts recommend applying masks overnight for maximum hydration.
- Clay and mud-based. These are good for oily or mixed skin types.
- Enzyme. Enzyme cream or gel masks and bubble masks are good for acne-prone skin types.
- Gel. These are good for sensitive skin types.
- Antioxidant. Antioxidant cream or gel masks are good for hyperpigmented skin types.
Once you've found a mask that works for you, it's time to apply it. You can extend some face masks to your neck. Some masks should also be massaged into your skin to maximise their efficacy.
Cream masks come in two main types: rinse-off and peel-off.
- In both cases, you apply the mask in the same way by using your fingertips to apply an even layer of cream over your face.
- Avoid getting the cream on your lips, eyes, and eyebrows.
- Apply a quarter-sized amount of your bubble mask over your face.
- Keep this mask off your eyes and lips.
- Remove the sheet mask from its packaging and unfold it without tearing.
- Line up the mask with your face shape, eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Gently press the mask to the form of your face until it's sticking evenly.
Clay or mud-based mask
- Dip your fingertips into the mask and scoop out a quarter-sized amount.
- Spread evenly across your face, starting at your upper neck and working your way up to your face.
- Avoid your lips and eyes.
- As with a cream mask, when using a gel mask, spread an even amount over your face using your fingertips.
- Avoid getting gel masks in your eyes or on your lips.
- Smooth the mask in a thin layer over your face as you would with a normal moisturising cream.
- Avoid your eyes and lips.
The Benefits Of Masking
There is much to be gained from regularly using the right facial masks for your skin type and skin concerns. Your face mask benefits totally depend on the formula you choose. For example, clay mask benefits will be different from collagen mask benefits. Depending on the formula you choose, your mask can:
- Refine pores
- Improve skin's texture
- Absorb excess oil and dirt
- Lubricate dry skin
- Minimise the look of surface lines and wrinkles
- Soften and smooth skin
- Purge impurities from pores
- Brighten + reveal new radiance
- Rescue worn down skin
- Increase elasticity
- Fill deeper lines + firm skin.
- Reduce under-eye puffiness & crows feet
- Deliver instant dewiness
- Clear acne
How Long To Leave A Face Mask On?
It's essential to follow the directions on the package because some masks have active ingredients that should only be left on the skin for a certain amount of time (like the sulphur in Amino Mask or the kaolin clay in Restorative Clay). Often, these masks are left on for 10-15 minutes to receive the full benefits from active ingredients, but it is important to follow the directions. However, many masks are much more flexible too.
Have you ever put on a facial mask before bed, only to fall asleep in it? Certain masks can leave your skin feeling dry and irritated if you leave them on too long, but overnight masks can be left on however long you want – you can even fall asleep in them. These masks are often soothing, hydrating, and reparative. Here are our two favourite overnight masks:
Best Overnight Mask for All Skin Type: OVI Deep Cleansing Face Mask
OVI Deep Cleansing Face Mask is a mineral-rich, age-defying Volcanic Ash facial mask that gently absorbs oil, helping to reduce large-sized pores and eliminate built-up impurities leaving tired and stressed skin feeling energetic, vibrant and whole again. OVI is a powerful raw detoxifier & cleanser made for stressed and sensitive skin with natural oils and rich nutrients found from volcanic islands worldwide.
✓ Vegan & cruelty-free.
✓ Remove impurities built up in pores.
✓ Raw detoxifier & cleanser.
✓ Assists in spot reducing pimples.
Best Overnight Mask for Dry Skin: Collagen Rehab
This is one of the best overnight masks because it helps support collagen and elastin performance, so lines appear filled, skin looks firmer and acts years younger. Plus, it saturates skin to create a discernible moisture barrier that lasts up to 72 hours. When you remove this mask, the skin looks instantly renewed, dewy and firmer. This can also double as a lip mask and left overnight as an intensive treatment.
Best Overnight Face Mask for Glowing Skin: Radiance Rescue
This luxurious product is a creamy mask that wakes up skin's microcirculation to reduce the look of lines and puffiness near the eyes and increase skin's elasticity and moisturisation for youthful resilience and a glowing complexion. Radiance Rescue can even be applied around the eyes to brighten dark circles and smooth out crepey eyelids and crinkly texture.
It only takes 10 minutes for your skin to receive full benefits from these masks, but you can even leave them on longer.
How To Remove A Face Mask?
Most masks, except those labelled as overnight, should be worn for no more than 20 minutes at a time. If you wear them longer, they'll begin to dry out and dry out your skin.
- Use lukewarm water and your fingers to rub the mask off your face gently.
- Avoid vigorous rubbing.
- Gently pat your face dry after rinsing it off.
Sheet and peel-off masks
For sheet masks and peel-off masks:
- Gently peel the mask from your face.
- Take your time, and don't pull hard to remove it from your skin.
- Once the mask is off, proceed with your regular skincare routine. There's no need to rinse.
You don't need to rinse or remove overnight masks. When you wake up, just proceed with your regular skincare routine.
When Your Face Mask Does More Harm Than Good
A face mask may be a great way for an extra skin boost — but what happens if it ends up hurting your skin? The first thing to remember is that more ingredients do not equal a better product.
"In fact, the longer the list of ingredients, the higher the chance that something is going to irritate your skin," explains Dr Ditre.
As with any part of your skincare routine, it's important to be on the lookout for red flags that a face mask is irritating your skin. Some warning signs include:
- Breakouts (development of acne)
- Redness or burning sensation
- Pain when removing the mask
- Dry or peeling skin