Updated: May 23
So when we think about self-care, we think about drinking water, getting exercise, eating right and we probably think about our skincare routine. I think the pinnacle of self-care in skincare is probably the almighty MASK.
But what kind of mask should we use?
*Special note here: It’s always a good idea to do a test patch of any product that you will be applying to the entire face, and especially if the skin will remain in prolonged contact with the product (like a mask). I have had just a few clients who have had reactions to skincare ingredients at home that most people tolerate just fine. All you need to do is apply a small amount of product on the inner arm or behind/below the ear and wait for 24-48 hours to see if there is a reaction. If you don’t react, that doesn’t mean you won’t, but it’s the best way to foretell if your skin will not agree with the product.
I’ve had clients comment that they’ve been using clay masks at home when it turns out that a basic clay mask is the last thing they should use. I mean, why do we use clay masks anyway? Well, it’s because the clay mask is a classic! And they are great when you use clay on the type of skin that will benefit from the anti-inflammatory and oil-absorptive properties of clay.
But a clay mask can actually dehydrate congestion into the skin so that it’s harder to remove during extractions. I’ve had many clients who have clogged pores that won’t budge because mud masks have made the outer layer of their skin like a tiny, thin, dry brick wall. I recommend a gentle, exfoliating glycolic acid-based moisturizer to apply for a few weeks and try another facial again in a few weeks or let nature take its course. Sometimes as the skin gets more hydrated, it ends up “purging” which is necessary because the skin has been holding on to impurities for too long. This is temporary but good to be aware of. Also, when using an acid product on your skin, it’s good to use a daily sunscreen, but it’s always a good idea to use sunscreen anyway.
So what kind of skin benefits from clay? For the most part, oily, inflamed skin that isn’t dehydrated or congested. The word congested refers to when the skin lacks “flow”, meaning the pores are clogged (or “congested”). If you have oily skin, it’s a good idea to test your clay mask to see if there is an excessive oil production rebound. More oil is often produced when the body senses that its barrier has been compromised by “over-cleansing” (which a clay mask can do, especially if used too often) and it may signal the body to make more oil to rebalance the skin which just compounds the problem. That’s what some astringents do as well, and why a lot of professionals don’t recommend them.
The Lerosett Mask (below) a great mask for skin that needs oil absorption as well as reduction of inflammation as commonly seen in people with acne. This mask, specifically, is applied in a very thin layer which should keep it from being as drying as some masks that you would apply more heavily. I have used this in my practice with excellent results.
Now, there are also clay masks that have lipids and humectants, and those are more suitable for a variety of skin types because clay can be wonderfully anti-inflammatory. Check your label to see what skin type the mask is recommended for or check the ingredient list for lipids (oils) and/or glycerine (a humectant that attracts moisture).
The UNIFON Facial Clay Mask has clay and glycerine as well as instructions to remove when 70% dry (another strategy to avoid dehydrating the skin) and is recommended for all skin types (though typically I would choose a non-clay mask for dry skin).
Another commonly used type of mask is an exfoliating mask. Clay can be exfoliating based on whether or not it’s abrasive (and they are often mildly so) but also because when the clay dries on the skin, it’s adhered to the top layer of skin cells and when the mask dries, it shrinks slightly, theoretically loosening the dead layer of skin cells on the surface. When you remove the mask, you also remove the dead dry cells that were stuck to the clay.
So currently, the array of chemically exfoliating masks that include things like acids (predominantly glycolic, lactic and salicylic) and enzymes (like papaya and pineapple extracts). Acids work by dissolving dead skin cells while enzymes work by digesting dead skin cells. Either way, those skin cells are sayonara. Typically an enzyme mask needs to stay moist on the skin to continue working (which is why we often use steam in the treatment room during a facial). One really cool way to keep your mask moist is to apply a silicone mask cover like this one (which can also be used over a sheet mask):
While acid solutions can act pretty quickly, an acid mask may need to be kept moist as well, depending on the formulation of the mask, so be sure to follow any directions on the label. All chemical exfoliants can cause problems like irritation and sensitization if they are too strong or used too often, so pay attention to what your skin is “saying” by watching how it responds.
The Andalou Naturals Glycolic Brightening Mask has a great ingredient deck, with glycolic acid far enough down on the list to make it not-too-aggressive.
And then there are enzymes. People always use the analogy of the Pac Man game when talking about enzymes. Those little bad boys just munch away all the excess protein on the skin and then are happily rinsed away. I’ve been using this Image Skincare Hydrating Enzyme Mask for years in the treatment room. For most people, it’s fairly gentle, but I’ve found that if it feels more active (meaning tingly or a little uncomfortable) when the skin is either sensitive by nature or sensitized by whatever they’ve been doing to their skin. This one has been a favorite in my skincare practice.
And then, there are the beloved sheet masks that are all the rage. Now, these are pretty awesome for normal to dry and dehydrated skin. The ingredient list usually contains hydrating ingredients like glycerine and/or hyaluronic acid as well as other specialized ingredients for brightening or calming.
One trick I use in the treatment room to make the mask fit better is to simply cut it at the side of the eye openings and sometimes at the side of the mouth opening as well. Since these masks adhere to the skin, they normally stay in place just fine. If they don’t, that’s your cue to lay back and take an assuredly well-deserved break.
One thing to remember with a sheet mask is that you don’t want to let it dry on the skin. You want to remove the mask before it is dry and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to massage in the remaining or rinse and then apply a moisturizer that seals in the hydration. (Note: no sheet masks that I have seen will tell you to rinse, but I wouldn’t rule it out completely).
I typically like to see active/good ingredients at the very beginning of a product, because that shows what the main ingredients are. I love the Pacifica one here because it’s got glycerine for moisture-binding and green tea extract for its antioxidant qualities at the top of the ingredient deck. Even though I love glycerine, it’s an ingredient to watch because while glycerine can attract moisture from the air (like hyaluronic acid) it may also attract moisture from deep within the skin. I haven’t found this to be the case, but it’s still a good thing to watch for.
I also love this 3 step sheet mask combo (below). It includes a serum (AKA an ampoule), sheet mask and moisturizer. The ingredient deck here has a lot of goodies including glycerine, chamomile extract, and the beauty powerhouse niacinamide, as well as Tremella Fuciformis Extract (also called “Snow Mushroom”) for deep hydration.
One of the most important things to remember when using a sheet mask is to use a gentle exfoliator to remove dead skin cells that would impede the glorious penetration of all the sheet mask goodness.
Most masks can be used once to twice a week depending on your treatment goals, and again, it’s a good idea to follow the directions on the container. Sheet masks can be used more often if you are responding well to them.
I would love to hear about your experiences with masking. Any faves? Any bad experiences or mask-tastrophies? Shout ’em out in the comments!
Links may be affiliate links from which I might make a small commission. When purchasing on Amazon or through any other outlet, there is never any guarantee that products will agree with your skin. Please patch test when in doubt. Also, please message me if you want to chat about your skincare goals or skincare routines!
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