Face masks – we love ‘em. We love creamy ones, gel ones, clay ones and admittedly gimmicky ones. They’ve been around for longer than our cleansers, our serums and our eye creams as far as concepts go. Masks were used in ancient Egypt and during the Tang Dynasty in China and in England in 1875, the first retail face mask was created by Madam Rowley. It was called the Toilet Mask – let’s just say a quick “thank you” for beauty marketing teams everywhere for just existing.
Although masks have a place in nearly every human’s routine, they’re not an essential product. They are what I’d call an add-on product – once you have your core skincare regime in place (your cleanser, your serum, your SPF), you can add masks in on certain days to give your skin a boost.
So, what is the purpose of mask?
Mask are just a delivery system. Think of them as Just Eat for your active ingredients: you could get it everyday but it would get a bit expensive. In a professional skincare routine (ie. one designed by moi or one of our expert team of Nerdettes), face masks serve as a way to specifically target one or two concerns alongside your everyday products.
For example, your skincare kit has got vitamin C in there, hyaluronic acid and plenty of antioxidants but you want to exfoliate once a week to keep that skin looking fresh – this is where an exfoliating mask comes in.
In this sense, a mask is only as good as its ingredients!
What’s the difference between a traditional cream or liquid mask and a sheet mask?
Sheet masks are designed to trap the serum onto the surface of the skin to aid in penetration of the serum – the serum can’t evaporate when there’s a sheet over it (usually made up of cotton or a coconut-based gel) so it funnels down into the skin.
On top of that, it’s common that sheet masks contain penetrant enhancing ingredients so that your skin’s barrier lets the good skingredients through.
All in all, those are the key differences, and even so, good quality traditional masks will also have penetrant enhancers.
What to look for in a mask for your skin concern
If you’re oily or spot-prone, clay masks (especially those that incorporate other ingredients) are ideal for you as the clay absorbs oil and soothes the skin. A classic is the YonKa Masque 103 (€37.00) which has 3 types of clay.
If your concern is plumping, anti-ageing or hydrating, a sheet mask containing hyaluronic acid will hydrate the skin and give it an instant youthful effect. One I adore at the moment is the No7 Restore & Renew Face & Neck Multi Action Serum Boost Sheet Mask (€34.00 for 4). Alongside that all-important hyaluronic acid, you’ll find antioxidants which are key when it comes to anti-ageing and amino acids to feed the skin. A big plus for me is that it covers the neck too and has ear hooks – as I say, skincare is for the nipples up!
If you want a mask that exfoliates (ie. you don’t have a highly-exfoliating cleanser or other exfoliating products in your routine) and/or feel dull in complexion, REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask (€35.00, stocked on The Skin Nerd store) is one that I’m loving of late as it contains glycolic acid from pineapple, lactic acid from passionfruit and an enzyme from papaya. Due to the lactic acid content, this is a fab one for those with dry skin.
If you’re spot-prone or oily and want to exfoliate, the IMAGE Skincare Clear Cell Clarifying Masque (€36.00) is my personal go-to for this – I spot-apply it to areas of congestion and let the salicylic acid clear my pores whilst sloughing off dead skin cells.
How often you should be using face masks
For the most part, masks should be kept as a once or twice a week affair, depending on how your skin handles them; this is why I believe long-term skin guidance and consultations are key.
If I have an event or a night-out, I’ll do my mask the night before (and sometimes I’ll do a combo of masks, such as an exfoliating mask followed by a hydrating mask). You gotta treat yo’self – you deserve it!
Sheet masks, especially hyaluronic-filled ones like the No7 mask I mentioned earlier, can provide the perfectly pillowy base that makes your makeup look phenomenal so another pro tip is to pop on a sheet mask for 20 minutes, tap in the rest of the serum and then do your makeup.
When it comes to traditional masks, get on the multi-masking bandwagon. Multi-masking is when you use multiple masks that do different things so that you’re treating concerns in different areas of your face at the same time. If you have an oily forehead and a dry chin, you’d pop a clay mask on your forehead and a hydration mask on your chin, to give you an example.
Now that you’re skinformed, go get masking!
Jennifer Rock is the founder of The Skin Nerd online skin consultancy and online cosmeceutical skincare store. If you’re interested in having a consultation with one of her expert Nerdettes, click here for more information.