Face masks are the epitome of pampering, and are often the highlight of any day spa service meant to improve your complexion. However, in our recent look at whether or not regular spa facials have long-term effects on your skin, we also discovered that they’re just downright expensive!
Which led us to ask, “What about at-home face masks?” Are these concoctions really food for your skin or just a superficial step that sends money down the drain?
To help you shop smarter in the skincare aisle, we asked three skin experts for advice all about face masks, including what they’re good for, how to avoid common application mistakes, specific recommendations for each skin type, and more. Starting with...
What Are the Benefits Of At-Home Face Masks?
Allison Tray, owner of New York’s award-winning Tres Belle Spa in Brooklyn, says it’s best to reach for an at-home face mask when you’re in need of a short-term skin fix. “They are a great way to sidestep a facial when pressed for time, giving an instant glow and firmness to the face.”
An instant glow in a jar is great, but can face masks actually treat skin troubles—even in the short-term?
Debra Jaliman M.D., board-certified NYC dermatologist, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From A Top New York Dermatologist, says that at-home face masks can deliver a range of benefits, including:
- Stress relief
- Oil reducing
- Deep cleaning
That’s more like it. But, if our time writing about skin care has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t just reach for any product and expect stellar results.
How To Help Your Skin Get The Most Out Of a Face Mask?
“Masks definitely serve a very useful purpose, and are an indulgence at the same time,” says Dr. Kally Papantoniou, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist, also based in New York.
According to Dr. Papantoniou, getting the most out of an at-home face mask starts with understanding your skin type and understanding which specific skin woes you’d like to treat:
“Those with acne-prone skin should look for a mask that includes charcoal, kaolin, or salicylic acid, as these ingredients can help to draw out impurities, excess oils, and can help unclog pores. For those who struggle with rosacea, look for face masks that contain green tea, caffeine, hyaluronic acid, sulfur, and aloe vera, which can help soothe and reduce redness.
“If you have more mature skin and wrinkles, look for a rejuvenating or hydrating mask that includes antioxidants. These can help to plump lines and rehydrate skin cells: hyaluronic acid, rosehip oil, vitamin C, CoQ10, retinol, vitamin E, coconut oil, and glycolic acid are very important ingredients.”
Looking at the label of any cosmetic product is important to understanding its effectiveness. However, face masks don’t just come with a dizzying array of ingredients—there are dozens of types of masks to choose from as well.
Is The Type Of Face Mask As Important As Ingredients?
Dr. Debra Jaliman helps to clarify which kinds of face masks tend to be associated with what benefits:
“You can use a peel off mask for acne prone or oily skin. They work especially well as they exfoliate as they peel off your skin. Sheet masks are best for hydration and for penetration of ingredients, and are particularly great for anti-aging or brightening. However, they are not good for acne prone skin because they can exacerbate breakouts because of the occlusion.”
Is there any type of face mask that can be used by everyone? Dr. Jaliman says that gel masks are a safe bet across multiple skin types. However, to get great results, it’s still important to check what kind of ingredients the mask is delivering to your complexion.
Are More Expensive Face Masks Better?
Now that we’ve established that there are some face masks worth buying, it begs the question: Do higher prices beget better results?
Dr. Jaliman eases your cost concerns, stating that “there is no real difference between expensive and inexpensive masks.”
Again, both dermatologists are on the same page. Dr. Kally Papantoniou warns that, when it comes to face masks, the products with the most expensive price tags are not necessarily going to be the best:
“As consumers, we can often be swayed by packaging and advertisement. We are also more likely to spend more on products that are expensive because the higher price makes us believe that it must be a superior product.”
Brands depending on high prices to give the feeling of exclusivity and effectiveness is something we’ve written about often. You can read more about this kind of aspirational marketing in “How to Never Fall for Another Anti-Aging Scam Again.”
If price isn’t an indicator of effectiveness, how can you determine which face masks will actually work and which are nothing more than pomp and circumstance?
According to Dr. Papantoniou, since certain face masks work best for specific skin conditions or results, your best bet is to look at the label to understand the type and quality of ingredients that are being used:
“It is worth it to do your homework before making a purchase; read the ingredients, read reviews if available and look out for reviews that are posted in exchange for a free product.”
What’s The Best Way To Apply a Face Mask?
It’s great to know that you don’t have to spend a fortune to see great results from a face mask. But, is there any way to get more out of the products that you do purchase?
You don’t need those special brushes used by an esthetician or a facial steamer. Instead, Dr. Kally Papantoniou states that the most important step is to start with a clean face. She suggests using a gentle facial cleanser that won’t dry out your skin, such as Cetaphil, Cerave, or Vanicream.
What happens if you don’t wash first? “Putting a mask on skin that has makeup or moisturizers can create a barrier to the mask, and it will not work effectively.”
Can You Make Any Mistakes When Applying a Face Mask?
Aside from not starting with a clean slate, Dr. Papantoniou discourages exfoliating your skin prior to applying a face mask. That’s because exfoliating can irritate your skin, which is even less desirable right before slathering it in chemicals and active ingredients that will be sitting on its surface for awhile.
Aside from overly-enthusiastic scrubbing, it turns out that there can be too much of a good thing. Dr. Papantoniou warns that face masks can also be used too frequently. Instead, she recommends that face masks be applied one to three times per week, depending on the type that you’re using.
Some of the masks meant for acne-prone and oily skin pulls out natural oils. If overused, they can lead to dryness and irritation. Alternately, overusing a hydrating mask can potentially lead to clogged pores and a breakout.
Which Face Masks Are Dermatologist Recommended?
Even with a solid understanding of which ingredients work better for various skin types and troubles—and that you don’t need to spend a fortune for great results—there are still an overwhelming number of face masks to choose from.
To help narrow down your shopping list, we asked Dr. Debra Jaliman her recommendations for face masks for each skin type:
Face Masks For Combination Skin:
- Repechage Hydra Refine One-Minute Clarifying Mask ($32): Contains lactic acid as well as Kaolin and sweet almond oil, so it helps to gently exfoliate.
- Ren Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask ($55): Contains lactic, glycolic tartaric, citric acid and papain enzymes, which also help to gently exfoliate.
Face Masks For Sensitive Skin:
- Chantecaille Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask ($84): Contains chamomile, rosewater, and vitamin b5 to decrease redness.
- Aveda Intensive Hydrating Masque ($24): Contains calming aloe and lavender.
- Mario Badescu Azulene Calming Mask ($18): Azulene, a derivative of chamomile, soothes sensitive skin and rosacea.
- Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Masque ($52): Contains cucumber, chamomile, and aloe. However, some reviews warn that this mask contains irritating ingredients, and should not be considered for particularly sensitive skin.
Face Masks For Dull & Aging Skin:
- Decleor Aroma White C Intense Brightening Sheet Mask (5-Pack for $54): Contains vitamin C, hyaluronic acid to brighten skin, and licorice extract.
- Shiseido Pure Retinol Intensive Revitalizing Mask (4-Pack for $63): Contains retinol, a potent anti-aging ingredient.
- Boscia Luminizing Black Mask ($34): This peel-off mask contains vitamin C and clay to brighten, while reducing fine lines.
Face Masks For Oily Skin:
- The Body Shop Tea Tree Face Mask ($17): Contains tea tree oil to clarify skin.
- Borghese Fango Mud for Face and Body ($72.50): Contains almond oil, avocado oil, lavender oil, sea salt, and Bentonite to clarify impurities and moisturize.
- Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser & Mask ($7.49): Contains 3.5% benzoyl peroxide, kaolin, bentonite, and glycerin to fight acne.
- Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask ($5.47): Contains kaolin, glycerin, bentonite clay to help control oil and minimize the appearance of pores.
- Kate Somerville Clearing Mask ($54): Contains phytic acid to exfoliate, polyphenols which are antioxidants, and kaolin clay to absorb oil.
- Lierac Purifying Mask ($28): Contains green clay, kaolin clay, star anise, and lime extract to help purify oily skin.
- Bioré Self Heating One Minute Mask ($6.99): Contains charcoal to deep clean pores, kaolin clay, and menthol. It also warms upon application, which, having used the product personally, can say feels absolutely amazing.
Face Masks For Dry Skin:
- Lierac Comfort Mask ($28): Contains shea butter, mango butter, apricot oil, and cherry flower antioxidants.
- AmorePacific Moisture Bound Sleeping Recovery Masque ($60): Contains super-moisturizing glycerin and squalane.
- Masque Bar by Look Beauty Pore Refining Creme Mask ($10-30): Contains Coq10, antioxidants, glycerin, bentonite, kaolin clay, vitamin E, shea butter, and macadamia seed oil.
Bottom Line: Dermatologists Agree That Face Mask Ingredients Trump Price
In our experience, the longer a product sits on your skin, the more chance it has to effect change. Granted, no cosmetic product, including a face mask, is going to wipe away wrinkles. However, because face masks sit on top your skin for longer than, say, cleansers, they can help to demolish dryness or soothe acne flare ups—when you pick the right product.
Remember that your skin type is the most important determining factor. If you’re unsure what that is, check out our multi-part series, “Learning to Take Great Care of Your Skin,” in which you can learn more about skin types, along with other tips to help you develop an effective skincare routine.
If you’re still unsure of your skin type? Dr. Kally Papantoniou suggests visiting your dermatologist for suggestions on what types of face masks and ingredients will work best for your skin type. In fact, even if you’re sure of your skin type, checking with your derm regarding specific ingredients isn’t a bad idea—especially before investing in a new product or exposing sensitive skin to potentially irritating ingredients.
Still not sure? Don’t forget that performing a patch test, as instructed by each product, is key to helping your skin experience all those fantastic face mask benefits without running the risk of an allergic reaction.
Read Next: Stop Wasting Your Skincare Products
- Allison Tray owns Tres Belle Petite Medi-Spa, with locations in both Brooklyn and NYC. She’s been featured in multiple publications, including Spafinder, DuJour Magazine and Charlotte's Book.
- Dr. Kally Papantoniou is a Cosmetic Dermatologist, Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology. She specializes in injectables, lasers, surgical and general dermatology for adults and pediatrics, and is available at two private practice locations in New York.
- Debra Jaliman M.D. is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine and operates a private practice in New York. She has authored “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From A Top New York Dermatologist.”