Sheet masks. The breakthrough genre that has made #masking a verb comes with its own set of challenges.
When to use a sheet mask? Which one to use? How to make it stay on the face? Do I rinse afterwards or not? What about moisturising afterwards – yes or now? Should I really #sheetmask everyday? Is pricier always better? Can I skip all other skincare if I use sheet masks regularly? Are all sheet masks good? Are they for everybody?
So. Many. Questions.
Let’s start looking at the answers.
Start with a clean canvas
It sounds like the most common of logic but I know at least two friends who regularly slap on sheet masks without washing their face first, unless they are wearing makeup. But makeup or not, you need to start with a squeaky clean canvas so that skin can best absorb all the active ingredients. Plus, without a good wash you also run the risk of trapping in impurities and forcing them deeper into the skin. So, at the very least wash with a gentle cleanser right before masking. And if you want to go the extra mile, use a toner to really mop up the grease and soften the skin to make it more receptive to the mask’s benefits.
One mask does not fit all
Like traditional masks, different varieties solve different skin issues. So take a look at the ingredients and pick out exactly what you need:
- Dryness: The most hydrating masks are those that contain hyaluronic acid, which makes skin retain more moisture. And skip anything with alcohol or irritating fragrances, which will further dry out your skin.
- Dullness: To bring back the glow, look for brightening ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide and pearl powder or extracts.
- Sensitive or irritated skin: Anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe vera and other soothing botanicals will help calm down your skin.
- Anti-aging: Opt for nutrient-rich masks, especially those which list collagen or vitamin B12 as a prime ingredient.
Look at the ingredients…
While sheet masks are a super-potent way of getting maximum skin benefits in minimum time, they are not perfect. Many of the generic versions contain chemicals that are damaging both for the skin and our overall health. Some to avoid: alcohol, parabens, synthetic dyes, mineral oil and preservatives such as ethylhexylglycerin and phenoxyethanol.
… and the sheet itself
Sheet masks come in all forms, from paper and fiber to tin foil and bio-cellulose. Those made from “clingy” ingredients like hydrogel, coconut, sea kelp and bio-cellulose adhere to the skin most tightly, forming a tight seal and delivering the ingredients most effectively. They are also the easiest to apply, as they don’t keep slipping off the skin like the fiber and foil versions. Even if you’re going for fiber, try and make sure it’s unbleached and 100% cotton, to minimise toxic materials from touching your skin and leading to toxic issues.
Super-charge your sheets
How and where you store and apply your sheet mask may double or triple its benefits. If your skin is irritated, inflamed, over-heated or simply needs a hefty pick-me-up, try to chill your mask in the refrigerator before applying. Or if you want to make it more hydrating, pop it on while you’re in the shower (or sauna). The water-charged steam particles will intensify the moisture plumping molecules.
Tweak your technique
To make the mask adhere most effectively and sans air pockets, start applying the sheet from the forehead, then line up with the eyes and work downwards towards the chin. But don’t stop there: for dull skin and anti-ageing benefits, lightly massage the sheet upwards to boost blood flow; for inflamed or irritated skin, go downwards and outwards to encourage lymphatic drainage.
Customise your sheet
How many times have you struggled with a sheet mask that simply refuses to conform to the contours of your face? Know that it’s perfectly fine to snip or tear off tiny bits to make it sit flush against your face. I usually end up enlarging the mouth area as sheet masks tend to irritate my lips, which have some of the most fragile skin anywhere on the body.
Max out the essence
It’s the fluid in a sheet mask that holds all the skin boosting goodness. So, don’t waste a drop of this precious essence! Scoop out any leftover essence in the packet (there’s always some!) and slather it all over your neck, chest, hands and feet to spread the love.
Longer is NOT better
Always, always check the instructions on the back of the pack. If it says you should apply the mask for 20 minutes, don’t assume that leaving it on for longer will increase the benefits. On the contrary, once the mask starts to dry, it will start sucking out moisture from your skin. And it will also increase skin temperature, which can increase the bacteria count, leading to acne and other skin issues. So, make sure you watch the clock!
If one sheet mask is good, are two better? When paired prudently, most definitely. Experts advocate starting with a purifying clay or mud mask to open up the pores and cleanse them of debris; then rinse it off and follow with a sheet mask to flood the skin with beneficial ingredients. This will super-charge the efficacy of the sheet mask, while also purifying the skin, the latter being something that sheet masks rarely achieve (more on this in a bit).
Pair sheet masks with an eye mask
In a similar vein of multitasking, pop on an eye mask under your sheet mask. Not only will it cut your masking time by half, it will also super-charge your eye mask with some hefty hydration.
Don’t wash it off!
Unless you have super-acne prone skin or have to head out of the house (that’s why I usually apply a sheet mask right before bedtime), don’t wash off the residue after lifting away the sheet. It may seem a little sticky at first but the leftover fluid is potent with beneficial nutrients and is meant to be absorbed into the skin. And for maximum benefit, don’t just pat it into the skin. Instead, use this as an opportunity to give yourself a mini facial massage – the creaminess of the serum will help the massage, while the massage will help the serum sink deeper into the skin. Double whammy!
What comes after a sheet mask?
Remember that a sheet mask is serum based. So, follow it up with a moisturiser to seal in the treatment and multi-charge the benefits.
But… remember that sheet masks can’t replace traditional masks
While sheet masks are the current super-heroes of skincare, there’s one thing that they can’t do well: deep cleansing or purifying the skin. That’s because they are loaded with serums that sink into the skin rather than, say a clay-based mask, that draws impurities out of the skin.
But… they can’t replace your daily serum
Unless you’re using a sheet mask twice a day, every single day – and not only will that get seriously expensive, you’re at risk of overloading your skin and clogging your pores by doing this – you still need your daily serums. So, think of sheet masks as more of a booster rather than a replacement for your daily skincare rituals.
But… remember that sheet masks may not be great for acne-prone skin
Sheet masks are loaded with sticky fluids, they may not be the best idea for acne-prone skin. Plus, the occlusion raises skin temperature (on an average, from 89.6 to 98.6 degrees), which boosts the growth of acne-causing bacteria. So, if you’re prone to pimples, first do a patch test and wait a couple of days to see if it aggravates the condition before going full steam with a sheet mask. And whenever you do use a mask, try and opt for a gel-based one rather than a cloth-based formula as that’s less likely to cause breakouts.
Which is your favourite sheet mask?