Skin masks, though trendy, are really nothing new. Women have been putting hope in them since ancient times. Egyptian and Greek women made theirs with clay. Roman women were convinced that sheep oils were beneficial – but the smell was horrible. Other interesting Roman mask ingredients were urine, bile, swan’s fat, and excrement (yum!).
Though women have been using masks for thousands of years, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re essential to beautiful skin. Remember – back then, women didn’t really have many choices in skin care!
So, are masks really necessary? Let’s examine some of the myths about their power.
Myth #1: Masks are purifying. False. What exactly would a mask be purifying anyway? When you think about it, skin doesn’t really need purifying. Sure, our pores can get clogged sometimes, but that’s a different issue. Your face doesn’t sweat much, so that’s not a problem. Environmental pollutants? They can sit on top of the skin, but they can’t penetrate it because the molecules are too big. Drugs, alcohol, and other chemical contaminants are ingested and eliminated through the kidneys and liver primarily – not the skin. Bottom line: Skin purification is a marketing concept.
Myth #2: Masks can unclog pores. True. If you exfoliate first and then use an alpha hydroxy acid mask (or some clay masks) it can soften the dead cell plugs and make them easier to remove. Also, the “sticky” masks that dry and then peel off, like the Biore strips for the nose, can take some of the plugs and dead skin cells with them as you peel them off.
Myth # 3: Masks can hydrate. True. Skin hydration happens from both the inside and the outside. Yes, you absolutely need to drink water to keep your skin hydrated. But anyone who lives in the desert, flies a lot, or works in air conditioning can tell you that the humidity in the environment makes a difference. So, if you use a moisturizing mask and leave it on for at least 15-20 minutes, you can help hydrate your skin temporarily.
Myth #4: Masks can feed and nourish the skin. True and false.True in that skin can absorb minerals, lipids, hydration, vitamins, etc. from external sources, like masks and other cosmetics. These products can give our skin a boost when used regularly.
But false in that the best, most stable, consistent nourishment and hydration for any organ comes from our circulation, our bloodstream – not from the outside.
Now that we’ve talked what masks really can – and can’t – do, which kind of mask should you use?
The Clay Mask. Natural clay can have up to 75 different minerals in it, but it also has a lot of unwanted bacteria and other microorganisms. Clay sold in masks has to be processed to get rid of the bacteria which may alter the mineral content. Still, clay masks tend to be oil absorbing and nice for acne-prone and oily skin.
The Peel-off Mask. Charcoal-based or other sticky masks cling to the skin when they dry. When you peel them off, they pull dead skin, bacteria, hairs, and debris off the face. Peeling off the mask may be painful, so it should be done slowly. They are not the best option for people with sensitive or dry skin. Charcoal masks are recommended for those with oily, acne-prone skin, as they reduce excess oil and can help remove blackheads and whiteheads (comedones).
The Alpha-Hydroxy Acid Mask. Due to the acidity of these masks, they are not great for those with sensitive skin. They provide “chemical” rather than peel-off exfoliation. These masks are good for unplugging pores and getting the skin cells a little more active to get back that “glow.” Stronger ones are best done by a good aesthetician or in your doctor’s office.
The Sheet Mask. Not advised unless from an established company. These are made of a fabric soaked in a serum that is placed over the face and left to sit. The sheet traps in the serum and allows absorption into the skin. An article in Racked, a media journal focusing on pop culture and fashion, reports unsanitary packaging processes that raise concern for the safety of sheet masks. According to the article, several Korean brands use at-home packaging, rather than packaging in a sanitary factory or facility, making the safety of these products questionable.
The Moisturizing Mask. These come in many forms, including varieties that are more organic and natural. Great for dry skin, a pre-event pick up, sensitive skin, relaxation, etc. It’s hard to go wrong with these unless you have acne and oily skin.
In short, the right mask for the right skin type can be a good supplement to a great skin care regimen.
For an example of a great skin regimen, here’s Dr. Irwin’s personal am/pm skin care routine.