You apply a face mask, filled with the kind of optimism that only comes with knowing you’re about to take your skin from dull to dazzling.
But for some reason, you never see or feel any real difference. What do you do?
You blame it on the face mask. You rant. You stare into the mirror, still hoping to see a glimmer of a glow. Nada. You rant some more. You point at the face mask instructions, angrily. You blame that poor face mask wrapper sitting on the bathroom counter, not bothering anyone (but you).
Stop face mask shaming. Could it be possible that it’s your fault.
Using a face mask may seem like a relatively simple process, and it is – to a point. Face masks can work wonders on skin, transforming it from a dull, flaky, dismal mess to glowing and radiant in a matter of minutes. There is, however, an art to using face masks. Do it right, and you’ll be amply rewarded. Do it wrong, and, well, it won’t do much of anything at all.
We all know the drill: Wash your face, slap on a face mask, wait until it dries, and then rinse (or peel) it off.
See? Simple. But also, this isn’t exactly the way to do it. Let’s take a look first at how face masks work, and what kinds are best for what skin types. Then, we’ll review exactly what we’re doing right – and wrong.
Face Masks Have a Loooong History
Women (and maybe men too) have been using clay and fruits as face masks since Biblical times. Face masks have been around for ages, but modern-day masks have come a long way. Years ago, we all looked like martians, walking around with bright green or blue faces and scaring the heck of our partners or kids!
Now, we’ve got tons of more discreet (and some less discreet) great options—especially since most skincare professionals consider face masks an essential part of a beauty routine.
Cleansing and Refreshing: Clay masks usually contain bentonite which is found to be effective in cleansing the pores.1 It also helps in healing skin blemishes, leaving the skin invigorated.2
Detoxifying and Hydrating: Certain face masks have detoxifying properties, like seaweed. In addition, seaweed may also help to hydrate your skin.3
Moisturizing: A good face moisturizing mask contains essential ingredients with soothing effects. Choose one with aloe vera and/or witch hazel oil, as these two are known as skin moisturizers.4
Exfoliating: A good exfoliating mask works best if it contains ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). It acts as an exfoliant and as an anti-aging solution by helping to remove dead skin cells and diminish wrinkle formation.5
Unclogging pores: As long as you have AHA as one of the main ingredients in a mask, unclogged pores can be yours.
Brightening: A facial mask can certainly help to brighten the appearance of the skin. Try choosing a mask formula with enzymes and beads as a way to reap the benefits.6
Improving Elasticity: Masks which contain collagen may help to improve your skin’s elasticity. So when choosing your face mask for anti-aging purposes, don’t just concentrate on cleansing and detoxifying properties. Look for a more powerful anti-aging ingredients like collagen.7
So what are the 5 ways you could be messing up your face mask?! Let’s take a look:
1. Skipping Face Prep
As with many things, preparation is key when using a face mask. Skip this and your results will be compromised. In order to reap the most benefits from any mask you’re using, you want to be sure your pores are open. There are a number of ways to accomplish this:
- Cleanse your face. Applying a face mask without cleansing your face is a waste of time and money. The mask won’t work effectively until you’ve gotten rid of the gunk first. Use a gentle cleanser to unclog your pores, giving way for the face mask to better penetrate your skin.
- Use steam. As an additional prep before applying a face mask, consider using steam to dilate the pores. It’s relaxing. You can just take a hot shower or get a washcloth dipped in very warm water, covering your face with it for a few minutes until it cools down. Another option is to get a bowl of boiling water and hold your face over the steam. Warning: Keep your face at a distance from the water to avoid burning. Use a clean towel and cover your head to create a mini-sauna for your face.
- Exfoliate beforehand. Use a mild exfoliant on your face before you apply the mask. This will better help the ingredients to absorb into your skin more effectively.
- Apply with a brush. If you don’t have a brush, then make sure your fingertips are clean before applying.
- Grab the cucumbers! Before applying your mask, get two slices of chilled cucumber ready. Once you’ve got your mask on, pop the cucumber slices on your eyes. This may help to reduce eye puffiness.
2. Using Face Masks Against Skin Type
Do you have shiny, moist skin most of the day, but especially during midday? Is your skin prone to skin disorders like blackheads, whiteheads, and cystic acne? You probably have oily skin or partially oily skin.
For oily skin, mud or clay masks are recommended because they can help to draw out and remove the excess oil from your face. One caveat: With clay masks, be sure you don’t leave them on longer than the recommended time (usually around 15 minutes), or you might dry out your skin too much.
If you are blessed with normal skin, you don’t have any kind of roughness or oiliness. Your skin is balanced, usually supple, with even skin tone and no real signs of skin disorders.
Cream masks are ideal for you. Unlike clay masks, you can leave them on for longer periods of time.
Dry and/or Sensitive Skin
If your skin often feels tight, especially around midday, you may have dry skin. Or do you often see red patches and splotches after using skin care products containing certain ingredients that may be too harsh? You probably have sensitive skin.
The right kind of face mask for dry and sensitive skin is a hydrating mask. It’s specially formulated to give you supple and moist skin right after treatment. You can also use face masks with oatmeal, as this calms stressed, sensitive skin.
3. Leaving a Mask on Too Long
Time is important. We all need more of it. But in the case of face masks, more time is not necessarily a good thing. Leaving a face mask on longer than directed doesn’t mean you’ll get extra benefits. It might actually have the opposite effect. Leave a face mask that is supposed to moisturize on too long, and you may wind up irritating your skin. Leave a clay mask on too long, and you may need a chisel to remove it!
Don’t go rogue with your face mask. Pay attention to the directions on any and all products you use. If it says to leave the mask on for 20 minutes, do that. Set a timer, too, so you’ll remember to stop down and rinse (or peel) the mask off.
Here’s a tip: If you’re using a clay mask, there’s a fair chance it will begin to change colors as it dries. Check the color. As it gets lighter, it’s likely drying. If you’ve reached the point (and we all do) where you try to smile and you feel the mask cracking, rinse it off. You don’t have to wait until it is super-duper flaky to take it off.
4. Don’t Lay A (Dirty) Finger On Me!
We all know that touching our faces with dirty fingers isn’t a good idea. Any bacteria on our fingers can easily transfer onto our facial skin, resulting in pimples. Aside from the actual health reasons not to touch our face (hello, common cold!), using dirty fingers to apply a skin care facial mask is one way to potentially negate the benefits you’ll get from the mask itself.
Wash. Your. Hands.
Using fingers to spread on a mask is convenient, but it’s not the only way to do it. Consider using a specific beauty mask tool set. For a quick DIY set, gather a small bowl, a foundation brush, and a small spoon you can use to spread the mask on your face smoothly and evenly. Think of this process as face painting for beauty-conscious adults!
As with your hands, wash your set (especially the brush) thoroughly after you use it.
5. Quickie Rinse-Off
Just as the rinse cycle is critical in washing clothes, so goes the rinse cycle for face masks. Many of us splash a few times and then dry our faces. That’s all it takes to remove the mask residue, right.
Not true. A few splashes won’t do. If you don’t remove all of the mask, you may wind up with irritated or clogged skin. That certainly defeats the purpose of using the mask, now doesn’t it?
First, make sure you are rinsing your face with lukewarm water. Rinse multiple times. You can use a washcloth, but make sure that you aren’t scrubbing. Rinse, don’t scrub. Scrubbing might lead to redness and irritation. Remember, facial skin is particularly sensitive—especially after a mask.
Make small, circular motions with the washcloth, ensuring that you’ve taken it off entirely. Check the hairline. Check under your nose. Check under your chin, behind your earlobes and eyebrows. These are all places that might need a little extra rinsing TLC.
Once you’ve removed the mask, consider splashing some cool or cold water on your face. This will help close the pores. Follow with an antioxidant serum and gentle moisturizer, and you’re all set!
A New Kind Of Mask
If you’ve been keeping up with beauty news you’ve by now, no doubt, heard of Korean sheet masks. Those incredibly freaky-looking white face masks – à la Jason from Friday the 13th. They’re a great alternative to messy DIY masks, and they’re super popular for a reason – they’re affordable, easy to apply, and people are really happy with the results, such as plumber, brighter looking skin.
The sheet mask is exactly as it sounds, a single sheet, which has holes for the eyes, nose, and mouth cut out. This ‘sheet’ will create a barrier on your skin so that the ingredients won’t be evaporated while they work their way into your skin. Sheets can come in various forms – paper, fabric, cotton, hydro-gel, bio-cellulose, and even sea kelp.
When using a sheet mask it’s suggested that you first cleanse your skin so it can better absorb the nourishing ingredients. Then, you just mold the mask onto your face and leave it there for 20 minutes. The key is not to let the mask become dry because it will then start drawing moisture away from your skin instead.
Once you remove the mask, pat any remaining serum into your skin (or down onto your neglected neck). If your skin is on the dry side, feel free to follow with a good moisturizer.
The downside: sheet masks aren’t reusable, so you’ll need to stock up on them.
How Often Should You Use a Face Mask?
Again, how often you use a face mask depends greatly on the type of skin you have. Other factors will determine how often you need one, such as time of year and the weather. In the winter, for example, you might need a moisturizing mask several times per week. In the summer? You may want to use a mask to help control oil twice weekly.
In general, most experts agree once a week is ideal. If you are going to do the extra step of applying a face mask, might as well maximize results, right? Take the time to use them correctly and it will pay off. Now, go show the world that gorgeous glow.
Article updated: March 21, 2018
1 Williams L, Haydel S, Ferrell R. Bentonite, Bandaids, and Borborygmi. Elements. 2009;5(2):99-104. doi:10.2113/gselements.5.2.99.
2 Williams L, Haydel S, Ferrell R. Bentonite, Bandaids, and Borborygmi. Elements. 2009;5(2):99-104. doi:10.2113/gselements.5.2.99.
3 Yvkoff L. Try a placenta or bird poop facial – CNN.com. Editioncnncom. 2008. Accessed October 14, 2016.
4 Greive K, Tran D, Townley J, Barnes T. An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. CCID. 2014:9. doi:10.2147/ccid.s75439.
5 Greive K, Tran D, Townley J, Barnes T. An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. CCID. 2014:9. doi:10.2147/ccid.s75439.
6 Neill U. Skin care in the aging female: myths and truths. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2012;122(2):473-477. doi:10.1172/jci61978. 7 Sibilla S, Brewer S, Budh – Raja A, Genovese L. An Overview of the Beneficial Effects of Hydrolysed Collagen as a Nutraceutical on Skin Properties: Scientific Background and Clinical Studies. The Open Nutraceuticals Journal. 2015;8:2 9 – 42.
About the Author