Updated 7/20/20. While not considered an essential in a basic skincare routine, I do consider masks to be an important part of achieving healthy, clear, and beautiful skin. Since everyone’s skin type is unique, masks are not one-size-fits-all. You really need to make sure you’re using the best mask for your skin type.
In this post, I’ll go over all the various kinds of masks available, their benefits, and how to determine which ones will give you the best results.
First, Some Facts About Facial Masks
Let’s start by talking about what facial masks are, how often you need to switch them up, and why you might want to avoid traditional clay-based masks.
Masks Aren’t Giving an Exfoliating Benefit
Often times when I ask a client, “How often are you exfoliating?” Their reply is, “Oh, I’ll use a mask once or twice a month.” I’m unclear as to how masks ever were thought to be exfoliants, but they aren’t (unless they have been specifically formulated with acids). Facial scrubs, sonic cleansing brushes, washcloths, and acid serums provide this benefit. You can also get exfoliation from peels, which can include acid exfoliants, enzymes, or a combination of the two. But I wouldn’t classify facials masks as something that exfoliates your skin.
It’s Best to Change Up Your Masks as Needed
Since your skin changes often based on seasonal changes, hormonal cycles, travel, and other factors, one size doesn’t always fit all. Each type of mask provides a specific benefit so ideally, you would have 2-3 in your stash so you can guarantee your skin gets what it needs when it’s behaving in a certain way.
Most Skin Types Should Avoid Traditional Clay-Based Masks
When masks were first introduced decades ago, they were made with drying clays. While many clay-based formulas have since been updated to be less drying (not all, though), a lot of people are stuck in the habit of using this kind of mask. Most skin requires hydration rather than drying it out, so these masks definitely are not for everyone. The problem is, a lot of people have been trained to like that tight feeling a clay mask gives. If you’re going to take out the extra time to treat your skin to a mask, you want to match sure it’s actually improving your skin.
The Different Types of Facial Masks (and What They’re Best For)
These are the different types of masks available—be sure to choose one that suits your skin and its needs.
Gel masks tend to be water-based and oil-free and often have a clear, see-through look.
What Gel Masks Do
The main benefit of gel masks is that they provide water-based hydration to thirsty skin cells without potentially heavy, pore-clogging ingredients. They also have a natural cooling effect that’s great for soothing redness and sensitivity. You can even store them in the refrigerator for extra cooling to reduce redness or puffiness.
Gel masks are especially beneficial when the skin is overheated, like post-workout or post-sun. They can also benefit the skin post-flight when water evaporation has occurred (read how to save your skin from airplane dehydration).
Who Should Use Gel Masks?
Everyone can benefit from a gel mask and they are compatible with any skin type. If you’re only going to purchase one mask, gel is the way to go!
Formulations can vary greatly based on which ingredients are added to the base (this can change how drying they are). They tend to be opaque in color and fairly thick in texture. My advice is to look for a formula that includes ingredients with hydrating benefits. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything that make your skin feel really tight and cracks into a million pieces.
What Clay Masks Do
The main benefit of clay masks is that they draw out oil and other impurities, clearing pores and creating a tightening effect. They’re good to use during hotter times like summer when the skin can get greasy and you want that “clean” feeling. One tip is to use an oil-free hydrating serum underneath the mask to offset any of its drying effects. You can also “multi-mask,” meaning you would use a clay-based mask in oily areas like the t-zone and a gel mask in dehydrated areas like the cheeks.
Who Should Use Clay Masks
Clay masks are best for oily, combination skin types that are prone to clogged pores.
Cream masks, as the name suggests, have a creamy texture similar to a moisturizer. They’re formulated with emollients and oils.
What Cream Masks Do
The main benefit of cream masks is to provide oil-based hydration to dry skin types. Many of them can be left on overnight for deeper absorption (but be sure to put a towel on your pillow to prevent oil transfer). They’re especially great to restore moisture loss post-flight or in winter when dry skin is at its worst. They help give dry skin a moist, bouncy, glowy look.
Who Should Use Cream Masks
Cream masks are best for dry skin types, meaning those who naturally produce very little oil. They shouldn’t be used by oily, combination, or dehydrated skin types since they could clog pores. Learn the difference between dry and dehydrated skin.
Sheet masks are usually oil-free and are made out of various fabrics such as non-woven fibers, bio-cellulose, or rayon. One reason I’m not a huge fan of sheet masks is that many of them include synthetic fragrance and perfumes, which may cause irritation. Look for masks that don’t include the words ‘perfume,’ ‘parfum,’ ‘fragrance,’ or ‘natural fragrance’ in the ingredient list.
What Sheet Masks Do
The main benefit of sheet masks is to provide water-based hydration to thirsty skin cells. They can have a natural cooling effect, which is good for soothing redness and sensitivity. Like gel masks, sheet masks can also be stored in the fridge for extra cooling to reduce redness and puffiness. Sheet masks are great to use post-flight after water evaporation has occurred in the skin or to give a quick hit of water-based hydration to make the skin look bright and bouncy.
Who Should Use Sheet Masks
Every skin type can use a sheet mask. There are some downsides to using a sheet mask, and I share them all here.
Now That I Know Which Mask is Best For My Skin Type, How Should I Use It?
For the most part, you won’t get the maximum benefit from a mask if you just cleanse your skin and apply it. More than likely, you’ll have dry skin cell build-up on the surface of your skin, which will make it harder for the mask to push through. The best results will be given when you exfoliate the skin first as this allows for the mask to work most effectively. Try a gentle facial scrub, an enzyme peel, or an acid-based exfoliant beforehand to greatly enhance the effects of your facial mask.
Learn more about which type of exfoliant is best for your skin type.
When Is the Best Time to Use a Mask?
- Before a special event
- Whenever your skin feels and looks dull and could use a pick-me-up
- While you’re soaking in the bathtub
- To wind down the weekend with a #sundaynightfacial to put your best face forward for the busy week ahead
How Often Should I Use a Mask?
It depends on the mask but, in general, I suggest using a facial mask for your skin type once a week as part of an at-home facial. Gel and sheet masks can be used nightly or as often as needed for deep hydration post-cleanse.
The mask category is expanding rapidly and I’m seeing more and more new kinds like rubber masks (mainly these are oil-free and are good for hydration similar to the effects of a gel mask), peel-off masks, and even masks that contain glitter. (Ridiculous!) In the visual world of social media, many companies are starting first by determining what would be most worthy of a selfie. This means that a lot of companies are now starting to add irritating synthetic dyes into their formulas again (not Renée Rouleau, I can assure you!) to give that wow effect.
In summary, while a mask treatment isn’t quite like getting a professional facial, it certainly offers additional skin benefits above and beyond your basic skincare routine. For this reason, I highly recommend you use one on a weekly basis. Your skin will thank you for it. #ReneeRouleauGLOW
You find the full collection of Renée Rouleau Skincare facial masks here.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”