Which Face Mask Is Right For You?

Face masks can seem cumbersome for the time-strapped — it’s an extra skin-care step that requires up to 15 minutes of need-to-sit-still downtime followed by a rather vigorous rinse. So, why bother? The truth is, these treatments can leave your complexion even, calm, and glowing — much like a pricey facial would — in about the time it takes to blow-dry your hair. Plus, with a whole new crop of sleeping masks that melt into the skin while you snooze, even the busiest of bees can get in on the regenerating action.
We talked to Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Vicki Rapaport and Los Angeles-based cosmetic surgeon Alexander Rivkin to find out how masks work to decongest, hydrate, soothe, and treat skin that needs a little extra love. And, we've rounded up products that treat every condition. Click ahead to meet your match, whether your face is blemished, thirsty, dull (they don’t call it "the dead of winter" for nothing), or just in need of a little TLC.
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Moisturizing
There’s nothing like winter weather to suck the life — and hydration — right out of your skin. Feeling parched or looking dull? A moisturizing mask can help rehydrate and revitalize that flaky mug. Since your skin is already suffering, these should have gentle ingredients, according to Rapaport, who says to look out for “lots of hyaluronic acid, which helps lubricate the skin.” (The stuff holds a thousand times its weight in water, so it's basically a moisture magnet.) Rivkin also points out that moisturizing masks aren’t one-trick ponies: “They’re generally good to use on all skin types and may also promote healing and anti-aging as well,” he says.
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Calming
When your skin is freaking out (we’re talking dry patches, blotchiness and irritation), the last thing you want to do is attack your face with products that'll make it even more finicky. But, bolstering your skincare with a good calming mask is likely a safe — and healing — pursuit. They tend to be anti-inflammatory, formulated for sensitive skin, and sans irritants. Rapaport explains that with calming masks, it’s just as much about what’s not in the mix (think parabens, sulfates, alcohol and fragrance) as what is (look for botanicals and aloe vera). “These masks are soothing to sensitive, irritated skin, as well as rosacea," she adds.
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Clarifying
For those of us plagued by spontaneous zits, the phrase “pulling out impurities” is a familiar one. We've tried all kinds of hopeful treatments and seen a real crapshoot of results. Luckily, modern-day clarifying masks pack a powerful punch and, yes, can actually help unplug your pores.

“These masks often contain alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid) and beta hydroxy acids (such as salicylic acid), or compounds like pumpkin enzymes or lactic acids,” Rapaport says. "They can also be jam-packed with antioxidants, which can help reduce cell damage and purify the skin.”

In addition to acids and antioxidants, clay and sulfur — both popular in these types of masks — help remove dirt and oil buildup in acneic skin, while drying up excess oil and sloughing off dead cell accumulation — making them a great selection for oily and congested skin types, says Rivken.
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Radiance
There is a way to get that pregnant-lady glow without having to host an inner-belly being — and that's with radiance masks. Rapaport says that these treatments can “fade dark spots and even out skin tone; or plump up the skin to make it ‘radiate light from within.’” Um. Yes please. Look for acids and enzymes also used in purifying masks (like AHAs and pumpkin enzymes), which help exfoliate, and therefore brighten, the skin’s appearance.
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Exfoliating
Rivkin counts exfoliation as a “must for younger-looking, beautiful skin.” And, exfoliating masks can help get us there in two ways. One type employs ever-so-slightly abrasive natural ingredients (like oatmeal) to mechanically exfoliate. Alternatively, they can contain acids that dissolve away the dead skin cells. The result? “Both remove dead, dull skin, while simultaneously promoting cell turnover to reveal new, glowing, healthy skin,” Rivken says.
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Sleeping
This newer category's slather-it-on-and-go M.O. makes it a lazy girl’s dream. Most notably, it doesn’t require getting back up off the couch to rinse, tissue, or peel off your mask. (Win!) Instead, Rapaport says these products (which can really be thought of as ultra-rich hydrating creams) use about every trick in the book while you snooze. That's hyaluronic acid, collagen, algaes, multivitamins, antioxidants, and peptides, working to ensure you wake up to hydrated skin, no matter how many beverages, or little sleep, you had the night before. She also explains that these are typically void of any ingredient that could be irritating if left on overnight, which makes them a safe choice for all skin types.
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Post Recovery
Not everyone can recover from dermal treatments in the same way we imagine Elizabeth Taylor did (secret exits, at-home hibernation, cabana boys on standby to cool our complexions). So, there are special masks for those of us who undergo a little resurfacing peel or laser treatment and still need to show face at work the next day. Post-recovery masks “hydrate, repair and calm,” according to Rapaport. While super-goopy occlusives, like Vaseline, can do the trick, she says ingredients like aloe vera, primrose oil, and antioxidants can provide a more elegant solution. Rivken adds that these masks can also contain “essential fatty acids and lipids, which help give dry skin what it needs to replenish itself.”
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Eye Masks
The eyes may be windows to the soul, but the skin around them is an unmerciful gateway for burgeoning wrinkles. But, don't consider any damage to this delicate area permanent. Rapaport likes eye masks with retinol, “which can really plump up that area and help crows feet look diminished for a short period of time.” You could also reach for an eye mask with soothing aloe (to reduce puffiness) and peptides which, Rivkin says, “can improve skin quality by signaling your skin to make collagen.” Rapaport adds that, “The skin around the eye is thin enough for these ingredients to penetrate and do some good.”
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