Messy. Impractical. Ineffective. These are just a few of the kinder adjectives I've used to describe sheet masks. And when I have, as you might imagine, I haven't been met with many nods of agreement.
"Whaaat?! Sheet masks are my favorite!" is the common reaction, and I suppose I understand why. At some point over the past few years, sheet masks became a beauty status symbol on social media. It seemed anyone who knew a toner from an essence swore by them for bright, hydrated, soft skin.
How you documented your use of the mask said even more about you. Watching TV and sipping wine? You're a hardworking woman who knows how to treat herself at the end of a long day. Add a friend into the mix and your caption practically writes itself: "Sunday is lit." Of course, wearing one on a cross-country flight is the ultimate declaration of your love for beauty and luxury.
Still, every time I scroll by a sheet mask selfie, I want to ask the person: Do you really love these masks because they're doing something beneficial for your complexion, or do you just love that they make you feel like you're on the self-care train?
As a beauty editor with dry, sometimes dull skin, I have tried them all — and I always really wanted to like them. But I just can't get on board. First off, they rarely fit properly — the mouth hole is too narrow, or the eye slits too far apart. Plus, they're slimy, cold, prevent you from moving around or eating dinner, and drip into your hair and down your neck.
I could forgive all of that if I actually thought they were doing anything, though. Even if you're using a science-backed, prestige mask — which can ring in at well over $100 for a small supply — I firmly believe that you'll get more for your money with a traditional mask or serum. And the cheap ones? They're like playing the slots in Vegas: You're paying for the experience, not a big win.
There's one more thing: I have never had an aesthetician use a sheet mask in a treatment and a dermatologist has never recommended one. But hey, maybe I've been selectively blind? I sought out two pros for their takes.
Karyn Grossman, MD, a board certified dermatologist with a loyal celeb following, started by telling me that the concept behind sheet masks makes sense: "[The sheet] often [holds the] hyaluronic acid, or another viscous gel, on the skin. The solutions may help to hydrate the skin — depending upon what is actually used — but the sheet itself probably does very little other than contribute to more trash."
She warns against picking up any old mask, however. "It's kind of like saying 'moisturizers' are all the same," she says. "That doesn’t take into account active ingredients and bases, which are actually extremely important." So why the heck are sheet masks so popular? "Keeping a gel on your skin that doesn’t dry tends to 'feel' more hydrating to a person," she concludes.
...the sheet itself probably does very little other than contribute to more trash...
Kayrn Grossman, MD
Aesthetician and skin expert Renee Rouleau feels similarly. "It’s fun, new, and different — and makes for a great pic," she says, although she doesn't discount possible efficacy — if you get it to fit. "The key with using a sheet mask successfully is to make sure that it’s actually touching the skin. With a gel mask (which gives gives a similar end result, as long as you’re applying a generous layer) can oftentimes be more effective because you can control the application."
Of course, it's not all bad. "The upside of a sheet mask is that because it is viscous, it allows the solution that is soaked in the material to stay damp throughout the whole application, which ensures that the skin gets hydrated," Rouleau says. "Also, the material creates an occlusive, non-breathable barrier so the hydrating solution has no place to go but into the skin. It acts like a sealant, which is a good thing."
Rouleau also notes that, although it's not her favorite way to mask and she never uses them in her treatments, there can be benefits if you follow with moisturizer. "You’ll want to make sure you ensure the hydration stays in the skin by using some sort of emollient over it once removed, such as an oil or moisturizer," she says. "If you don’t put something on the skin after to prevent evaporation, the hydrating benefit will not last long."