Face Masks: The One-Night Stands Of Skin Care

Masks are my skin-care savior. A short mask session is like hitting Ctrl + Z on all manner of skin sins. They promise to transform texture, draw out impurities in pores, brighten skin tone, provide a hit of hydration, reduce signs of aging, and deliver nutrition deep into the dermis. Whatever the claim, masks are generally intensive treatments that translate into instant (sometimes mic-dropping) gratification.
Sheet masks are by far the most popular type in South Korea. Not only are they convenient and full of beneficial nutrients, but they can be a non-committal, relatively inexpensive foray into trying a new brand or ingredient. I often (fondly) think of them as the one-night-stands of skin care.
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In a few short years, sheet masks have evolved from cotton to hydrogel to basically any compound that can manifest itself in sheet form. Case in point: This rice-paper mask is made of spring-roll wrappers. And, this seaweed mask is, for real, made of seaweed.
In Korea, the “put a mask on it” mantra has spawned multiple categories, including wash-off, peel-off, modeling, bubble, ampoule, and sleeping masks. It’s common to layer different treatments in a sort of mask cocktail to address specific needs (e.g., a clay mask to purify paired with a hydrogel sheet mask to rehydrate the often drying results of clay).
Things can get Seven Kingdoms-confusing with the overwhelming number of masks claiming to be one-shot wonders. So I’ve compiled a list of superstars to give you the lay of the land and save you from picking up a dud. Read on to discover some of the coolest masks you aren't using yet, but definitely should be.
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Clay Mask
We always have a clay mask on rotation. Why? Because clay (like kaolin, bentonite, or volcanic ash) soothes, absorbs oil, and even exfoliates, which makes it a superhero for congested skin. We love this one from Innisfree that instantly de-greases and mattifies skin.

Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask, $15, available at Innisfree.
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Splash Mask
This gem lives up to its splashy name. After cleansing your face, simply mix it with some water, and splash (or, pat) it onto your face. It's great for the on-the-go beauty fan and will get you out the door faster than any other mask on the list — guaranteed.

Blithe Patting Splash Mask in Soothing Green Tea, $45, available at Glow Recipe.
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Foaming Mask
Foaming masks are the latest craze to add to the Korean mask fervor. These clay masks from Dr. Jart+ are meant to transform into foaming cleansers upon contact with water. In my experience, there was very little foaming action, but as clay masks, they purify and exfoliate skin like a dream.

The smart pastel packaging alone is enough to make me swoon. The minimalist tube helps keep the smooth clay formula from drying out. Best of all, the trio can be used simultaneously to answer to the needs of different areas of the face. For example, my forehead needs all the moisturizing help it can get from the pink formula, which uses a combination of white and red clay. The oilier areas definitely benefited from the green formula, which uses green French clay, known for superior absorbency and removing oil, toxins, and impurities from the skin. And the white formula is the gentlest, and great for sensitive or dry, parched skin (a.k.a., my cheeks).

Best of all, the formulas leave skin feeling velvety smooth instead of the usual tight, uncomfortable sensation characteristic to clay masks.

Dr. Jart+ Dermaclear Trans-Foam Clay, $35, available at Sephora.
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Exfoliating & Soothing Mask
For those who tend to go overboard on physical scrubs, this three-part treatment from Reme+G is the way to go. The first step features a giant cotton swab soaked in alpha-hydroxy acids for targeted exfoliation, which we like sweeping over our problem areas (like around the nose and chin). Follow up with the brightening serum and the moisturizing mask to lock in all that goodness (sans rinsing), and you're good to go.

Reme+G Aqua Home Peeling 3-Step Kit, $6, available at Glow Recipe.
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Tightening Mask
When I squeezed out this tube of “pack” (Konglish for mask), I wondered what about the slightly over-fragranced, clear blob was “monster.” Ten minutes later, my reflection answered the question. I’m pretty sure this is what Charlize Theron was wearing on her face in Monster.

As this mask dries, it hardens into a film that tightens the skin. It pulls skin in all directions, resulting in one shockingly ugly reflection. This happens because of its second ingredient, sodium polystyrene sulfonate. The squeezing action is meant to tighten pores and increase circulation, and when you wash it off, excess dirt, oil, and dead skin make an exit, too. The mask also contains portulaca extract, which is a well-known anti-inflammatory agent and a great source of vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The cocoon this mask forms over skin starts cracking when completely dry, which is another level of weird. Thankfully, this means it’s time to wash off the crust, revealing velvety-soft skin.
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Bubble Pore Mask
Formulated with super-fine, mineral-rich glacial soil from Canada and carbonic acid (ahem, bubbles), this magical mask draws out impurities in the pores, leaving skin tingly and refreshed.

It consists of a greenish and spongy, yet super-smooth paste that, when massaged into skin, starts bubbling up like a symphony of crooning Pop Rocks, letting you know things are definitely happening. The bubbling wonder won Editor’s Pick 2014 in Allure Korea’s Best of Beauty Awards.
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Pouch Essence Mask
When it comes to mask cheapies (under or around $2), Aritaum’s are some of the most consistent performers. Further blurring the lines between an ampoule, essence, and serum is the Aritaum Fresh Power Essence Pouch Pack series.

With the exception of Tightening, a wash-off clay mask, the rest of this series consists of overnight masks formulated with heavy concentrations of essence. The logic behind sleeping masks is that skin regeneration is at its height between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., although for me, it’s more about waking up flawless with minimal effort.

The masks come packaged to resemble little juice packets and are meant to be used once, though I’ve discovered the amount can be stretched over two or three days. Since they’re so affordable, I rotate between my four favorites. Soothing features tea tree, aloe vera, and calendula to calm irritations and redness; Moisture contains hyaluronic acid to plump up skin; Wrinkle has ceramides and cacao extract to deliver powerful anti-aging antioxidants and nutrients; and Peeling has apple and AHA to soften skin.
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Modeling Mask
These plaster-like, rubbery peel-off masks were at one time used exclusively by aestheticians, but are now becoming popular for home use. This one comes packaged in a single-use container with a handy spatula to aid in application.

Prior to applying it, it’s recommended to go through a skin-care ritual that mirrors a facial. I like to do an express version of cleanser, toner, and essence or serum. Then, slather on the mask to seal it all in. Mixing the powder with water forms a rubbery paste that, after you spackle it on your face, dries into a prosthetic-like, peel-off mask.

Doing the mask at home makes for a surprisingly pleasant experience, and my skin felt hydrated and happy afterward. I'm obviously not alone: Lindsay’s one-time-use, rubbery wonders are the second best-selling product at Olive Young (Korea’s Sephora).
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This hydrating mask from MD's Pick involves the typical two-stop mixing process. Slap the gel-like liquid onto your skin and marinate in the juices for 15-20 minutes to reveal softer, plumper skin.

MD's Pick Aqua Moist Water Rubber Mask, $9, available at Glow Recipe.
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Wrinkle Sheet Mask
Some masks really take the cake for design, like this highly Instagrammable Too Cool for School lace sheet mask that’s so pretty I could probably get away with wearing it to a masquerade.

SNP’s Animal masks, on the other hand, are very dime-store scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s — while still being total skin saviors. My favorite of the bunch is the Tiger Wrinkle Mask, because it lets me live out being a real-life emoticon.

As a sheet mask, it isn't ground-breaking, but it does contain some promising ingredients like coconut water (hydrating and rich in vitamins), coconut oil (moisturizing), evening primrose oil (rich in fatty acids), açaí-berry extract (potent in fighting free radicals), and adenosine (anti-aging).
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Bubble Mask
Since the Gem Miracle Black Pearl O2 Bubble Mask came out four years ago, it’s continuously been The Saem’s best-selling product. It starts carbonating on contact, and over five to 10 minutes, it leaves behind an airy, bubbly white mask in place of the grayish paste applied a few minutes before.

Pearls ground into an ultra-fine powder have long been used in Asia as an enriching skin-care ingredient, and Korean women love this mask because of how refreshing the skin feels and how bright and clean the face becomes after its use.
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Exfoliating Mask
As a “road-shop” (i.e. drugstore) brand, I’ve always found Skin Food to be a hit or miss, but I absolutely LOVE the Black Sugar Honey line, which is derivative of the success of the original Black Sugar line.

The original Skin Food Black Sugar Wash-Off Mask is similar to Fresh’s Sugar Face Polish ($62 at Sephora), so much so that Vogue Korea pitted the two products against each other. They were deemed comparable in terms of exfoliating power, but Skin Food’s mask drew criticism for uneven and too big granules which can be harsh on sensitive skin.

This is where I feel the new wash-off mask improves upon the original. Though the granules aren’t super-fine or perfectly uniform, the addition of honey, which is known for its nourishing, hydrating, and anti-inflammatory properties, adds a syrupy, spreadable feel. The coarse grit gives a good scrub, while the soothing texture coats and cuddles your face into honey-soft, glowing smoothness.
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This sheet mask is soaked in enzymes from pineapples and lemons, plus salicylic acid, all of which gently exfoliate your skin.

Karuna Exfoliating+ Face Mask, $8, available at Sephora.
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Mineral Sheet Mask
Mediheal is known for its sheet masks, and the White Hydrating Charcoal Mineral Mask is one of its best-sellers — and proof that not all sheet masks are created equal.

Contrary to its name, the mask is black in color. The texture of the sheet is super-saturated. It’s also very smooth and less granular than you’d expect, containing micro-particles of charcoal.

The charcoal draws out impurities and helps the mask adhere closely, so your skin gets the maximum nutrients during your 20 minutes of treatment. The mask also contains niacinamide (boosts moisture and evens skin tone), açaí-berry extract (rich in antioxidants), and ceramides (maintain skin’s elasticity).
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Butterfly Sheet Mask
The "butterfly zone" is the horizontal mid-section of your face, extending from your nose out to both sides. It’s especially prone to pore problems like whiteheads and blackheads. This mask is shaped to concentrate on the butterfly zone and problems specific to it through “air therapy.”

Piping the gel-like contents of the syringe onto the sheet mask activates the solution of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). The reaction bubbles and tingles as the byproducts, sodium citrate and CO2, clean out and tighten pores.
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Hydrogel Mask
The After Shower hydrogel promises to recreate that super-clean and hydrated I-just-showered look — and it comes prettily packaged in pink, which doesn't hurt.

Moisture-boosting superstars sodium hyaluronate and sodium PCA (pyrrolidone carboxylic acid) join forces to plump up skin to look as fresh and dewy as it would right after stepping out of the shower. Camellia oil helps lock in moisture. The mask is ultra-hydrating; no wonder it’s a best-seller at Olive Young.
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Ampoule Mask
An ampoule mask is like a sheet mask with a sidekick. You apply a single-use ampoule first, and then a sheet mask blankets it to allow the contents to penetrate deep into the dermis.

Amorepacific’s version is unique because the sheet mask recreates the sealing effect of a modeling mask without the mess of peeling off rubbery bits from your face (and hair). The texture is unlike any sheet mask I’ve ever encountered; it reminds me of a cross between a face-compression bandage and pig skin. It’s slightly adhesive and moist on one side, and smooth and dry like a bandage on the other.

A little silver ampoule contains botanicals and nutrients, like the ever-potent red ginseng and bamboo sap, to firm and hydrate skin. Though the ampoule is tiny, I find that it takes two to three application rounds before the contents are depleted and I can move onto the sheet mask. The sheet mask binds to the face like shrink wrap.

Unlike sheet masks and hydrogels that leave your face shiny with a veneer of essence that’s yet to be absorbed, this one leaves skin completely dry to the touch but with an unquestionably dewy, hydrated plumpness.
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For a more-affordable option, look to Sally's Box, which includes three masks for $15.

Sally's Box Secret Garden Ampoule Masks Set, $15, available at Soko Glam.
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Cooling Mask
This crazy-looking mask is made of phase-change material, which sounds high-tech, but really just means it's a face-shaped ice pack. Its petal-shaped chambers are filled with water, which you cool in the freezer for a few minutes.

The cooling effect helps reduce inflammation — helpful if your face is bloating from a hangover. However, most people use it after a sheet mask since its cooling effect helps the skin absorb nutrients.
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Overnight Lip Mask
I'll never know what it’s like to finish a lip balm because mine are always disappearing. As a result, my lips often need help. Keep this lip conditioner on your vanity to apply overnight, and it'll intensely hydrate while you sleep. Pretty genius.

Though I love how easy it is to wake up to smooth, flake-free smackers, the thick, sticky texture of this lip mask pretty much says, “No sex for me, please.” The formula is so thick that just trying to separate your lips gets to be a gooey mess. The formula could use some tweaking, but in the meantime, I can appreciate that lip care is taking a step in the right direction.
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