Beauty PSA: If Your Face Mask Hurts, You're Doing It Wrong

No matter the culture or era, the pursuit of beauty is often dogged as a trivial one — and nothing gives it legitimacy, backbone, and substance quite like the idea that “beauty is pain.” It’s an effed up message that may take a room full of psychologists to unravel. It’s also the thing that makes us think that the burn of hydroxy acids and redness brought on by retinol are vital signs that show our active skin-care ingredients are actually working.

One thing’s for sure: Pretty hurts is a potent message that is lodged firmly in our collective unconsciousness. What else could explain the recent rise in painful face mask removal videos uploaded to social media? In clips posted to Twitter and YouTube, women subject themselves to a hellish torture, grunting, crying and cursing their way through the process of peeling off a face mask as skin is pulled to shocking proportions. It’s not supposed to be this hard, you guys. Still, we have questions.

Can tugging at these thick, tar-like masks and pulling the bejesus out of skin ever possibly be the way to a clear, blackhead-free complexion? Should something as simple as an at-home face mask cause this much suffering?

We took our query to no-nonsense skin pro Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules, who immediately got down to brass tax: "I wouldn't recommend using a face mask that hurts,” she says. “There should be no pain involved in at-home facial treatments.”

Her warning to avoid the face-mask-as-torture-device route is not just about choosing comfort. Dr. Jaliman notes that ripping away at a tar-like substance can also damage the skin in several different ways.“The biggest problem I've seen with pulling a mask off like this is breaking blood vessels in the skin,” she warns. (And the good doctor knows of what she speaks: Several years ago, Dr. Jaliman herself experienced something similar, which resulted in broken blood vessels on the chin — something that required three pricey and time-consuming sessions with a laser to fix.)

But that’s not all. The derm notes that such severe pulling at the skin can also weaken its structure and cause premature sagging. “Tugging on the skin like this is putting a lot of excess pressure on the collagen and elastic tissue,” she points out. And don’t even think about applying one of these bad boys over a zit: That can worsen an infection and deepen inflammation. Finally, those with sensitive skin or eczema are primed to experience even more pain with these masks, to zero benefit.

Bottom line: Is there any scenario in which trying a hard-to-dislodge face mask makes sense — whether spot treating or applying the mask to the entire face? Our pro says no. When faced with congested skin, Dr. Jaliman suggests a good, old-fashioned facial with blackhead extraction as a means of treatment. It’s a treatment that can not only help safely clear skin, but does wonders to dismantle the bunk “beauty is pain” ethos. So long, suffering.
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