Is Your Face-Masking Habit Making Your Skin Worse?

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
In difficult times like these, you might look to a handful of proven stress relievers: mindfulness meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, even sex. But, superficial as it may seem to someone who's spending their newfound free time reaching spiritual enlightenment for fun, there's no denying the soothing quality of a good face mask. Weeks into shelter-in-place orders, Instagram hashtags like #dailymask are racking up numbers as more and more of us get our daily relaxing beauty fix using hydrating sheet masks, exfoliating masks, and everything in between.
Whether you want to banish dry patches or reduce breakouts, the main goal of a face mask is to deliver potent ingredients into the skin in a short amount of time, hence why many are only advised to be left on for 5-10 minutes. But it's very easy to overdo it, and applying a face mask every evening — or even more than once a week — could be doing your skin more harm than good.
Coined "over-masking" by experts, the symptoms include redness, breakouts, itching, a burning sensation, dry, flaky, and even peeling skin, says Parisha Acharya, skin expert and aesthetic doctor at Waterhouse Young Clinic in London. "As much as we think we are giving ourselves a pampering session, overuse can result in harm and lead to sensitivity," Dr. Acharya says. "You can also strip the skin of its protective oils and friendly bacteria which are essential for maintaining healthy function of your skin."
Consultant dermatologist Anjali Mahto says, "Using multiple ingredients on the skin, especially if high in active ingredient, can result in disruption of the skin barrier." When the skin barrier is disrupted, you're likely to experience a number of negative changes. "This may result in issues with facial rashes, such as contact dermatitis or eczema," Dr. Mahto says, both of which can be characterized by dry, sore, flaky, and sometimes cracked skin.
That said, it isn't necessary to stop using face masks altogether, according to Dr. Acharya; it just pays to be a little more savvy. "It all depends on your skin type but also the type of mask you're using," she says. "For extremely sensitive skin, I would recommend using masks just once a week and ensuring the ingredients are suitable for your skin concerns. Hydrating masks can be used roughly twice a week, but exfoliating, brightening, or anti-aging masks should be used between 1-2 times a week." She adds, "It's also helpful to do a patch test to ensure you don't have a reaction to any of the ingredients before applying to the full face, and remember to only apply a single layer, being mindful of the time."
If you're a big fan of face masks, Dr. Acharya recommends "multi-masking" by applying different face masks to certain areas to target individual skin concerns. For example, concentrate a salicylic acid mask on areas where you're prone to blackheads, and a hydrating mask that boasts ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin on dry, dull places. "This is a good way to ensure your skin receives the correct ingredients in the correct areas," Dr. Acharya says.
Just like a good serum or moisturizer, you need to be consistent with using masks to get the best results. Dr. Acharya suggests using your chosen product for a 6-10 week period, and always using a clean brush to apply instead of hands, which can harbor bacteria. And as always, Dr. Acharya says, "Ensure that you supplement any mask with a good skin-care regimen to target and tackle your individual skin concerns."
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.

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