If you’ve been keeping up with beauty magazines or social media over the last couple of years, you’ve probably seen your share of sheet masks. Back in the good old days, women would not have been seen in a mask. They went home and applied it in private, maybe with rollers in their hair. Nowadays, it’s all about taking selfies with a mask on the face or getting together with a group of friends for a DIY spa day. Today, let’s take a closer look at these products: Where did they come from, and why have they taken the beauty world by storm? And is this kind of facial mask a good mask for sensitive skin?
What Is a Sheet Mask?
When we say “sheet mask,” we are referring to the single-use facial masks that are usually sold in small foil packages. When rolled out of their pouches, you’ll find they are pre-soaked in ingredients designed to help the skin.
They can be made from cheap paper fibers, or thicker cotton or cellulose fibers. Some are even made of coconut pulp! They are generally white, but can be colored too, and when laid out flat they form the shape of a face, with holes cut out for the eyes, lips and nostrils. They spread out thinly over the face, like a sheet.
The first facial sheet masks came out of South Korea and spread rapidly throughout Asia. It’s only in the last couple of years that we have seen the trend coming to Europe and finally the USA. They are sold relatively cheaply in Asia, and are perfect one-time use packets designed for skin brightening, whitening, hydration, or anti-aging.
Where Are They Made, and Who Is Buying Them?
Asia-Pacific masks accounted for 76% of global sales in 2016, according to Mintel, a global leader in marketing. Europe followed at 16%, and the US had 8% of sales. China is the top manufacturer, accounting for 28% of the current world market in facial sheet masks, followed by Korea and Japan.
Where are they being sold? Everywhere from Sephora to Amazon. Just go online and search for “sheet masks,” and you will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of results. At the low end of the price margin, Amazon has started selling huge packs of masks from Korea and China, in boxes containing between 12 and 100 assorted masks for all occasions in a giant master box. Sephora and other beauty stores sell single-use masks by many different manufacturers, including some of the ones made in the USA. If you walk into Nordstrom, or any other higher-end store, and head to their beauty counter, you will see masks at the top end of the spectrum. Some of the largest skin care companies have also jumped on the bandwagon, and are selling masks of slightly better quality.
So...what is in them?
The Key Ingredients
Most of the sheet masks on the market are filled with water and water-based ingredients such as water-soluble vitamins for feeding the skin. There are also ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which is one of my personal favorite hydrators, and various extracts. Some of the Asian companies are using ingredients like sake (Japanese beer) extract, and special yeast that comes from the sake factories. Others use sea ingredients like algae, retinol, or snail secretions!
What Do They Cost?
The inexpensive end of the price scale is about $1 – 3 each. The top end is roughly $12 – 20 for a single-use packet.
What Does Ayr Skin Care Think About Them?
First of all, we love masks in general. We use masks regularly for moisture and hydration, as well as clay masks for exfoliation. As long as you are not claustrophobic, sheet masks may be a good way to try the facial mask experience at a low cost and with minimal fuss, to see if you like it.
The economics are all about personal preference. Many people think that buying a single-use mask for $3 – 20 might be better than buying an entire container of a cream mask, for example, that costs up to three times that amount. There’s no correct answer; it’s simply a matter of taste. We will share some the pros and cons however, so that you can make up your own mind.
Lastly, at Ayr we always have people with sensitive skin in mind. We look at one of these masks and ask “Is it a good mask for sensitive skin?” If a given product doesn’t meet that need, then, having sensitive skin ourselves, it’s probably not something we’d use.
The biggest pro seems to be the travel possibilities. In this age of having to strip down during air travel, and cram all of your hand carry toiletries in a small ziplock baggie, having a couple of small sheet masks in foil pouches is easy and convenient. You can travel with one that hydrates, for example, and maybe a charcoal mask that will draw out impurities. And both will easily fit into your ziplock bag.
They are also fun. There’s no arguing with the fun that people on Instagram are having, or how much fun you could have at a sleepover with a group of girlfriends, running about in face masks.
And of course they are easy to use and highly convenient.
The downside of facial sheet masks is also that they are convenient—by which we mean that they are already pre-soaked, and thus can be really, really wet. Some of the ones we tested were made of very cheap, thin material, like paper, and were so thoroughly soaked that they ripped easily when we tried to unfold them from the packets. It may be worth it, then, to go with a more expensive one made on a sturdier foundation like cloth or coconut.
However, the main problem we have with facial masks is the same problem that we have with many inexpensive, off-the-shelf skin products in general: What is in them? Many of them have ingredients that make them a poor mask for sensitive skin.
After looking at many brands, we found that most contained ingredients that might not work for all skin types. If you have sensitive skin, allergies, or are prone to breakouts, pay special attention to the ingredients. If you are sensitive to alcohol, know that many contain alcohol in them, which can be drying even for some people with normal skin. Many that we looked at contained fragrance, which causes a lot of sensitivity in many people. Many were preserved with parabens, which are a controversial preservative. Many people consider parabens to be carcinogenic. Butylene glycol also seemed to be a popular ingredient on labels. Butylene glycol is a humectant, which is great, but it is typically derived from petroleum sources and may contain traces of polyaromatic hydrocarbons which have been shown to be carcinogenic. Some contained 1,2 hexanediol which can be sensitive around the delicate eye area, and may cause some reactions or irritate the eyes.
Masks as a whole are one of the most popular items in skin care right now. They are beneficial to use once or twice a week for helping clarify, unclog, or hydrate the skin. They are valuable products for anti-aging treatments, and can help with reduction of pore size, brighten dull skin, or draw impurities from the skin.
Face masks in general, in our opinion, should be used as part of a regular beauty regime, but the choice to use a sheet mask in particular is completely individual. If you choose to jump onto the Instagram picture-taking, sheet-mask-wearing movement, then please do your homework. Read the label, know your ingredients as best as you can, understand at least the two or three things that might cause irritation to your skin, and choose your products wisely.
The good news is, even if you have a reaction, you have only purchased one single-use mask. If that one doesn’t work for you, there’s always another one to try!
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