Want to add a face mask to your routine but don’t know which one or how? In this article we answer the 7 commonest questions on face masks, including excerpts from Skincare Bible: Dermatologist’s Tips for Cosmeceutical Skincare by Dr. Teo Wan Lin, dermatologist at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre.
Do sheet masks work as well as traditional masks?
Sheet masks work on the basis of occlusion, meaning when there’s a topical which is applied on the skin and also in contact with something moist such as a sheet mask, there is increased absorption of the topicals by the skin. The question of efficacy is not so much of whether it is a traditional mask (presumably referring to clay masks or gels applied onto skin as it is) or sheet mask, but really depends on what is the active ingredient contained in the mask. With precise active ingredients, the type of mask (sheet or gel for instance) becomes secondary in terms of efficacy, as in my practice for example, whenever I want to increase absorption of any topical that is dispensed to patients, I would advise them to apply a wet cotton sheet (as a wet wrap) on to their face to increase absorption.
Are overnight masks more effective?
It is too much to generalise to say that overnight masks are more effective because it really depends on the active ingredients. All sleeping mask formulas are the same as moisturisers, as these are leave-in rather than wash-off ingredients. They work by absorbing onto the skin to produce moisturising effects. In leaving a topical on the skin for more than 12 hours for example, it would be important to first ascertain suitability of the ingredients, preservative and vehicle, including concentrations and types, and all of the components being intended to be applied on the skin for an extended period and not as a wash off.
It is really a good marketing invention, because this encourages people to apply the proper amount of moisturiser, which is a really liberal amount, overnight, as during the day they may not be as inclined to because of whitish cream residue that may be seen under makeup. If the active ingredients contain irritating substances such as lactic, salicylic, glycol acids or retinols, one could actually develop skin irritation or skin allergies from masking over an extended period. Most topicals would be fully absorbed into the skin within a couple of hours, so it’s not necessary to leave something on overnight. It is more important to consider that a liberal amount of a good moisturiser is used during sleep, as that is when the skin repairs itself.
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Is it necessary to mask the skin? What are the benefits of masking?
I would consider masking as something which is very good to do if you are already diligent with other aspects of skin health such as cleansing and applying cosmeceuticals. Using a face mask would deliver moisture to the skin and include ingredients (wash-off) which cannot be incorporated into leave-on moisturisers. The benefits of masking is largely associated with increasing skin moisture, so it is important to look out for ingredients such as glycerin, ceramide and hyaluronic acid, as well as potent antioxidants which can be plant derived.
Can you overdo masking? If yes, how do you know if you are overdoing it?
If you are using some form of cosmetic clay masks, I do not recommend doing so as these frequently contain astringents which excessively dries out the oil on one’s face using salicylic and lactic acids, typically marketed as products for acne prone skin. I do not recommend any of my acne patients to do that because when they are on medical treatment for acne, a common side effect is dry dehydrated skin. Conversely, one who is doing a home masking regimen that is marketed for reducing oily skin as well as acne, in place of seeking medical treatment for acne, it is possible that he or she ends up using masks containing salicylic and lactic acids (or clay derived products that dries out the skin) too often and may develop skin allergies or eczema. Overdoing masking in this case leads to skin that is dry, irritated, flaky and some people may develop more severe reactions. It is therefore important to get your skin condition properly diagnosed by an accredited dermatologist, rather than simply relying on DIY methods.
My preference for a wash-off face mask is a gel mask formula – Amino Acid 360° Masque. This enables a gentle, non-astringent effect, delivers vitamin C(for acne scars) and other antioxidants in a soothing gel that can be refrigerated to cool post-laser/chemical peel skin, and can also be tolerated by eczema/rosacea patients as well.
Can you mask daily?
Yes definitely. When the mask contains cosmeceutical active ingredients clinically proven to work on skin, these help to reverse the process of photoaging can have a skin brightening effect. As long as the mask delivers moisture and appropriate antioxidant ingredients instead of astringents (such as clay or charcoal) there is no limit to the number of times one can mask. Another tip I have for budget DIY masks? Use your favourite ceramide-based moisturiser this way. For intensive treatment, apply a liberal amount of this moisturiser up to 3 times a day and on top of it use a soft damp cotton towel or the blank mask sheets (without essences) to increase absorption.
Can you combine different masks at one time? Or use one after another? And if so, what are some good combinations to follow?
I would not recommend that because of the types of ingredients that may be present in masks that specifically target for example oily skin. In this case, some people may consider their T zone to be oilier and decide to use salicylic or lactic acid infused mask for those areas and a hydrating mask for other areas. In theory, this may seem like a good idea. However, from a dermatologist’s perspective, it is much more efficient in the treatment of oily skin, to apply chemical peel that contains a higher concentration of salicylic acid, lactic acid or glycolic acid as a procedure done at a dermatologist’s office and subsequently rinse it off, rather than having very low concentrations present in a leave-on mask, because the effects will most likely be not as good and over time, may cause skin irritation.
Are there certain masks better suited for certain skin types (eg: peel-off, clay, cream for dry skin, oily skin etc.)?
I typically do not recommend astringent masks (which may include those marketed as clay types or for oily skin) for any skin condition, even super oily skin, because these are not proven to help acne treatment. The face mask that I would recommend would be those for skin moisturisation.
How do you choose the right mask if you have a few different skin problems (eg: dull complexion, dehydrated skin, breakouts all at once) – which skin problem should you address first?
The key thing here is looking at the root of each of these conditions and treating them. For example, a dull complexion is actually related to the ageing process where the skin cells turnover at a slower rate than somebody who is more youthful. In terms of addressing this problem, I would recommend using cosmeceuticals which are applied on to the skin and absorbed, together with chemical peels as well as lasers if necessary as recommended by your dermatologist. Dehydrated skin is quite tricky, because if your skin is so dry that it starts flaking or becomes red, you may be suffering from a form of facial eczema and it is important to have it treated medically, understanding that this is not about face masking at all. In terms of breakouts, acne itself is considered a medical condition that can be treated. It is also not treatable by skincare or face masks on their own. If the acne is severe enough, one may require oral medications, or if it is hormonal, medications like oral contraceptive pills may help to control the underlying problem.
Must I follow strictly to the time stated on the instructions during mask applications? What can go wrong if the mask is applied for longer than required?
For sheet masks, when the mask has dried up due to the process of evaporation, there would really be no point in applying that to one’s skin as there will be no extra benefits. Also, if the active ingredients contain something which is meant to control oil production, it can cause the skin to be very irritated and dry with excessive application. In fact, it may cause problems as excessively long application could increase the likelihood of skin allergy towards such active ingredients.
With clay masks or other types of astringent masks for example, it can certainly cause the skin to develop facial eczema when applied for too long.
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The 360° Conscious Mask Bar also comes with private access to skin and haircare masterclasses by Dr. Teo Wan Lin. The dermatology masterclass series focuses on the science of skincare/haircare and the treatment of common dermatological conditions such as rosacea, acne and eczema. Class material includes video tutorials, transcripts and worksheets. A private access code will be sent to your inbox with the purchase of the Mask Bar System.masks, skincare products, Skincare routine