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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Whether you are a local, or an expat that lives in Singapore, one is struck by the stark weather of this equatorial city- constantly humid with temperatures rising above 30 degrees celsius. The cause of our sweaty pimply skin, simply put, Singapore’s weather causes bad skin-acne on the face, pimples on the chest and back. True or false?
Also, too many aesthetic clinics and medi-spas are advertising some sort of acne treatment for our humid climate, how does one know if it’s going to work? Does bad skincare cause problems and what exactly constitutes good skincare?
As many of my patients have asked, I share my top skincare tips on maintaining good skin in Singapore (which you could achieve on your own), and how to get treatment when you really need it.
Skincare Tip #1. If it’s bothering you, you may have a real skin problem. Do see a dermatologist.
Do you suffer from any of these: sensitive skin and break-outs if the products were not right? Constant red face? Having flaky itchy skin whenever you’re traveling? Always having a pimple breakout at that time of the month?
Acne on the chest and back is often actually a fungal infection known as pityosporum folliculitis. This sort of chest and back “acne” requires treatment with specific antifungal lotions and creams. People who are at risk include athletes or those living in a humid country like Singapore, as the constant sweating and the moist environment worsens it. When chest and back acne or fungal infections are left untreated, it leaves bad scars and even develops secondary bacterial infections.
If you always have a red face you may likely suffer from rosacea. Rosacea treatment is with correct oral antibiotics and creams before anti-redness lasers (to eradicate the blood vessels) are used. Rosacea is triggered off by hot climates, spicy foods, emotions in certain people who are at risk. It is likely to be related to increased blood vessel sensitivity as well as certain mites that live on your skin (demodex mites).
If you have any such symptoms, stop all skincare products and promptly seek the care of a dermatologist rather than self-medicate, or adopt a “wait-it-out’ attitude. Some skincare tips: Look for the labels “dermatologically tested and formulated” when it comes to choosing cleansers, moisturisers and cosmeceutical products. Avoid testing many different cosmetic products which have no scientific evidence proving effectiveness. Finally, where possible avoid dust, extremes of temperature and humidity, prolonged contact with sweat as these tend to worsen skin sensitivity.
Skincare Tip #2. Don’t use just any wash on your face, use a dermatologist-tested and formulated cleanser.
It almost feels like because Singapore is so warm we constantly need to keep washing and keeping clean because of the sweat! As a dermatologist, I’ve heard from many patients with acne how they struggle to wash their face 3 times a day and are puzzled that they still have pimples. Cleansers perform one function, they emulsify the dirt, oil and bacteria in the foam which is rinsed off with water. Acne not due to dirt or bacteria, although they both can worsen people who already are prone to acne, such as those who have a family history of acne, so no amount of washing can actually get rid of acne.
There is a difference between normal cleansers and those which are dermatologist-tested/formulated. Cleansers approved by dermatologists are gentle on the skin, due to a good balance of the lathering agent and use of quality ingredients that do not strip the skin dry of it’s natural moisture while cleansing effectively. I personally formulate a honey-based cleanser which is suitable for both oily skin and sensitive skin types in Singapore (honey is a natural emulsifying agent which also has anti-bacterial properties) for my patients. Here’s a skincare tip, cleansers that leave your skin feeling squeaky clean is usually a bad sign. Stop using your supermarket cleanser and start looking carefully for those “dermatologist-tested and formulated” labels.
Skincare Tip #3. Don’t buy more scrubs or clay masks to clean your face better.
It amuses me that most of my patients are shocked when they hear this from me, their dermatologist, almost as if I am wrong to say that. Dermatologists do not agree with a lot of what beauty companies/aesthetics providers (who are not qualified dermatologists) are telling the public. The beauty industry is limited by what they are allowed to use in their salons (none of the prescription medications that would actually work is found in these places) and are are very happy to include more products in your regimen to earn your dollar.
Dermatologists have seen way too many complications because of an incomplete understanding of the actual science of how skin behaves. Scrubbing with harsh beady grains of sand would work if your skin was made of wood, like sandpapering it down. In reality, you do not brighten or “exfoliate’’ your skin with that but rather you are causing damage and irritation to your skin, that’s maybe even the cause of your sensitive skin and red face problems.
Clay masks? Totally unnecessary even for oily and acne-prone skin types. The skincare tip here is to know that it’s actually the salicylic acid content in these masks that causes your acne to get better, but not without really dehydrating your skin after that (these masks are dry out your skin with an astringent). Most of my patients end up with a red itchy flaky face, on top of acne after they go on a clay-mask spree hoping that it would cure their oily face and acne.
Dermatologists do not prescribe clay masks for any skin problem because there are much more effective options for treatment of oily skin and acne. What counts in a skin treatment product is the active ingredient in these masks and products. So the skincare tip here is to start looking down the ingredient list of your next bottle!
Skincare Tip #4. Use cosmeceuticals but do thorough brand research first.
Haven’t heard of cosmeceuticals yet? It has become quite a fashionable word amongst the dermatologists community (for those in the know). It’s a marriage of two words “pharmaceuticals” and “cosmetics”. It’s actually referring to skincare with active ingredients best for skin that’s backed by dermatologists.
Am I too young? Or too old? Do i even need to get started? As a skincare tip for best results, start on cosmeceuticals early, in your twenties for maintenance of your youth. If you are already in your thirties and forties or beyond, fret not, cosmeceuticals are a useful adjunct to the laser/filler/botox treatments recommended by your dermatologist and help to enhance and maintain the effects of such anti-aging treatments.
There are a myriad of cosmetic brands that claim wonders. Unfortunately, cosmeceuticals are not regulated by the HSA and so are not bound to their claims. Hence, it’s difficult for the consumer to know if a given product can do what it claims it can do, contains the ingredients it claims to, or if the ingredients are even active forms?
Moreover, if the ingredients have phototoxic or photo reactive properties when exposed to the sun, among other concerns. What then? There is true evidence for the anti-aging properties of cosmeceuticals, but you are wise to consult a dermatologist before you buy. The HSA does not regulate the effectiveness of anti-aging products available without a prescription.
Skincare Tip #5. Go for a chemical peel or a medi-facial monthly at your dermatologist’s office in your twenties. Lasers in your thirties and beyond.
What is true about acne and the humid Singapore climate is that it all encourages the build up of dead keratin (read: skin flakes) which plug the pores and cause inflammation. Even if you don’t have acne, the build-up of keratin on your face with reduced skin turnover as one grows older, or due to environmental conditions such as exposure to pollutants and to sun. All these cause free-radical damage and accelerated aging, makes one’s face look dull and hence lose the bright complexion of one’s youth.
One of the best skincare tip we can give is a regular chemical peel (salicylic, lactic or glycolic acids as suited for your skin type should be determined by your dermatologist) or a medi-facial (I would use a vacuum handpiece with customised chemical peel solutions for patients), would reduce your chances of having oily acne-skin breakouts and reverse early signs of mild aging. It’s affordable as well. However, this alone will not work for a lot of patients with more severe acne/oily skin, for which they may require laser treatments to shrink oil glands or take oral isotretinoin for control of severe acne.