In times of need, some reach for a bar of chocolate or take up residence at the bottom of a large vodka tonic. But the beauty-conscious are increasingly turning to face-shaped bits of fabric soaked in “serum” – or, as they are commonly known, sheet masks.
Packed with supernatural-sounding ingredients such as ceramide, glutathione, propolis and hyaluronic acid, these promise to zhoozh you up in minutes, enlivening your tired old face, leaving your skin gleaming, your clogged pores a memory and your fine lines beaten into submission.
Some devotees of this Korean beauty craze will use two or three sheet masks in one session or on successive days to ensure they are red-carpet ready. But is “multimasking” really worth it? Usually, I am a once-a-month masker, chucking on an exfoliator to strip away a year or two, but that is it. To find out if I was missing a trick, I have just spent a week working my way through 20 or so sheet masks.
Sheet masks are not new by any stretch, but they are the fastest-growing format in facial skincare, with sales up 48% in the latter half of 2018. Famous male users such as Chris Pratt, Armie Hammer and Ozzy Osbourne have all aired masking selfies on social media. With the male face-mask market worth £5.7m, some brands have launched bloked-up masks with monotone packaging and dude-bro names, but most men seem happy to keep things gender-neutral.
I threw myself face-first into my regime: cleansing, brightening, hydrating, plumping – I wanted it all. Most of my masks came from Birchbox or Facetory, which will ship you a selection of the latest K-beauty miracles for a monthly fee, perfect for anyone starting out or bamboozled by the scale of choice. As someone whose face regularly resembles the gravel at the bottom of a fish tank, I was looking for nourishment: my favourites included Facetory’s creamy Moon Velvet, 23 Years Old’s Cocktail Velvet Petit Mask, and G9 Skin’s Milk Bomb. Creamy, velvety – yes, my aim was to look like sumptuous yoghurt.
It didn’t take long to become hooked. I gingerly applied my first masks – a foamy rice-bubble cleansing mask, followed by a creamy velvet moisturising one – but once I saw the radiance that a few minutes of looking like a slimy ghost could give me, I wanted more. My skin was noticeably clearer and brighter; my face felt as if it had been cleaned with alien technology. Aware that I had to keep at it if I wanted to stay looking so good, I became a multimasking expert fast, categorising masks by function to work out the best combinations, before lining up sheet-mask cocktails for the following morning. My usual exfoliation and toning would be followed by repairing, moisturising and brightening masks in that order, with a luxurious velvet moisturising mask set aside for night-time. Result? My skin felt like the finest Egyptian cotton.
Some combinations worked better than others: I learned that not every mask likes being in a tag team – too many moisturising masks left my face wet and sloppy – and that I needed to take note of a mask’s major ingredient or fragrance. Banana followed by wasabi and a touch of camomile can leave you ponging like the bins behind a food court.
It wasn’t all good news for my skin. On one day, after yet another 20 minutes of misery under a sopping, sliding hyaluronic mask, I looked like a greasy waxwork and my skin felt clammy and itchy. But I was not quite ready to put masking behind me – until I discovered that sheet masks are available for almost every body part and got my hands on some bum masks.
With a range of supposed benefits including the eradication of orange-peel skin and lifting your cheeks, Bawdy’s masks aim to get you bikini-ready in no time. I have certainly had less dignified Saturday nights than lying face down with my behind covered by sheets smeared in marine algae, but, as refreshed as I felt after that rather unsettling quarter of an hour, I did not feel sufficiently pert to snap, let alone post, the packaging’s suggested “buttfie”.
In a way, sheet masks’ fleeting enchantment is a plus. If you don’t like the effects, you can move on quickly; they are inexpensive enough that you can take the hit. Manufacturers are wise to the appeal: nothing says you are time-rich and devoted to self-care better than a selfie, with sheet masks like angry monkeys, grinning cats or demure opera queens – much more attractive to the discerning Insta-follower than the regular off-white slop.
Masking is not for the relentlessly busy – you need between 10 and 20 minutes a mask – and my routine did involve warning friends that spontaneity was subject to the speed I could whip my masks on and off. The beauty of multimasking for me was taking the time out to do it. More industrious maskers might have a go at the kitchen cupboards while lathered up – but not me. When else would could you justify lying down, wide awake, for the best part of an hour, without an excuse?
It’s also not the most eco-friendly skincare habit: while some masks are made of cotton, which is biodegradable, much of the packaging and mask backings are made of plastics which are not always recyclable.
By day seven of continual masking, I was getting rather too confident at being dewy-skinned. I breezed on to public transport and into meeting rooms as if my face owned the place, batting away compliments with the standard response: “Oh, just lots of sleep and plenty of water.” I felt more youthful and confident, with an unexplainable verve, and my masking reposes had become my favourite time of day. Once my experiment ended, my sheen quickly dulled. One mask a month will never again be enough. Not only am I ready for my close-ups, I positively encourage them. Close as you like; no filters necessary.
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