At Home Spa: Face Masks

At home pampering and self-care are essential rituals that can often be overlooked when things start getting hectic, but there are a few easy things you can do to transform your downtime into an at-home spa-day.

First, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite “me time" staples that is possibly so generic you may have overlooked it when considering ways to pamper yourself: face masks. There are actually a couple different kinds of face masks you can use depending on your skin’s needs. However, I recommend keeping a combination of the following on hand for when your skin undergoes natural changes with the seasons.

Tried and True: Clay

Clay is the most famous material for improving your skin. There are a few different types, but kaolin or bentonite clay is the best for absorbing sebum, the waxy substance your skin produces that can clog pores in excess amounts. I’ve noticed that clay masks will help strip blackheads, bring festering whiteheads to the surface quicker, and remove the top layer of dead, flaky skin that dulls your complexion. After removing a clay mask, my skin feels softer and my pores temporarily appear smaller (don’t believe products that advertise permanent shrinkage. As much as my orange-peel textured skin wishes that were possible, it just isn’t).

I recommend clay masks for either oily or combination skin once or twice a week at most. If you have dry, normal, or sensitive skin, clay can be too harsh and irritating as it dries. It’s even possible to aggravate oily skin by allowing it to get too dried out in this same manner (resulting in the overproduction of sebum, resulting in more acne), so use a lightweight moisturizer immediately after you remove the mask.

Clay masks do take the longest time to dry and the removal is undoubtedly messy. Make sure you use a rag you don’t care about soaked in warm water over the sink to wipe the clay from your face because this is the only way it will come off without damaging your skin.

While kaolin is the golden standard for beneficial clays, most store-bought masks are infused with other helpful ingredients like witch hazel or sea salt. You can easily find powdered, pure kaolin clay to buy in bulk online if you feel like mixing your own, but store-bought brands work just as well and are less messy. My favorites are below:

Formula 10.0.6 - Deep Down Detox Ultra Cleansing Mud Mask 3.4oz bottle – $5.99 at most drug and department stores

Queen Helene - Mint Julep Masque 8oz bottle – $3.99 at most drug and department stores

Lush Cosmetics - Cosmetic Warrior Mask 2.1oz container – $6.95 only at Lush Cosmetics stores

Low-Maintenance: Peel-Off

The clear, sticky peel-off mask is gaining popularity. This was a kind of face mask I was unfamiliar with until recently, but I enjoy using it when my skin is relatively clear but feeling rough or red. Peel-off masks are much gentler than clay masks, which makes them perfect for people who have sensitive or dry skin. The main ingredients in these masks are water and a combination of alcohol and other chemicals, the natural extracts like cucumber or pomegranate following a good couple entries later on the list.

These chemicals are needed to create the mask’s base—a clear, sticky substance that dries quickly and is able to be peeled off by hand without water. This results in a quick, easy application and removal that is significantly less messy than clay masks. However, try to avoid getting it in your hairline or eyebrows—without warm water, you may lose a few strands as you remove it. This is perhaps not the best option for people with naturally hairier faces.

Also, these masks give your face a plastic look when removed, so apply foundation if you’re going out for the day or use peel-offs at night—the shiny look will be gone and replaced with smooth, even-toned skin by morning. Since this is still a new kind of face mask for me, I’ve only tried a couple. So far, this is the only brand that I’ve liked and seen work on my combination skin and my friend’s normal, sensitive skin:

Freeman - Feeling Beautiful Cucumber Facial Peel-Off Mask 6oz bottle – $3.27 at Walmart

No Maintenance: Face Sheets

Unless you live by a Big Lots or outside of the U.S., you’ll have to hit the Internet to find these. The face sheet mask is amazingly popular in Asia but hasn’t quite caught on in America yet. The individually packaged sheets are made of a soft, liquid-soaked material with cutouts for your eyes, nose, and mouth and slits to conform to the shape of your face, and are extremely easy to use.

After applying it to your face, you can leave it for up to a half hour (there aren’t any consequences to keeping it on longer, but the mask is usually dry by this point) before simply peeling it off and rubbing the remaining “essence,” as the packages usually phrase it, into your pores. No water, no rag, no pain, no clean-up. Face sheets are perfect for when you are feeling particularly lazy during your “me time," but wear them at night or apply makeup after if you’re going out—it does make your face unnaturally shiny. Like the peel-off mask, this look disappears as your skin continues to absorb the substance.

You can use face sheets the most out of all kinds because they are so gentle. In contrast to clay masks, face sheets aim to deliver extreme hydration to your skin. This may sound like oily skin’s worst nightmare, but many people with pimples don’t realize that their pores may be getting clogged with both dead skin flakes from harsh acne products and excess sebum the skin produces in response to extreme dryness. However, if you are hoping to dislodge some blackheads or take other aggressive actions against acne, you will not see the results you’re looking for.

Even though there are dozens of different kinds with different uses to try (green tea, honey, blueberry, lemon, etc.) the first ingredients in face sheets are always water and a compound called butylene glycol. If you are into more natural ingredients, I recommend sticking to clay masks, but the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), FDA, and World Health Organization all agree the chemical is safe. It is used to keep substances from drying out, which is essential to the face sheet’s design.

The important thing is to read ingredients like you would food—while the chemicals are usually harmless, you want to make sure you’re getting enough of the extract you paid for. A good face sheet will list the natural extracts to be the third or fourth ingredient after water and butylene glycol. Here are some of my favorites:

The Face Shop - Real Nature Mask Line – $14.98 for 15 sheet assortment on Amazon

Etude House - Natural Pure Skin Care Facial Mask Sheet – $14.99 for 7 sheet assortment on Amazon

Missha - Pure Source Face Mask – $13.80 for 7 sheets on Amazon

Overall, face masks can be a really flexible way to treat yourself at home while doing other things in the meantime or while simply relaxing before facing the next day with brighter, smoother skin.