Is that expensive charcoal mask a skin saver or just soothing self-care?

By Mona Gohara, MD
February 25, 2020
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It is no surprise that face masks are among the most popular spa treatments—both at home and at the hands of a specialist. The tingling, the texture, the soothing smell, and the overall ahhhhh factor are all major draws. But are they just facial sensory frills, or do face masks work, for real?

Here is my take as a board-certified dermatologist: I think of face masks as the deadlift to my squat. A complementary move that offers more benefit when part of a bigger, more elaborate muscle-building routine. In other words, masks may offer some advantage alone, but they're more useful in the context of daily sunscreen, antioxidant, and retinol use. The synergistic effect of both together gives more radiance than either by itself.

To ensure that I wasn't alone on this, I polled top dermatologists from across the country to get their take on the matter. Here is what they say when asked, "Do face masks work?" (BTW, derms recommend these face masks for every skin type, condition, and concern.)

Do Face Masks Work?

Dermatologist 1: They offer immediate gratification.

"Masks are a great tool in the beauty arsenal—they give immediate gratification for a multitude of conditions including dryness, inflammation, redness, or even acne. Depending on what your skin type is, there is most likely a mask out there that can give you an instant boost." –Marnie Nussbaum, M.D., F.A.A.D., Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College

Her Must-Have Masks:

Dermatologist 2: They're more potent.

"Face masks are occlusive—they blanket the skin and drive products in deeply. Masks can deliver higher concentrations of active ingredients to plump, hydrate, and balance the skin." –Deirdre Hooper, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Louisiana State University and Tulane University

Her Must-Have Masks:

Dermatologist 3: They're great for targeted skin problems.

"I think masks are great for targeted skin problems, like dry or sensitive skin. In my practice, we recommend soothing masks post-light lasers and peels to decrease redness and speed healing." –Annie Chiu, M.D., Attending Dermatologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Her Must-Have Mask:

How to Choose and Use a Face Mask for Your Skin Type

To simplify, here is a quick reference guide for mask ingredients to look for based on skin type/condition:

A couple of last things to keep in mind. If DIY is your MO, remember these two important tips before you apply a mask:

  1. Make sure to wash the skin with a nourishing, pH-neutral, non-soap cleanser—the slate should be clean. Dove White Beauty Bar (Buy It, $7, walmart.com) is an easy and affordable choice.
  2. Use warm water to rinse, so pores open. This leaves a perfect canvas for the mask.
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