Face masks are really hot right now! They come in all sorts of colors and textures and are marketed to cure just about any facial issue you can dream up. Recently, a friend asked me if I think it’s safe to use these face masks and, if so, which one and how often. While it’s difficult to give a blanket answer that covers everyone’s unique skin conditions, I’d like to offer some basic guidelines.

I’d like to begin by reminding everyone to choose “clean” skincare, which should override all of your skincare choices. While it’s difficult to list every single nasty ingredient to keep off your skin, I can offer some general categories to watch for. Choose products that are free of: parabens, phthalates, sulfates, petroleum, artificial fragrances and dyes. These are the main, most-studied chemicals shown to have a negative impact on skin and general health, and are pretty easy to spot on an ingredient label.


Masks can be used for a variety of skin complaints and come in so many forms. You can use a mask to add moisture to the skin, to ward off breakouts, to clear and tighten the pores, or to soothe inflamed skin. Here are some ingredients to look for to help you make a good product pick.

  • To hydrate: These masks are my all-time favorite because they feel so amazingly cool and moist on the skin. Look for ingredients like aloe, hyaluronic acid, jojoba, squalane, deuterium oxide, silk amino acids and honey to name a few.
  • To detox and deep-clean pores and blemishes: The best way to detox skin is to draw out the impurities with some sort of clay. Kaolin, lava clay and charcoal are my favorites. The various forms of retinol (vitamin A) also help to encourage skin cell turnover and clear those pores.
  • Acids like mandelic, tea tree oil and salicylic are great additions to an acne mask as well. Recently I have been using a detox mask that contains some peppermint oil, and it feels so fabulous. I love the tingle and clean feeling on my skin.
  • To soothe: Maybe you have spent too much time in the sun or the wind, or perhaps you are just going through a sensitive-skin period. Sometimes we need to tame the inflamed, red skin on our faces with a soothing mask. Choose masks with a base of aloe and hyaluronic acid similar to the moisture mask, but with additional soothing ingredients like avena sativa (oat), cucumber, chamomile, CBD, arnica and calendula. I suggest you keep these masks in the refrigerator for extra relief.


Sheet Mask: Many people like the ease of a sheet mask. I like these too, especially for travel. The other plus is that the ingredients stay nice and fresh in their sealed package until you use them. The negative is that the mask does not always fit the contours of every face, and you may have issues with getting complete coverage.

Creamy mask: These are my favorites. I like to keep mine in the refrigerator. I apply them generously and then lay on my bed and close my eyes for 15 minutes while the ingredients do their work. Clay-based creamy masks can be tough to remove. You can either jump in the shower right after to get a good rinse or take a warm, wet washcloth and put it over your entire face for the last 1-2 minutes of the treatment time. This serves two functions—it loosens the mask for easy removal and it helps the ingredients penetrate the skin. Plus it feels heavenly!

Peel off masks: To be honest, I am not a fan. Yes, it is very cool to apply a thin liquid to your face, feel it tighten so that when you look in the mirror you look 25 again, and then peel it off in sheets. It’s like peeling skin after sunburn—so darn addicting! However, it may not be so great for your skin. This type of peeling can damage the skin, depending on the type of mask you are using. If it is painful to remove your facial mask it is probably not so good for your skin. Recently there has been an internet craze where people make these masks using charcoal and glue and then record themselves in excruciating pain as they try to rip them from their face. Not a good idea…

Special masks for focused areas: You can buy special little masks to remove blackheads from your nose. I think they may be ok, but watch for the painful removal I referenced above. If it hurts, it is probably not a great choice. Another nice mask treatment are the gel masks you can put under your eyes for a deep hydration or to soothe puffiness. These are really great, and sometimes contain special ingredients like caffeine to deflate bags or super plumping and hydrating ingredients like Advanced BTX or liquid cholesterol to smooth out fine lines. I’m a big fan of these masks, but have similar positive benefits from using freshly cut, cold cucumber slices for this purpose.

Masks can be a great addition to your beauty routine when you choose your products with care and don’t overuse them. Once a week is all you should need to maintain your glow without overstripping or overtreating your skin.

I have only discussed a small sampling of the types of masks on the market, but you should experiment with different ones. Treating yourself to this weekly beauty treatment gives you permission to relax, nourish your skin and rest your busy head.

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.