If all the social media snaps of celebrities in sheet masks haven't convinced you to give them a shot, maybe this will: the sheer variety of masks produced by the Asian beauty industry guarantees that whatever your skin concerns are, there's a mask (or five) to fit your needs.
Sheet masks — and their more advanced hydrogel cousins — are a quick and easy way to deliver concentrated doses of hydration and active ingredients into skin. Each individually packaged mask is drenched in essence, which can contain just about any ingredient under the sun, from run-of-the-mill humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid to proven actives like retinol and vitamin C. But it's not just the essence that makes the difference.
The true power of the sheet mask lies in the mask sheet itself. More specifically, it lies in the sheet's ability to prevent the essence from evaporating. "They provide more hydration than just a typical serum or essence because you're applying it and occluding it for 20 minutes," Dr. Arielle Kauvar, a dermatologist and the director of New York Laser & Skin Care, says. Instead of vanishing into thin air, all that hydrating, brightening, calming goodness absorbs deep into your skin. You get the glow of an intensive facial treatment in a tiny little packet that you can take just about anywhere.
Here's how to navigate the overwhelming selection of sheet masks that are available and find the ones to target your skin’s specific issues.
Problem: Skin as Dry as the Sahara
Harsh cleansing, dry environments, and poor lifestyle choices (like that one margarita that magically multiplied into a few too many) can leave skin feeling parched and looking rough. Put dry skin on an IV drip with a hydrating sheet mask. "Hydrating masks will have hyaluronic acid or another humectant, so their main ingredient will be a molecule that will cause your skin to retain more moisture," Dr. Kauvar says.
Tony Moly Pureness 100 Hyaluronic Acid Mask Sheet, $12.60/5 masks, available on Amazon: These pure cotton sheet masks plump skin up with plenty of glycerin and sodium hyaluronate.
Shangpree Snail Moisture Mask, $6, available at Peach and Lily: Glycerin and sodium hyaluronate make an appearance in this mask as well, along with snail mucin, which is naturally rich in skin-softening humectants and emollients.
Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Sheet Mask, $1.99, available at WishTrend: With sodium hyaluronate second on the ingredient list and a bevy of other proven hydrating and anti-inflammatory ingredients and extracts rounding out the recipe, this mask is everything the name implies.
Problem: Zombie Skin
Don't let late nights and high stress steal your skin's healthy glow. When it comes to brightening a dull complexion, no one outshines the Asian beauty industry. The exfoliating properties of vitamin C, which turn up in many masks, can aid in brightening, Dr. Kauvar explains. Other ingredients to look for are niacinamide, which has been proven by numerous studies to diminish hyperpigmentation and even out skin tone, and pearl powder or extracts, which provide an intense — though temporary — radiance.
Etude House I Need You, Vita Complex Mask Sheet, $0.95, available at Etude House: Containing both niacinamide and vitamin C, along with a potent cocktail of anti-inflammatory botanical extracts, this inexpensive mask gives tired skin a translucent glow.
Freeset Nano-Gold Moisturizing Mask Pack, $24.90/10 masks, available at YesStyle: This two-step mask treatment delivers a double dose of niacinamide, once in the serum step and once in the sheet mask itself. Additional brightening botanical ingredients, like coix seed and centella asiatica extract, intensify the effect.
My Beauty Diary Black Pearl Mask, $11.99/10 masks, available at Amazon: This perennial favorite combines the brightening power of pearl extract with the classic My Beauty Diary intensive hydrating and calming essence. [Ed. note: This brand is Taiwanese, not Korean.]
Problem: A Cranky Complexion
From allergens to detergents to your boyfriend's beard, any number of irritants can make your skin act up. Even the act of traveling can result in a blotchy, irritated face. To calm your complexion down, look for anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe barbadensis and camellia sinensis (green tea) leaf extract. Don't be afraid to make good use of a calming sheet mask on a long-haul flight, either. "You can take them with you on the plane without it being counted as a liquid, which makes them great for that purpose," Dr. Kauvar says. And when they're chilled, these sheet masks are even better.
Etude House I Need You, Green Tea Mask Sheet, $0.95, available at Etude House: With 20 mg of camellia sinensis leaf extract, Etude House's comforting, hydrating sheet mask calms an upset complexion in 15 minutes flat.
Benton Snail Bee High Content Mask Pack, $18.50/10 masks, available at Amazon: Snailed again! Camellia sinensis leaf water is the base of this sheet mask, renowned for its complete lack of filler ingredients; aloe barbadensis leaf extract further helps to soothe inflamed skin, while snail secretion filtrate hydrates and repairs the effects of irritation.
Whamisa Organic Seeds & Rice Fermented Hydrogel Facial Mask, $9, available at GlowRecipe: Whamisa's 95% organic, 100% natural fermented hydrogel masks have been getting a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. The luxurious blend of anti-inflammatory adenosine and botanical soothers like aloe barbadensis leaf extract rejuvenates skin like no other.
Problem: A Little Bit of Everything
Memebox Meme Mask Intensive Moisturizing Hydrogel, $10/5 masks, available at Memebox: Finally, do you just need a well-rounded, multi-tasking cure for a generally battered complexion? With glycerin for hydration, niacinamide for brightening, and adenosine and aloe barbadensis leaf extract to reduce irritation and inflammation, Memebox's Meme Mask is, well, everything.