When peel-off face masks — the formulas that begin as gels or creams and then dry to rubber-like sheets when you let them set on skin — began to trend recently, they led us to reminisce about the pore strip standbys of our teen days. There's something intensely satisfying about peeling a hardened mask off your face, revealing a smooth, exfoliated, glowing layer of baby softness underneath.
There's also something appealing about the shareable nature of them; snapping a selfie mid-peel-off is basically a requirement in the age of social-media-driven beauty. But though it's easy to love how cool (creepy?) they look on camera, how legit are they really? Is it worth swapping your traditional clay face mask for a peel-off one instead? We asked an expert.
As it turns out, the peel-off mechanism itself isn't doing much for your skin, says Dr. Julie Russak, a dermatologist in New York City. It's more about the ingredients and how they're being delivered while the mask is actually on your skin. Because they sit on skin's surface without evaporating for extended periods of time (typically at least 10 minutes or longer), peel-off masks are able to deliver high concentrations of ingredients to the skin rapidly.
"Peel-off masks usually contain lower concentrations of alpha or beta hydroxy acids — the two most common ingredients are glycolic and salicylic acid," explains Russak. "The high concentration of alcohol in the masks thins the solutions so they better penetrates the skin. Polyvinyl alcohol reacts with the air quickly, and within 10 to 15 minutes, the mask will dry completely and form a hard, dry layer that can be peeled off." Simple enough.
Russak also broke down exactly which peel-off formulas are best for different skin types: If you have oily or acne-prone skin, look for a glycolic- or sulfer-based mask to absorb any gunk in your pores. Masks with salicylic acid also help with exfoliation to prevent breakouts from forming. But if you're looking to soften the appearance of fine lines and leave your complexion looking plump and smooth, look for glycolic acid (which speeds cell turnover) and hyaluronic acid (which hydrates). "For dryness or irritation, look for soothing or moisturizing ingredients, like cucumber and aloe vera," says Russak.
Chloe Hall, Fashionista's social media manager and combination skin haver, put seven of the most popular peel-off masks of the moment to the test, giving us her uncensored first impressions as she slathered each one on (and then peeled them back off). Click through the gallery below for her honest take — and to find out which product left her feeling like a "gilded angel."
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