Sheet masks are our favorite little luxury! They’re an affordable way to get some self-care and pampering in, but they offer the kind of results you can get from a gentle professional facial. They originally became popular as part of the big rise in Asian beauty exports, and like many other new product categories, they’ve become staples in many an international beauty routine.
If you’d like to introduce some sheet masking into your life, we’re here to help! We’ve already reviewed the best sheet masks you can buy, so this article gets deep into everything else you might want to know about sheet masks, like how they work, what their benefits are, and how you can add them to your self-care regimen.
In this article:
- What Are Sheet Masks?
- How Do Sheet Masks Work?
- Sheet Mask Benefits
- What Are Sheet Masks Made of?
- Are Sheet Masks Bad for the Environment?
- Choosing the Best Sheet Mask for Your Skin Type & Concern
- How Often Should You Use a Sheet Mask?
- How to Use Sheet Masks Properly
- Sheet Mask Tips to Know
- 3 Effective DIY Sheet Masks to Try at Home
What Are Sheet Masks?
Sheet masks are basically pieces of fabric soaked in serum or essence. They’re cut in a shape designed specifically to fit the contours of the face, with holes for the eyes, nostrils, and mouth. The fabric itself is usually made of cellulose, cotton, although there are also gel and rubber variations that may not technically qualify as sheet masks, although they work similarly.
The essence that saturates the sheet mask varies from brand to brand, but they do generally have a few things in common. The essences are always formulated to be very hydrating, although they can contain additional skincare ingredients with more specific effects, like soothing or brightening the skin.
It’s not easy to find out which brand (or even country) originated sheet masks. What we do know for sure is that they were likely developed based on the lotion pack method. This method, which was invented by the late Japanese esthetician and writer Chizu Saeki involved soaking cotton pads in a hydrating toner or essence (which they actually call ‘lotion’ in Japan) and then applying them to the skin just like we do a sheet mask, today.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see sheet mask selfies on Instagram or to see beauty-conscious travelers pop them on a flight. They look unique, and they’re incredibly convenient to use, so it’s no surprise that they became so popular!
How Do Sheet Masks Work?
Sheet masks can get you likes on Instagram, but beyond that, they can give your skin a really lovely boost.
The sheet mask is soaked in the exact same type of water-based essence that you could probably purchase separately from the brand. However, the sheet itself has its own added effect on the skin, which is more dramatic than just applying the product to your skin like normal.
Because of the way the sheet mask adheres to the skin, it creates an occlusive seal over it and prevents the moisture in the product from evaporating. Instead of fading into the air or rubbing off, the essence soaks into the skin as deeply as it can over the course that the mask is worn.
The result is that the skin gets a very deep level of hydration and nourishment. After using a sheet mask, you can expect your skin to look glowy and plump, and it should also feel incredibly soft.
Sheet Mask Benefits
So now that we understand how they work, let’s really get into the benefits of sheet masks, one by one.
Sheet masks give an unparalleled level of hydration and plumpness to the skin within just 15 to 20 minutes. These fast results from a single-use are great for those who are usually impatient when it comes to skincare.
Unlike other face masks, sheet masks are physically much more occlusive, which means that they don’t allow any of the product to evaporate. The essence within the mask has nowhere to go except into your skin, so you end up with an immense level of hydration.
Thanks to their ability to deeply hydrate the skin, sheet masks can also reverse dullness to restore a really beautiful, glass-like reflectiveness. If you wake up one morning feeling dull and mundane, a sheet mask will get you glowing in no time.
Specific Ingredients Bring Specific Effects
As with many other skincare products, sheet masks can also deliver more specific benefits to your skin, depending on how they’re formulated. Some ingredients, like allantoin and green tea, can soothe away redness, while others like vitamin C and licorice root extract can counter hyperpigmentation. Look for a specific sheet mask that’ll target your specific skin concerns with its effects.
Cheaper Than Spas
Whether we’re talking about cost or time, sheet masks are definitely more affordable than spas, and they don’t force you to lose an hour from your day. The average sheet mask only costs $4-$14, while a comparable spa treatment will usually be $50 at a minimum.
Simple and Easy
With most masks, you have to rub the product into your skin and then rinse it off. In some cases, the removal process is quite a hassle.
With sheet masks, however, there are no such issues! You just smooth them on your skin, without the need for a special brush. That’s why they’re so popular on-the-go, even in airplanes. Once it’s time to remove the mask, you can just massage the remaining essence into your skin, and you’re all good.
What Are Sheet Masks Made of?
Sheet masks can be split into two components: the fabric and the essence. The combination of components can have a surprising impact on the final product!
Common Sheet Mask Fabrics
There are a few different materials that sheet masks can be made of, and each brand will tell you that theirs happens to be the best. In reality, most sheet mask materials are fine choices that behave fairly similarly.
We’re all familiar with cotton! It’s a soft, natural fiber derived from the cotton plant. In sheet masks, the material is usually non-woven, so it’s very soft and pliant but also a little flimsy. In most instances, it’s also biodegradable.
Also called Tencel or lyocell, this is the next most common material for sheet masks. It’s derived from tree pulp, so it’s biodegradable, and yet, it’s incredibly soft. It’s a popular alternative to cotton, and it often makes for a more durable sheet mask.
Foil sheet masks are usually composed of a layer of cotton with a layer of foil on top. These masks can seem a little gimmicky at first, but they’re pretty cool. While sheet masks already take a while to dry, the added layer of foil totally prevents evaporation, so the masks retain the product for even longer. These masks can be worn for longer than the average sheet mask, and they give incredible nourishment.
Hydrogel masks have a gel-like consistency and a transparent appearance, and yet, they’re thicker than the average sheet mask. They’re incredibly hydrating as a result, and also have a powerful cooling effect.
Bio-cellulose masks are somewhere between cellulose and hydrogel, with a truly unique, skin-like texture. They’re considered the newest sheet mask innovation, although in practice, we think they’re comparable to the other formats.
Sheet Mask Essences
The second component of the sheet mask is the essence or serum. These essences usually have a very thin, liquidy texture that’s suitable and pleasant for all skin types. They’re almost always rich in water, followed by humectants, which are ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or butylene glycol that can attract moisture into the skin.
Beyond that, they can contain a ton of other beneficial skincare ingredients! It’s not uncommon to see cult ingredients from Korea, like snail mucin or propolis, but they can also contain more mainstream skincare ingredients like aloe vera, peptides, retinol, and more.
Are Sheet Masks Bad for the Environment?
One issue that’s worth acknowledging is that sheet masks are more wasteful than many other skincare products. While they’re not harmful to your skin, they can create a lot of waste, especially if you use them on a daily basis.
There are a few ways to minimize the level of waste you create with your sheet masks, however. First of all, these days, many sheet mask packages are recyclable. Check for a label on the bag, and if it’s recyclable, simply give it a rinse and toss it in the correct bin.
Second, remember that most sheet mask fabrics are biodegradable. After using a biodegradable sheet mask, give it a rinse, and then place it in the compost bin instead of the trash.
You can also try and buy sheet masks from brands that sell a few packaged together instead of individually wrapped masks. Lululun, for example, is a great brand with large packs of folded sheet masks that are packaged together.
Finally, if you’re a fan of DIY, you can make your own washable sheet mask out of an old cotton T-shirt, as we explain below.
Choosing the Best Sheet Mask for Your Skin Type & Concern
- Those with combination skin can have fun with practically any type of sheet or rubber mask.
- If you have dry skin, pick ones with extra-hydrating ingredients, like ceramides, squalane, or botanical oils.
- Sheet masks with purifying ingredients, such as charcoal, tea tree oil, or salicylic acid, are the best bets for those with oily skin. You’d better avoid ones with too emollient oils, though.
- Sensitive skin types should pick sheet masks with soothing ingredients, such as green tea extract, centella asiatica, or niacinamide.
- If you have acne-prone skin, go for sheet masks with soothing ingredients, too, including niacinamide and centella asiatica extract.
- The best sheet masks for mature skin types are ones made with antioxidants and anti-aging ingredients, like peptides, retinol, niacinamide, vitamin C, vitamin E, and fruit extracts.
- If you are dealing with hyperpigmentation, try masks with brightening licorice root extract, vitamin C, and niacinamide.
How Often Should You Use a Sheet Mask?
Most sheet masks are basically super-charged essences, so you can use them every day as part of your moisturizing routine. Most people don’t have the extra 20 minutes a day to apply a sheet mask. You can use them to give your skin a boost as often as you like, whether that’s a few times a week or just in the lead-up to special events.
It’s worth noting that some sheet masks are a little more intense than others and may contain skin-resurfacing ingredients like retinol or salicylic acid. In that case, you should treat them exactly as you would a serum with those same ingredients, which means introducing them into your routine slowly to watch out for signs of irritation. For those with sensitive skin, they might be too intense for daily use.
Finally, it’s worth considering cost, as well. If you do think you’d like to make sheet masks part of your daily routine, make sure to buy masks that come in large sets rather than individual ones.
How to Use Sheet Masks Properly
It’s hard to go totally wrong when it comes to sheet masks, but there are still some best practices you should consider. For optimal results, make sure to follow our guide.
Step 1: Prep Your Skin
Always start with clean skin! If you’re planning to use the mask in the morning, you can just splash your face with a bit of water, while in the evening, make sure to remove all makeup and cleanse your skin thoroughly. If you’d like to stick to a Korean-style routine, you can double cleanse, as well.
You can also exfoliate your skin to remove dead skin cells, which will allow the ingredients in the sheet mask to do an even more dramatic job of nourishing your skin. You can use a chemical exfoliant or a gentle scrub.
In general, you shouldn’t exfoliate your skin more than a few times a week, so if you’re a daily sheet masker, you probably shouldn’t exfoliate every time.
After washing, you can apply your favorite toner on your face either with a cotton pad, or by patting it into the skin.
Next, apply any additional essences or serums that are part of your normal skincare routine, either by patting them into the skin or with a gentle massage.
Step 2: Use the Mask
- Open the mask package and take the mask out carefully so as not to spill any essence anywhere. The packaging might still have a lot of essence inside that dripped off from the mask, in which case you can set it aside to use the following day again.
- Pick up the mask and bring it up to your face. Hold it so that the holes in the mask line up with your eyes, nose, and mouth. First, the mask will bunch up quite a bit and might even have some folds.
- With the length of your fingers, gently smooth the mask over your skin, so it adheres better, without any bubbles. Start by smoothing it over your nose, and then work your way outwards to get it to lay flat over the rest of your face.
- Now it’s time to relax as the mask does its job. You can watch a bit of Netflix, meditate, or do some light reading for as long as the mask remains moist, which will normally be 15-30 minutes. If you’re in a rush, you can remove the mask sooner.
Step 3: Remove the Mask
- To actually remove the mask, you just need to peel it off, doesn’t matter in which direction. Your skin will still be a little sleek with essence, so massage that into your face and neck until it’s fully absorbed.
- If necessary, seal everything in with your favorite moisturizer. Those with oily skin may find that the mask is hydrating enough on its own and that they don’t need this added step.
- If it’s daytime, make sure to also apply a good amount of sunscreen to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun.
- Finally, with your skin hydrated and happy, you can do your makeup if you wish or leave your skin bare to let the world admire its glow.
- As for the used sheet mask, don’t use it again unless you know for a fact it’s reusable. If your sheet mask is biodegradable, rinse it under the tap, and then toss it in the compost bin.
Sheet Mask Tips to Know
Our previous guide should have given you all the info you need about using a sheet mask, but we still have a few additional tips and reminders.
- Never wash your face using a sheet mask. The ingredients in the sheet mask are incredibly beneficial, and they’re designed to stay on the skin, so just massage it in like you would a serum.
- Sheet masks are even nicer and more soothing if you use them cold, so store your sheet mask in the fridge instead of the bathroom cabinet.
- After you use your sheet mask, you’ll probably still have a lot of essence left at the bottom of the bag it came in. Carefully put the bag back in the fridge, and then use the left-over essence the following day, just like you would a serum. However, keep in mind that if you forget about it for a few days, it’ll spoil.
- If you’d rather not constantly spend money on new sheet masks, try making your own following one of our recipes!
3 Effective DIY Sheet Masks to Try at Home
While sheet masks can certainly be affordable, they’re also a little wasteful. That’s why we wanted to give you some suggestions for making your own DIY sheet mask in a way that’s less wasteful and also eco-friendlier.
DIY Sheet Mask
To make your own reusable sheet mask, you’ll need some paper, scissors, a pencil, and an old T-shirt or other garment made of soft cotton.
- First, print out this image on a piece of paper to make your pattern.
- With scissors, cut along the outside circle, and then also cut out along the perforated lines. This will be your pattern.
- Next, place the pattern over your old T-shirt. Using a pencil, draw an outline following the pattern as well as the eye, nose, and mouth holes.
- Finally, use fabric scissors to cut along the outline you just made.
- Pop the mask in the washing machine or wash it in the sink with a gentle detergent in order to make sure it’s clean. You can also boil it for ten minutes to ensure all bacteria are killed.
In general, we think you’ll get the best results by soaking your sheet mask in any hydrating toner or serum that you love. However, if you like to play around with your own concoctions, a mask is definitely the safest way to play chemist.
Since it’s a one-time-use formula, throw away any excess that’s left after you make it and use it. You don’t want to keep it since it’s made out of household items and without any preservatives, which means it will spoil very quickly.
Additionally, these mixes are designed to nourish the skin temporarily. They’re a little too heavy and sticky to leave on the skin, so we do recommend rinsing them off, although you don’t have to completely wash your face afterward. A simple wipe-down with a toner should be enough.
DIY Hydrating & Anti-Aging Sheet Mask Essence
To create your own anti-aging and moisturizing sheet mask blend, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- ¼ cup of distilled water
- ½ a teaspoon of honey
- ½ a teaspoon of rosehip seed oil
- Optionally, you can add a few drops of your favorite skin-safe essential oil
- In a bowl, mix all of these ingredients together. Then, dip your DIY sheet mask in the bowl until it is completely saturated.
- Finally, use the mask as we described above, but make sure to rinse your face once it’s time to remove it.
DIY Acne-Fighting Sheet Mask
If your skin is oily and prone to breakouts, the ingredients in this mask will help alleviate some of the irritation while eliminating acne bacteria.
- ¼ cup of distilled water
- ½ a teaspoon of honey
- 5 drops of tea tree oil
- Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl. If it’s too liquid, you can add more honey.
- Then, dip your mask in the bowl and make sure it’s thoroughly soaked in the liquid.
- Remove it, and squeeze it lightly to make sure it’s not dripping. Smooth it over your skin, and wait for 15-20 minutes.
- Finally, remove it, rinse your face in cool water, and follow up with your normal skincare routine.
DIY Soothing Sheet Mask
If your skin is sensitive, you’ll want an extra-soothing sheet mask that’ll help to cool and calm your skin.
- 2 tablespoons of oat powder
- ¼ cup of green tea
- ½ a teaspoon of honey
- First, brew a cup of green tea, and add ice to cool it down or leave it in the fridge for a few hours.
- Then mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, and dip the dry sheet mask in to soak up the liquid.
- Smooth the mask over your skin, leaving it on for about 20 minutes.
- Finally, remove the mask, rinse your skin, and finish off with your normal routine.
There you have it! Sheet masks are a lot of fun, and though they might be different, they’re not complicated at all. We hope you enjoy introducing them into your own beauty routine.
Photos via @ceniefrieson, @alieenor.fr, Instagram