ALL the Different Types of Face Mask (and How to Pick the Best One for You)
Main Image – Annatabakova/Stocksy
Who doesn’t love a face mask?
Once reserved for a one-off treat every so often (14-year-old me was obsessed with trying different masks in the bath while reading my fave magazines and refilling the hot water *at least* once), face masks have definitely become more of a staple in our skincare routines.
But with seemingly hundreds of different types now available- from bubble masks to charcoal and peel-off- which do you choose for your skin type?
And while they might look great on an Instagram reel, are some of these simply gimmicks?
Board-certified dermatologist Dr William Kwan and NY-licensed aesthetician Rachel Lee Lozina have given us the lowdown on everything there is to know about choosing the right mask, what ingredients to look out for, and how often to use them; and the one type of mask you’ll definitely want to avoid.
Let’s enter the weird and wonderful world of face masks!
The different types of face masks – decoded
With *so* many types of masks claiming to do different things for the skin, it can be difficult to know which one will be right for you.
Picking the right mask for your skin type “all depends on the ingredients and their purpose,” says Lozina.
“Whether to use one depends on your skin’s specific needs and sensitivities; patch-testing and checking ingredients are essential,” Dr Kwan adds.
Here, the experts break down what each one *actually* does, as well as which skin types will get the most benefit.
Cream masks are often great for adding hydration. Look out for ingredients like “hyaluronic acid, ceramides, squalene & jojoba oil,” says Lozina.
Lozina adds that “depending on their ingredients, cream masks can also improve brown spots.”
Healthline agrees that “thicker cream masks can be great for particularly dry skin that needs a healthy dose of hydration” and some may be loaded “with added hyaluronic acid” and other skin-saving ingredients to calm, soothe and nourish.
Best for: Depending on the its ingredients, a cream mask will generally benefit dry or dehydrated skin types
Cooling gel masks usually provide water-based hydration without pore-clogging ingredients. They’re “great for soothing inflamed acne or calming rosacea skin types,” says Lozina, particularly those that include aloe vera, cucumber or oatmeal.
The water base and calming properties make “them ideal for sensitive types” agrees Healthline.
Many gel masks also have a natural cooling effect that is perfect for inflamed, acne-prone skin – keeping them in the fridge is also a really good idea to promote a soothing effect and to calm redness.
I love Fresh’s Rose Face Mask (from £23 on Cult Beauty UK and $26 on Sephora US). Containing glycerin to soften, rosa damascena flower water to soothe, and cucumber fruit and aloe leaf extract to hydrate, this light gel mask also boasts green tea and vitamin E for antioxidant protection and even contains real rose petals.
Best for: As long as it doesn’t contain any harsh actives or alcohols, a gel mask is generally suited to sensitive skin.
AHAs (or alpha hydroxy acids for anyone who isn’t a skincare obsessive) are a typical of chemical exfoliant that loosen the bonds between dead skin cells, helping to remove them.
This form of exfoliation can help with everything from improving pigmentation to unclogging pores.
“If you have acne, I would focus on masks that have alpha hydroxy acids, niacinamide, green tea and Vitamin C,” confirms Lozina.
There are multiple types of AHA, including glycolic acid and lactic acid, but for a gentle exfoliation Lozina recommends mandelic acid and kojic acid.
Best for: Acne skin types
Clay masks have been used in Indian and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and “are made up of one of several types of clay, such as kaolin or bentonite,” according to Healthline.
They’re great for acne-prone and oily skin types, since they have the ability to soak up excess oils. However, they can be a little drying, so those with skin in need of hydration and moisture should generally steer clear.
Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Mask – containing a blend of natural mineral clays to balance skin – absorbs oil and helps improve my blackheads (£27.00 on the UK Paula’s Choice website and $26.00 on the US Paula’s Choice website).
Best for: Oily and acne-prone skin types
“Charcoal masks contain activated charcoal and are often aimed at oily and acne-prone skin to help draw out impurities and excess oil,” Dr Kwan tells LTG HQ. “They can be effective for those with specific concerns.”
However, “they may be too harsh for dry or sensitive skin. Individual reactions vary, so patch-testing is advisable,” Dr Kwan suggests.
Best for: Oily skin types
What even is a bubble mask?! We hear you ask.
Well, Dr Kwan describes them as “a skincare product that foams up on the skin.”
They work by pumping oxygen into the liquid mask under pressure. The mask is then sealed into pressurised packaging (if the mask is thick enough, pressure isn’t even required), and when you smooth the mask onto your skin in a thin layer, the trapped oxygen slowly turns back into gas, creating bubbles.
I’ve seen sooo many cool reels, stories and posts about bubble face masks and, let’s face it, they make for great content – but are they worth it?
“It can benefit various skin types, particularly oily, acne-prone, and those with clogged pores,” confirms Dr Kwan.
Best for: Oily skin and clogged pores
Another type of mask that’s been all over my FYP the past few years is the sheet mask, which was first popularised in Korea.
“As sheet masks are serum soaked, they really plump up the skin with hydration and are great for all skin types,” Lozina explains.
“I love them and use them in almost every professional service I do.”
However, these might be great for the skin but they’re a nightmare for the environment, with some even calling them the new plastic straws. The good news is there are many eco-friendly brands tackling this issue – such as Orgaid, Skin Republic, and Garnier – producing recyclable packaging and compostable masks.
Best for: All skin types
And finally, the one type of mask neither of our experts recommends.
“Peel-off masks are skincare products that, once dried, can be peeled off the skin,” explains Dr Kwan. You’re likely to have seen these on social media at some point since they often contain visually-pleasing (but definitely non-essential) ingredients like glitter.
Dr Kwan says, “not everyone may benefit from peel-off masks.” While Lozina goes further, “Stay away from masks that are difficult to peel off. There was a trend a while back where girls were ripping out their hair trying to get these masks off.
“Don’t do that one, it’s way too harsh on your skin. Your skin is an organ, feed it, love it, nurture it.”
Best for: No one, sadly
How to mask for maximum benefits
Now you know which types of masks are most likely to benefit your skin type- and which ones to avoid- how do you use them for best results?
Lozina recommends both rotating and multi-masking to make sure your skin is always getting what it needs.
Multi-masking is where you use multiple different masks in one go; for example, a clay mask on your oily zones and a cream mask on your drier areas. Alternatively, depending on the ingredients, can you layer one mask on top of another. Either method has the benefit of really customising your masking time.
“I love multi-masking!” says Lozina.
“Sometimes I will do an exfoliation mask, let it do its work and then layer on a hydration mask. But it’s really what’s reasonable for the client and their skin type.
“Masking is a great way to maintain your skin after a facial and it prolongs your time between facials,” she adds.
Rotating is where you use one type of mask one day followed by a different type the next time you mask. This allows you to keep up with what your skin needs on a particular day.
“I usually use an anti-pollution mask and rotate between exfoliating, brightening, hydration and stimulating masks depending on what my skin needs,” Lozina explains.
Depending on your skin type, you’ll generally only want to use a mask once or twice a week unless a doctor or dermatologist has told you otherwise.
It’s clear that knowing your skin type and how it reacts to certain ingredients is paramount when choosing the best mask for you.
When you are aware of the type of ingredients you should be using and the ones you should avoid, finding a face mask is actually a really exciting task! And not to mention taking some well-needed self-care time for yourself when letting the mask work its magic.
We advise taking a look at the packaging and reading the ingredients thoroughly before purchasing a mask, then all there’s left to do is apply it, sit back, relax, and paint your nails/take a bath/relax on the couch/watch an episode of your fave series – whatever floats your boat!
Meet the experts
Dr William Kwan is a board-certified dermatologist at the prestigious Lasky Skin Center in Beverly Hills, offering a wide spectrum of cosmetic procedures such as botulinum toxin injections and dermal filler injections for many types of skin improvement.
Rachel Lee Lozina is a New York State Licensed Esthetician, Laser Technician & Oncology Esthetician, and the Founder of Blue Water Spa in Oyster Bay, NY.