Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: You’re scrolling through Instagram, double-tapping on pics of luscious spa treatments and dreamy bathrooms posted by your fave beauty brands (and, ahem, @iamwellandgood), and before you know it, you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of peel-off face mask videos. (Yeah, that’s what I thought.)
Formulated with ingredients like charcoal, antioxidants, and botanicals, the super-trendy treatments supposedly help remove dead skin cells and minimize pores for an ultra-glowy complexion. But are they as effective as they are hypnotizing?
“In the most basic sense, peel-off masks remove some bacteria, debris, and facial hair,” says otorhinolaryngologist Kalpana DePasquale, MD, board-certified surgeon and founder of the natural skin-care line AvantiRX. But that’s about where the benefits end. Along with the dirt and gunk, the masks strip away a layer of skin, vellus hair, and sebaceous filaments (AKA naturally occurring, hair-like formations that channel the flow of oil through your pores). Even though they might look like blackheads, “sebaceous filaments keep our skin in balance and should not be removed,” says Dr. DePasquale.
Along with the dirt and gunk, the masks strip away a layer of skin, vellus hair, and sebaceous filaments.
Dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, of the Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, agrees. “The benefit of the peel-off mask is that it physically removes the top layer of skin, sloughing dull dead skin cells. This makes skin feel very smooth, and look dewy and glowy,” she says. “But the process of peeling off the mask is similar to waxing the face. Although tougher skin types can withstand the stripping of skin, those with delicate skin or sensitive skin can cause more damage than it’s worth.”
Certified clinical aromatherapist Kirsten King, founder of the clean beauty brand OILLE, also recommends staying away from the masks—or risk removing too much of the sebum your skin naturally produces. “When sebum is unbalanced, skin will overproduce oil to compensate for the loss. The result is oily, irritated skin,” she says.
The gimmicky peel-off technique can also leave your skin red, dehydrated, and inflamed, Dr. DePasquale says. (And that’s with the masks sold by trusted retailers—I really hope it goes without saying that you should steer clear of those DIY versions that include Elmer’s glue as an ingredient.)
“There are a lot of other masks that can unclog pores in a less irritating way,” Dr. DePasquale says. “[Look for ones] that use AHAs [alpha hydroxy acids], retinol, or charcoal to exfoliate and draw out toxins.”
So how about trading in your peel-off mask for one featuring the anti-inflammatory superhero turmeric? Post a pic, and I promise you’ll get plenty of likes.