How to choose a skincare mask

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How to cite: Wong M. How to choose a skincare mask. Lab Muffin Beauty Science. April 7, 2015. Accessed April 22, 2024.

There are a lot of masks out there – which one should you use to boost your skincare routine into hyperdrive? Let me help!

What is a mask?

A mask is a treatment that you put on your face for an extended period of time (between 10 minutes and 10 hours). You’re not meant to be seen in public while it’s on. The effects of a good mask will last around 1-3 days.

There are a bunch of different types of masks, good for different purposes. There’s a bit of crossover, especially if you’re mixing the mask yourself, but these are the basic categories:

Clay masks

Clay masks have clay as their main ingredient, and are helpful for sucking oil out of your pores, along with any random gunk in the oil. There are a range of clays with slightly different textures, but since all sorts of ingredients (oils, humectants like honey, etc.) can be mixed into a clay mask, it’s hard to say what effect a particular clay mask will have without trying it (though we can safely say that none of them will detox your body).

Kaolin clays are less absorbent than bentonite, so kaolin-based masks (usually white or pink in colour) are generally better for dry and sensitive skin, while bentonite masks (usually green in colour) are recommended for oily skin (I’m using handwavy language on purpose, because there is a LOT of variation – look up reviews of that specific mask before you buy).

How to use: You can apply a clay mask with your fingers (my preferred method) or a brush (feels posher, but requires more clean-up). Wait 5-30 min depending on your skin’s tolerance, then wash off (you may need to use a cloth to soak it off – I find that sticking my face under the shower head for 5 seconds helps tremendously). You don’t need to wait for it to dry before removing, but letting it dry will result in more oil absorption (but also more irritation potential).


Examples: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay is pure powdered calcium bentonite clay that you can mix into a mask yourself. If you mix it with an acidic substance, you’ll end up with a more skin-friendly pH and a very absorbent mask (here are some recipes for mixing bentonite with non-stinky citric acid and for mixing with slightly stinky ACV). You can make it less absorbent by adding humectants and oils. I’ve also got The Cosmetic Kitchen Raw Chocolate Clay Mask, which consists of pre-mixed Australian pink clay and raw cacao powder (antioxidant).

If you don’t want to go through the fuss of mixing, Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque is a popular option which contains both kaolin and bentonite, but I find that the anti-acne sulfur in it smells very unpleasant (lots of other people disagree). Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil Absorbing Mask* is another example, but I found it quite itchy. Moreish Emergence Clay Mask* is a premade kaolin clay mask that’s super gentle, with lots of humectants and oils thrown in.

Hydrating masks

Hydrating masks are a pretty broad category – there are oil-based masks which soften your skin, there are humectant-based masks which help water bind and absorb. I’m lumping them together because most oil-based masks have some humectants in them. These masks aim to leave your skin smooth and plump.

How to use: Spread on your face, wait the designated time (it varies a lot – 10 minutes is the minimum time I’ve seen), then wash off. These masks generally don’t dry, unless you zone out or they’re peel-off masks, which are generally more gimmicky and irritating than actually helpful.


Examples: Most masks are hydrating, so I’m not going to attempt to list my entire mask collection here (also, it’s embarrassingly big). I’m a big fan of Skin Food Strawberry Black Sugar Mask Wash-Off (bought on Kerry‘s recommendation) which contains emollient oils as well as sugar particles for a quick scrub as you rinse (it also smells amazing, but tastes gross). I’m also really in love with Uriage AquaPrecis Moisturising Express Mask*, which is super effective and very gentle on the skin. You can also mix stuff from your kitchen to make a moisturising mask – oatmeal, yoghurt and honey is an effective (if slightly messy) combo.

Sheet masks

Sheet masks are super popular in Asia (popular enough to have several stickers dedicated to them on Line Messenger), but they’re getting more attention in the Western beauty world too, with famous peeps like Chris Pratt taking selfies in them.

Though I still think Cony’s more famous.

Sheet masks consist of a floppy mask made of thin material (usually cotton, but there’s silk, hydrogel, and other materials too), soaked in goop and sealed in an airtight foil packet. The masks have slightly freaky cutouts for your eyes, nose and mouth, as well as some side slits to let them mould better to your face contours and cover all of your skin in the goop. They usually have a plastic backing sheet so it’s easy to unfold and apply to your face. The goop generally has a texture somewhere between water and, um, saliva (sorry for the imagery, I can’t think of anything else with that texture! Suggestions welcome). They’re relatively eco-unfriendly since they’re individually packaged, but they’re super convenient.

How to use: Open packet, open mask, peel off plastic backing sheet, place mask on face with holes orientated in the right place then smooth out any air bubbles. Wait 10-30 min, chuck the mask in the bin. No rinsing necessary.


Examples: The most popular brand is probably the Taiwanese brand My Beauty Diary, which does a range of different masks, but to be honest I can’t tell the difference between them apart from the fragrances (and I just now realised it’s upside down in my photo). Lonvitalite is an Australian brand that’s been in a few beauty boxes, and Essenzza Fuss Free Facials do thin silk masks that fit fantastically well.

You can also get dry masks to use with your own goop – Daiso have expanding mask pellets which are heaps of fun to play with, though they don’t fit as well on me as I’d like (I have Big Round Face syndrome).

Overnight masks

Overnight masks are simply masks that can be used overnight, usually over your usual serums and creams and potions. They’re meant to seal water in like cling film, stopping your skin from drying out and protecting the other treatments from being rubbed off. The landmark product is probably Laneige Water Sleeping Pack, a Korean product that’s hugely popular in Asia where bedroom air conditioning is common cause of dehydrated skin.

How to use: Use as the last layer over your usual skincare routine. Wash off in the morning when you clean your face (a lot of it will have rubbed off or been absorbed, so you might not need extra cleanser).


Examples: Apart from Laneige Water Sleeping Pack and similar products like my current favourite, Cosrx Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask, occlusive moisturisers can be used as overnight masks. I’m very fond of Nivea Creme*, but the fragrance may be irritating (or just annoying) for some people. Plain ol’ Vaseline is popular for sensitive skin, but it can cause unusually inflamed patches with some active ingredients (benzoyl peroxide is a common culprit).


That’s all the types I can think of – have I missed any? Please let me know if there are more I should add to the list!


Products marked * were provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. This post contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially, thank you. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.

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7 thoughts on “How to choose a skincare mask”

  1. I just took this post out to choose a mask to buy at Priceline. Ended up getting Avene kaolin clay mask because I couldn’t find the others. Still very helpful.

  2. Pingback: Sunday Random Ramblings, Vol.179 |
  3. Can you talk about the order to apply these masks? I like to use an exfoliating (Drunk Elephant Babyfacial), Clay (Aztec), and moisturizing (Laneige). Can i use all of these in one day?


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