Real Talk: Do sheet masks actually help your skin?

We here at PV have all the feels for our fave sheet masks. I personally love using them at night, particularly after a very long and challenging day. It’s such a hassle-free and cost-effective way to relax, care for my skin, and have a spa experience right at home! I even gift them to friends and relatives because I feel like it’s something everyone could and should enjoy. When it comes down to it though, is it actually helpful to incorporate sheet masks into your skin care routine?

But first, a little skin care history

The theory behind sheet masks is simple: essences, serums, and skin treatments would be absorbed much better into the skin if they are left on for a longer period of time, with an occlusive barrier sort of trapping the moisture on the surface of the skin. Apparently, this idea has been around not just for years, but centuries!

The very first patented version of a sheet mask was created by Helen Rowley in 1875. This “Toilet Mask” was designed to closely fit the face, much like a second skin, and left overnight as a skin treatment. She further describes it in a patent she filed as a “medical agent [to be applied] to the face of a person suffering with certain forms of disease, or afflicted with a bad complexion”. The material she used was flexible india-rubber, which encouraged skin to perspire and thus “soften and clarify the skin by relieving the pores and the superficial circulation”. The rubber mask also served to confine “unguents or other medical preparations to the skin of the face for the palliation or cure of cutaneous eruptions, blotches, pimples, or other similar complexional defects.”

I’m sure Madame Rowley was a visionary, but I’m not so sure that I could stand leaving a rubber mask on my face for an hour, or worse, overnight! My naturally sweaty face doesn’t need a “face glove” to excite my perspiration, thank you very much. I could see the appeal to women of that era, though. The face glove’s contemporaries, arsenic soap and lead makeup, were thought beneficial for the skin as well. Thankfully, later versions of the mask were made more breathable by replacing the rubber material with different types of cloth like flannel, chamois, and satin. These were much closer to the sheet masks we know today.

 Leaders Ex Solution Face Masks

Leaders Ex Solution Face Masks

Modern masking

The sheet mask we use today started when Max Factor’s Japanese subsidiary (now known as SK-II) applied to patent a “cosmetic face pack treatment” in 1982. It was described to have all the benefits of a regular face pack, but made easier and more hygienic to use. Steeped in the brand’s signature pitera essence, the face-shaped sheet mask was designed as a special treat for dry and aging skin. What’s awesome is that this sheet mask is still available to this very day! Granted, a box of 6 SK-II Facial Treatment Masks costs P4,087 or around P680 a pop. I can’t bring myself to go for it yet but it definitely gets a spot in my skin care bucket list as a sheet mask I want to try!

Korean cosmetic corporate giant Amorepacific took the SK-II invention further with its own 2006 patent, making more specifications on sheet mask materials, as well as the ingredients for a the essence it soaks in. The brand continued to apply for more patents for different sheet mask materials, and started to create masks for specific parts of the face and other parts of the body. These are the same patents behind all of today’s popular Korean sheet masks, including everything from bargain buys to luxury splurges. They use this technology for their own brands (including Etude House, Innisfree, Hera and Sulwhasoo), and the brand earns royalties from all other brands who use their copyrighted techniques! No wonder Amorepacific is the biggest Korean beauty company.

From its earliest appearance as thick and uncomfortable rubber face cover, sheet masks are now made of breathable materials like cotton, hydrogel, and cellulose. They are also steeped in all kinds of concoctions, with some promising more premium ingredients like black pearl and ginseng. Thanks to the worldwide Hallyu wave, sheet masks have moved from being an Asian Beauty secret to a familiar beauty concept. It’s even become common for Hollywood stars to post their mask selfies on social media as part of their red carpet preps. If you really want to get the full benefits of masking though, it’s prescribed as step seven in the 10-step Korean skin care routine. Yes, that means masking at least once per day, every day! But is it really necessary?

A mask a day

While we have definitely tried using sheet masks daily and gotten great results, turning this into a daily habit poses several challenges. The usual recommended leave-on time for a sheet mask is about 20 minutes, so imagine having to dedicate that much time for a single step of skincare. If you’re obsessed with having chok-chok skin though, this extensive skin care routine may be worth squeezing into your busy schedule. It can also be pretty expensive at about P100 a pop, but you can explore budget options or opt to buy them in bulk to keep costs down.

On the other hand, not everyone thinks sheet masks are helpful, let alone necessary for daily skin care. Beauty guru Paula Begoun, for one, has been quoted as saying, "I hate sheet masks. They’re a waste of time. Even a well-formulated one is a waste of time. Ingredients are going to penetrate based on their molecular size. Nothing else. Having that sheet on your face does not form enough of a barrier. It’s bullshit that the sheet helps ingredients absorb." It sounds harsh, but I kind of get where she comes from. Not all of the ingredients featured on sheet masks are backed by thorough research, as Paula is known to prefer. And for busy people, putting on a sheet mask just takes too much time; why bother if they already have a skin care routine that works for them?

The verdict

After everything, it’s really up to you and what works for your skin! I could see how someone with very dry skin can get relief with regular sheet masking. But I would also understand how someone like Paula Begoun, who has access to the best skin care formulations, would see sheet masks as an unnecessary waste of time.

Personally, I enjoy using sheet masks on days when I have drier skin than usual, or to help me relax after a stressful day. I like using other leave-on face packs or treatments as well, but a sheet mask is just so much easier to apply. After cleansing and toning, I just rip open a pack, slap it on, and chill! It’s enough for me to use them at least once a week BUT as with everything else in skin care, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV). There’s nothing wrong with incorporating sheet masks into your daily routine, but if you’re not on #TeamSheetMask there’s nothing bad about that, either.

I’m sold! Which sheet mask is best for me?

I totally get how overwhelmed anyone would feel, given the many choices for sheet masks these days. The key is to know thyself—what works for your skin, what your skin type and skin concerns are, and how much you’re willing to spend.

 Etude House 0.2 Therapy Air Masks

Etude House 0.2 Therapy Air Masks

If you have an idea of specific ingredients that your skin likes, Etude House has a range of options in their 0.2 Therapy Air Masks. My personal go-to’s are the Ceramide, Hyaluronic Acid, and Snail variants! I also like Mediheal sheet masks, which combine research-proven ingredients like collagen with fruit and vegetable extracts. These are my current faves despite its more expensive price tag as they adhere really well and cover my face fully!

 Nature Republic, TonyMoly, and PeriPera fruit sheet masks

Nature Republic, TonyMoly, and PeriPera fruit sheet masks

For those looking for more nature-inspired formulations, most K-Beauty brands like Nature Republic, TonyMoly, Leaders, and Peripera have sheet masks that star fruit and vegetable extracts. Even a Western brand like Origins has its own range of flower-inspired sheet masks, as well!

 Etude House V-Taping, Banila Co. Miss Water & Mr. Oil, The Face Shop Marge character masks

Etude House V-Taping, Banila Co. Miss Water & Mr. Oil, The Face Shop Marge character masks

Novelty sheet masks also abound. While some would think of them as gimmicky skin care, they make doing your routine more fun and, dare I say it, more Instagram-able. Banila Co. is a great brand to try if you want to experiment with different textures and designs! Just look at Kim’s journey the week she took on one Banila Co. sheet mask per day!

Do you use sheet masks religiously? Which ones are your faves and why? Do spill in the comments!