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Sheet Mask 101

A comprehensive breakdown of the Korean beauty craze.

If Paris is known for perfume, South Korea might just be known for the fanatic devotion to skincare, with 10-step routines being just a matter of course. Some of their tips and tricks have finally come stateside in the past few years, and we couldn't be happier, even if we have admittedly lost track of exactly what alphabet cream we're on now (CC Cream for hair? DD cream for décolletage?). Besides introducing the world to BB Cream, South Korea has churned out countless sheet masks that are changing the beauty game in a big way. Diligent skincare obsessives will by now recognize the sleek packaging of Dr. Jart+ masks in their local Sephora aisles, but there's a whole world out there for us to frolic in, too. We called up our favorite international beauty expert, Charlotte Cho of Soko Glam, to get the scoop on whether sheet masks are the next big things—and which ones, of course, you should try out.

... on what makes them so much better than the wash off ones we've used before:

"Sheet masks have been trending in Korea for quite some time now and they're finally gaining popularity in the U.S because of the instant effects they have in regards to skin brightening, soft, firm skin. They're also an inexpensive way to treat yourself vs. going to a facial. Sheet masks focus on adding deep hydration for dewy, luminous skin—they're unique in that they allow your skin to absorb the essences and lock in the moisture."

...on how often one should use a sheet mask:

"As often as you'd like! I know everyone is busy, so it's not easy to even carve out 20 minutes for an at-home pamper session, but it really beats commuting to a spa to get a facial. You can use these in the comfort of your own home while you're watching a movie or reading a book. I typically use masks 1-2 times a weeks, but in the winter when I am particularly dehydrated I use them 2-3 times a week."

...on the best sheet mask per skin type:

For dry/dehydrated skin: "Sheet masks are great for their variety. For dry skin, use ones with humectants as the main ingredient. Look for hyaluronic acid, like this Face Shop one."

Our verdict: when we tried it out ourselves: 10/10, A+ with flying colors. Hyaluronic acid feels like your pores are drinking purified waterfalls. This claims to help skin retain 100 times its weight and will reduce the appearance of fine lines. I don't have fine lines to speak of (not yet, anyway) but my face looked less red, more well-rested, and infinitely more squishy with moisture after using this on a very dry, cold night. My skin had been flaky and a bit red pre-mask. Post mask—all gone.

 

For acne-prone skin: Charlotte advises that you look for snail extract to heal and soothe breakouts. There is some legitimate science to back this up: published studies have shown that snail extract improves skin condition by increasing the dermis' natural ability to hold and take up water. There are studies that suggest that slime does in fact have topical wound healing properties. Another fun fact: Hippocrates reportedly crushed snails and sour milk as a way to rid the skin of inflammation. Probably don't do that in regards to your acne. It would be much more pleasant to just use this Missha Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Hydro Gel Mask.
Our verdict: Instead of a cotton soaked sheet mask, this is a really soothing 2-part gel mask, soaked in essence. It feels very soothing in a way that soaked cotton sheet masks don't—unusual in a good way. This fit my face more and felt more comfortable on. A very pleasant experience that paid off with skin devoid of redness and made my acne scars less noticeable the morning after. For best results, use this while you read a book or are lying down. It didn't stick on quite as well as I'd have liked. 8/10 for that reason alone.

For oily skin: The concept of adding more oils and serums to a face that may seem to have an excess of them might skeeze you out, but face masks are great for oily skin, too. Charlotte recommends the Dr. Jart+ Pore Minimalist Mask to help regulate sebum production.

Our verdict: The Dr. Jart masks might be the super hyped now, but none of that hype is without merit. For a road less traveled by, pick up a pack of My Beauty Diary's Strawberry Yogurt Masks. They're good for oil control and pore-minimizing, and are specifically formulated for oily to combination skin types. My Beauty Diary is the first face mask company I ever tried when I lived in Asia and I've loved them ever since for their affordable and variety of offerings. Plus: cheap, at about $15 for a pack of 10. That's a little over a dollar a pop.

For sensitive skin: Look no further than MIZON's Returning Starfish Bio Mask if you have eczema or similarly sensitive skin—this (totally adorable) clear gel mask is in the shape of a starship and concentrates the moisture on your face's problem zones.

Our verdict: The essence was very soothing and moisturizing for skin that has been plagued with severe eczema for years—afterwards, it looked plump and dewy. We'd like about ten million more, thanks!

Oh, and how do you keep up that post-mask glow? In the instance of die-hard Korean beauty fans, a sheet mask is just one step in a meticulous and rewarding process of skin maintenance, but you can just treat it like a pampering final step after a long day. "The best part about sheet masks is that there is no reason for you to wash off the essence because it is good for your skin! Just discard the mask and you can fall asleep knowing you gave your skin adequate hydration for the night." I don't have to get out of bed to wash it off? It's official—sheet masks are kind of the best.

— Arabelle Sicardi

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