Face masks are a curious health treatment. They have some tangible benefits, but there are also thousands of different products on the market, many of which make claims that are absolutely impossible. Remember; your skin is meant to be largely impermeable. A face mask can help cleanse and bolster your skin's health, but it generally won't do much to the flesh of your face beyond.
We're supporters of face masks in general. The thing is, we can't answer simple questions about face masks with easy answers, because there are so many different factors at play.
One common question with no easy answer is "how often should you use a face mask?" The answer is, it depends. There are a lot of considerations you should keep in mind. Some face masks are safe enough to use every day, while others might only be meant for once a week, or even once a month application. It all depends.
What Type of Face Mask is it?
There are a lot of different formulations of face masks, and they all have different properties.
Cream masks are similar in consistency to lotions. They're generally packed with moisturizers and are very light on cleansers. They're actually some of the best for daily use and can be left on for a long period of time without irritating the skin. Some are even meant for over-night use. Creams are safest for frequent use, but they don't do a lot unless you're looking for a few specific results, like moisturizing and softening dry skin.
Gel masks are thicker, with the consistency of jam. They tend to be stickier, like honey, often because they actually have honey as an ingredient. These tend to have astringents in them, which can help draw oils away from the skin and clear out pores. This makes them better at cleansing your skin without harsh and irritating agents, but they can't be left in or over-used because of it. Over-use can lead to dry skin and might even promote wrinkles.
Clay masks are their own category simply because there are so many different kinds of clay. They're generally thicker than other kinds of masks and are packed with nutrients and minerals. Clay is a powerful ingredient for exfoliating, removing oils, and clearing pores. Clay masks are often a once-a-week sort of treatment, though again, this can vary based on other factors, like your skin type. If this type of mask interests you, be sure to check out our Face Mask Gift Set which includes a pink clay mask!
Mud masks are similar in some ways to clay masks, but they act differently. Mud masks are generally meant to infuse the skin with nutrients and moisture, rather than strip away oils. They're often used as part of a two-step process of cleanse-and-restore. Mud masks are often used for healing as well, making them great for acne.
Exfoliating masks are masks that are filled with harsh cleansers, compared to other kinds of masks. They're astringent, they're irritating, and they can even burn your skin if left in place too long. Whenever you see a "mask fail" video online, chances are it's an exfoliating mask left on too long, leaving the skin red and irritated beneath. They're great for cleansing and can be very beneficial for those with oily and acne-prone skin, but they're not so great for dry skin, and they shouldn't be used too often.
Warming masks are a unique kind of mask infused with spices like paprika, cayenne, or cinnamon. These spices, when applied to the skin in a mask, stimulate the skin. In small doses, this increases blood flow to your skin, encouraging healing and plumping up the skin through a very light inflammation effect. When used for too long or too often, they can irritate the skin and even cause chemical burns, though most commercial masks have other ingredients to help minimize the chances of that happening.
Charcoal masks are masks that specifically use activated charcoal to cleanse the skin. Activated charcoal is a very powerful absorbent agent, which means it can strip away all of the oils on your face and cleanse it of anything nasty in your pores. It's also quite likely to dry out your skin if you're not careful, and you need to moisturize and restore your skin after using them.
So, as you can see, some masks are safe enough to use for hours at a time, and use multiple times per week or even daily. Other masks should never be used more than once a week, and indeed might instruct you to use them once every two weeks instead.
What Results Do You Want?
In general, face masks have two purposes.
One purpose is stripping. These masks remove oil from your skin, including the natural sebum your body produces to help protect your skin from environmental damage. This kind of mask also might exfoliate, stripping off the outer layer of dead skin, leaving flush, new skin behind.
The other purpose is infusing. Infusing masks don't strip oils, they add them. This kind of mask is generally used to moisturize and infuse your skin with vitamins and minerals to help keep it healthy.
Some masks attempt to do both at the same time, like clay masks. They aren't necessarily incredibly effective at both, depending on the balance of ingredients and your skin type, but they can be an effective middle ground mask. Other masks focus purely on one effect or the other.
Generally, masks that moisturize can be used frequently, either daily or every 2-3 days, as per the instructions. Masks that strip and cleanse the skin should be used less often, usually once a week at the most, because too frequent use can damage the skin and leave it unprotected against the elements and sun damage.
There are also specific task-oriented masks. The primary example of this is the anti-acne mask. These masks include potent exfoliating and astringent agents to strip and absorb the oils and bacteria that cause acne. They're very potent, meaning they shouldn't be used too often, or else they'll damage the skin as it tries to heal.
What is Your Skin Type?
Your skin type is the primary determining factor for most skincare routines. A routine we use wouldn't be ideal for you if you have a different skin type and different goals.
People with oily skin are more likely to want to use exfoliating and cleansing masks more often. Stripping natural oils and replacing them with moisturizers is a key part of keeping oily skin in check. People with oily skin may choose to use an exfoliating mask once or twice a week, be careful to use a moisturizer afterward to protect the skin from environmental damage.
People with dry skin generally don't want to use a cleansing mask very often. Once a month might be just about right. Dry skin is usually sensitive to being stripped, so you don't want to use a harsh and astringent cleanser because it will damage the skin. Some people, particularly those with skin conditions like psoriasis, might use one more often, but need a medicated moisturizer to use afterward.
That said, people with dry skin generally use moisturizing masks more frequently, as often as once every 2-3 days or even every day. A lot depends on things like your activity level, sun exposure, and other skincare products you may use. Masks can be great for a deep infusion of moisture, but there's such a thing as too much of a good thing.
People with sensitive skin might want to skip masks entirely or keep their routine to only the lightest and most healthful masks. Moisturizers and infusers are fine but may include ingredients that irritate the skin, so always be careful to test what you're using.
People with mature skin have special conditions they should keep in mind. Mature skin has a harder time replacing lost oils, so if you use a stripping mask, you'll want to make sure you follow it up with a moisturizer. You may also consider using special masks designed to stimulate skin health, such as warming masks while taking collagen supplements to assist with healing. There's only so much you can do externally. Additionally, make sure to use sunscreen as much as possible to prevent future damage.
What are Environmental Factors?
The environment and your activity levels can also play a role in determining how often you should use a mask.
If you're very active, you're sweating and exposing yourself to oils and dirt. The circulation can help your skin stay healthy, but it's important to use cleansers and astringents to keep the skin clear. This means you might end up wanting to use harsher masks more often. Resist the temptation, and use simple soaps to cleanse after a workout, moisturizers to protect your skin, and masks according to their instructions.
If you're not very active, you may build up oils and dirt, but you aren't as likely to have to fight wind and sun damage. The masks you choose to use will be different, as will the frequency with which you use them.
If you spend time in the sun or outdoors, keep in mind both sun and wind damage. The wind pulls away moisture through evaporation and can dry out your skin, leading to damage. The sun is constantly attacking you with UV rays, meaning sunscreen is a must.
Humidity can also play a role; humid areas don't evaporate as much, leading to moist, oily skin. Dry areas wick away moisture more easily, necessitating the use of moisturizing masks.
All of these factors may be at play at different times of the year, so a skincare routine has to adapt to them throughout the year.
Does the Mask Include Harsh Ingredients?
The harsher the ingredients in your mask, the less often you want to use them. You're probably familiar with the harsh ingredients list, but we've created three categories here.
Harsh ingredients you should only use once a week or less include activated charcoal, citric acid, salicylic acid, mineral oil, parabens, propylene glycol, and so on. Some of these are rare in skincare products simply because of how dangerous they are, but they may still be present in masks you buy from China or other less regulated countries.
Middling ingredients are ingredients that have the potential to damage skin but are generally safer than the harsher ingredients. It includes ingredients like cayenne and cinnamon, which can cause chemical burns if left on your skin too long, but are perfectly safe when used in moderation. These can be used once a week or, in small amounts, every three days.
Safe ingredients are ingredients that restore and heal your skin and have no potential for damage. These are ingredients like aloe, vitamins, antioxidants, and other moisturizers. These are safe enough to use every day, though you may not actually want to do so.
Do You Have Any Skin Allergies or Sensitivities?
This one is simple: every skincare product has the potential to irritate the skin, either via an actual allergy that causes hives or worse or through contact dermatitis, which is an irritation of the skin. Always use a small amount of product on a sensitive but out-of-the-way area, like the inside of your wrist, before using it on your face. This will tell you if your skin is going to react to it and helps you avoid causing damage and other issues.
What Do the Instructions Say?
At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is simply follow the instructions. If a mask says it's safe to use daily, it's safe to use daily. If a mask says to never use it more than once a week, don't use it more than once a week. There are some circumstances where you can break this rule – such as when a dermatologist prescribes something to be used more often than is normally safe – but you should avoid experimenting without the instruction of a trained professional.