In the world of beauty, one of the most implacable problems is those pesky dark circles under our eyes. They show up at the drop of a hat, they're difficult to get rid of, and they require a ton of cosmetics to cover up. Dark circles can also lead to puffiness and tender skin around the eyes, and it's overall simply unpleasant. What if there was a way to solve the problem? Perhaps there is. Let's talk about gel eye masks.
What Is a Gel Eye Mask?
There are two kinds of gel eye masks, and they operate in two different and distinct ways. We're going to talk about both kinds, even though we only sell one of them, since they operate in similar ways, even though they're dramatically different.
The first kind of gel eye mask is the kind we sell. It's a gel or cream that you spread on your skin, around your eyes, and leave in place while it does its work. We'll talk more later about how they work and what benefits they have. Our gel eye mask formula uses collagen as a primary ingredient. For the sake of clarity throughout this post, we're going to call this one the gel mask.
The second kind of gel eye mask is more like a sleep mask, meant to cover your eyes entirely, though some of them have eye holes so you can still open your eyes and see without removing them in the middle of the night. They're filled with cooling chemical gel, and it's more the temperature than the chemical composition that has a beneficial effect on your eyes. Again, for the sake of clarity, we're going to give this one a specific label: the wearable mask.
How do these two kinds of masks work? Let's dig in.
How Do Gel Eye Masks Work?
While both kinds of eye masks serve similar purposes, they work in different ways. Learning how they work is a key part of deciding which one you want to use.
Gel masks, the kind of product you slather on your skin (and the kind we sell) work just like any other facial cream, gel, or mask. You apply the gel to your skin and leave it in place for some amount of time. Once in place, two different mechanisms spring into action.
The first mechanism is temperature. Eye masks are typically cooling and soothing to the skin, similar to aloe or a menthol-infused cream or lotion. While in place, they help reduce inflammation, redness, puffiness, and the dark circles under your eyes, by constricting capillaries and reducing blood flow.
The second mechanism is the chemical ingredients, primarily collagen, in the gel. Collagen is a critical protein for your skin and is part of the elasticity that keeps your skin looking youthful. While collagen is primarily useful when you eat it (don't eat the eye mask!) it may also help restore your skin. We've written a lot about collagen before, so if you're curious about this protein, here are some posts you can read:
- Can you take collagen supplements without breaking your fast?
- The ultimate guide to collagen for vegans and vegetarians.
- How long does it take collagen supplements to work?
- Can taking collagen help with acne breakouts?
- Why both men and women should take collagen supplements.
The other kind of mask, the wearable mask, does not have a chemical component to it. You can think of it more like one of those flexible hot-cold packs you can buy from sports sections or medical sections in your department stores or pharmacies. Some of them are simply cool to the touch and retain their cool temperature for a long time. Others can be put into the fridge or freezer to chill or warmed up in a microwave or when immersed in hot water.
Before we continue, know that everything we just said is variable. Different masks work in different ways. If you try to microwave the wrong kind of mask, you could melt it or start a fire. If you try to freeze a mask that isn't meant for freezing, it can crack and break. Always read the instructions on any mask you own before using it, and make sure you use it according to those instructions.
Anyway, as mentioned, the wearable masks work primarily through temperature. Much like how ice and heat soothe an injury, the chill of the eye mask helps soothe your skin and reduce puffiness and dark circles under and around your eyes. It generally feels nice and reduces eye strain, letting your body do its work to recover.
What Are the Benefits of a Gel Eye Mask?
What you might be wondering is what are the benefits of these masks? Luckily, both kinds of masks have the same array of benefits, so we don't have to divide this section up into parts. Let's look at the benefits.
They may help regulate your circadian rhythm. This one is primarily a benefit of the wearable masks that cover your eyes, rather than the gel masks or the masks with eye holes in them. The goal is to cover your eyes and help them relax while blocking out light (particularly blue light) that disrupts your sleep cycles. You can also help with this by practicing good sleep hygiene and by maintaining a consistent schedule for going to sleep and waking up each day.
They may help you sleep more deeply. When you sleep solidly and deeply, with minimal disruptions throughout the night, your body can focus more on healing itself. As time goes on, scientists are discovering more and more reasons why solid, consistent sleep is important for overall health. In particular, sleep helps you fight off the effects of stress. When you sleep, your body produces melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate sleep but also serves as an antioxidant.
They may improve mental health. When you sleep with little or no light exposure, you reduce the risk of mental issues, including depression and anxiety. Recent studies have shown a link between light exposure and depression, so there's something there, though it needs more study to be truly pinned down. While you may be able to help achieve this just by using blackout curtains, it may be easier to wear a mask instead.
They may reduce dark circles under your eyes. Any mask that cools the skin can be used to help reduce dark circles and puffiness around your eyes. It doesn't matter whether they've cropped up because you're stressed, you're crying, you're partying, or you're just sleep-deprived; the cause is the same. Stress and tenderness increase blood flow to your skin and the areas around your eyes are particularly susceptible to it.
When you apply something cool to the affected area, it constricts the blood vessels and capillaries around the area. This reduces blood flow, which reduces inflammation and swelling, as well as the dark appearance that comes with puffy eyes. That darkness is, after all, just an excess of blood in the affected area. When you cool it down, the blood flow recedes, leaving your eyes healthier, more comfortable, and better in appearance.
They may help reduce eye conditions. Some specific conditions, like blepharitis (swollen eyes), dry eye, and MGD (meibomian gland disorder) can all be treated with the physical application of heat. Heat can loosen up and liquidate grime that blocks up sebum and tear ducts, which helps stimulate eye lubrication and reduce eye issues.
Heat only works as an application when you can heat your eye mask. Some chemical eye masks (not ours, though) have a sort of "icy hot" effect, where they start cool and gradually warm up when the chemicals in them react to the oxygen in the air. These can be useful, but can also be dangerous to use around the eyes. The other alternative is an eye mask that can be heated up and can retain that heat for some time. These can be very useful to wear.
They may help with migraines and headaches. Two common treatments to alleviate headaches are spending time in a dark, cool, quiet room, and applying pressure or tension to the area around your head. Cool darkness is easily achievable with a gel eye mask. Pressure might not sound like it helps, but simple compression can do a lot for some people. Give it a try if you suffer from frequent headaches.
It may stimulate and enhance naps. We all want to nap, right? Day-to-day life is stressful and exhausting, and sometimes the best thing you can do is simply spend half an hour or so napping in the middle of the day. Surprisingly, NASA has performed studies and found that power naps can improve energy levels, focus, concentration, working memory, accuracy, and all manner of cognitive performance.
A mask simply allows you to take a brief power nap in an environment that would otherwise not be ideal to doing so, like a brightly lit room. Again, though, this only applies to a mask that can block out light.
They may improve your skin health. It should not be left unsaid that a gel eye mask can help improve the health and liveliness of your skin, particularly around your eyes. If nothing else, letting stress damage your skin and doing nothing about it means that damage is more likely to be permanent. Eye masks are part of a comprehensive skin treatment plan that helps restore the health and youthfulness of your skin.
Can You Sleep in a Gel Eye Mask?
Returning to the original premise of this post, many people ask us if they can sleep in a gel mask. The answer, generally, relies on the kind of mask you're wearing, and your proclivities.
If you're wearing a gel mask like the kind we sell, you may or may not be able to sleep in it. Some people sleep in gel masks all the time. Others find that having something on their face is unpleasant. In part, it also comes down to whether or not you can sleep on your back. If you can't get comfortable unless you're on your side or stomach, you'll have trouble. After all, if you have cream on your face, and you press your face to a pillow, you're just going to smear it everywhere and make a mess. Mind you, that doesn't mean you can't sleep in it, just that it will be a mess to deal with.
As for a wearable mask, sure, you can wear them at night if you want. Most of them are explicitly designed to be worn at night since they're made to be sleep masks. You can't very well wear what is effectively a blindfold during the day, can you?
The primary consideration for a wearable mask is just how comfortable you find it when you try to wear it at night. Again, some people can sleep with a mask on without issues, and others are more likely to find it irritating and distracting.
We recommend picking up both kinds of masks and giving them a try. The worst thing that happens is you have a night where you can't sleep until you stop using the mask, and really, that's a very minor fail state. If you find that you can sleep in the mask, well, there you go.
Which kind of mask should you try out? We're biased towards the one we sell, but it can come down to what problem you're trying to solve. Do you have dark circles under your eyes that you want to reduce and heal? Try our gel mask. Are you more specifically looking to deal with dry eye, block out light for a nap, or otherwise try to enhance your sleep quality? Try a wearable mask.
What do you think? Have you tried out a sleep mask of either sort before (or even our mask!), and if so, what do you think? Leave us a note in the comments.