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Let’s Talk - Choosing The Correct Face Mask for You

It may feel as though face masks are simply, the latest cosmetics craze. Social media is ablaze with Insta stars mixing them up, putting them on and taking them off again. Masks are appearing with an ever increasing and bewildering deck of ingredients and promises to tempt us into a quick purchase and mask parties, gaining in popularity, post lock-down, are being promoted for everything from hen dos to home-based spa evenings.  

But the truth is, masking has been with us for thousands of years, and is not to be taken lightly. Long before high-tech masks with a big mix of chemicals and even glitter, hit today's contemporary beauty scene, the Indus valley civilisation in India, some 2,500 years BC, had a fantastically sophisticated and natural handle on self-beautification, creating a large array of cosmetics for both women and men in ancient India, including face masks.

The original maskologists, the Indus experts who invented and took the practice seriously, painstakingly combined a wide variety of plant extracts to create different ‘lapas’ (face masks), for different seasons of the year. Botanical ingredients added for the cold seasons, for instance, varied from those in warmer months.  

Today we have the advantage of having some high quality, natural masks at our fingertips, which have been equally carefully created, to optimise the benefits of this ancient beautifying practice. Our role is to understand our own needs and to select the right mask at the right time for the right reason.  

We also need to consider that while our skin can certainly look and feel better after one application, taking a longer-term view on masking and devoting six to eight weeks to the art of will reap real benefits, helping for example, everything from diminishing fine lines and smoothing out uneven pigmentation to reducing inflammation and improving our overall skin texture. Once you see and feel these results, you will probably want to make masking a permanent part of your regular skin care.  

Here, we guide you through the art of masking with essential dos and don'ts and some specialist mask advice to suit your own, unique needs.  

1. Preparation

It is vital to thoroughly cleanse our skin, before applying any mask. The role of a mask is to drive the active ingredients it contains closer and deeper into our skin, and this is only possible if skin is clean from cosmetic residues and the daily dust and pollutants to which is exposed.

2. Pre-mask Serums:

Prior to applying some masks, use of a serum can optimise the benefits of the mask to come, further still. Serums containing stabilised vitamin C for example can deliver meaningful amounts of this anti-ageing nutrient. Those based on hyaluronic acid can add extra moisture to our skin and improve dryness. A serum that delivers retinol meanwhile can help to reduce roughness, even out mottled pigmentation and gradually diminish appearance of fine lines. In some cases, a light fruit acid peel prior to the right mask, can help to remove dead skin cells, helping the mask ingredients to move efficiently into the skin, once applied.  

3. Multi-Masking:

Remember that once mask is sometimes not enough. Committing to a two-month programme of masking and then incorporating it into your regular beauty regimen will give you the best results but it is important to be prepared to multi-mask along the way. This allows us to use, for example, a mask designed for exfoliation on our skin and cheeks, while turning to another to deal with our ‘T-zone’, which may need some oil control. Equally, we may need to focus more on masks designed to deal with uneven pigmentation during summer months on specific areas of our skin and another designed for blemishes at times of breakouts or when dealing with acne.  

4. Know Your Ingredients:

It is important to understand which ingredients, do what in your mask and to opt for natural solutions based on botanicals and organic ingredients, with a proven track-record over the years. It is also important to avoid high-tech masks containing parabens, fragrances, alcohol, dyes, and a plethora of chemicals. Far from soothing and nourishing skin, these can leave us with reactions ranging from irritation and redness to breakouts.  

5. Create The Space:

While masking can have real and noticeable benefits to our skin, the ritual of applying a mask is an important part of the process and benefit of the practice. Make time in your day to mask so that you can relax, switch off and benefit psychologically as well as physically from this ancient beauty practice.

Which Mask?

Exfoliate, Brighten, Blemish Control

To fulfil these tasks, we need to look for masks containing ingredients such as papain from papaya, fruit acids from citrus fruits like grapefruit, squalene from olive oil, salicylic acid derived from willow and antioxidants from ingredients such as acai, goji and carrots.  
As dermatologists explain, it is the presence of gentle enzymes in papain which help to remove dead cells from our skin and unclog blocked pores, allowing healing ingredients in the mask to move deeper into our skin. Through gentle and non-irritating exfoliation, our skin is left looking brighter with the potential to even help diminish the look of scarring.
Acids in grapefruit meanwhile can assist the exfoliation process and along with salicylic acid, even out the appearance of blemishes. Olive oil has long been known for its natural ability to dampen down inflammation through the presence of squalene. In a mask designed to exfoliate, squalene can help to replenish moisture, leaving it soft after use.  
The presence of antioxidants meanwhile sourced for example from acai, goji berries and carrots deliver a range of beautiful vibrant carotenoids, which research reveals helps our skin to protect itself from the assault of pollutants to which it is exposed daily, especially from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.  
Last but by no means the least, the presence of vitamin C completes the picture. Skin experts acknowledge the array of benefits brought by this nutrient to our skin, helping our skin to make new collagen and slow down the destruction of collagen already present. By slowing down our skin’s production of the pigment melanin, it is also able to play its part in evening out blemishes and patches of hyperpigmentation.

When, how long, how often?

Incorporating once or twice weekly, for ten minutes each time, in the evening, is a good routine to get into with a papain-based mask to benefit from the brightening, skin softening and pigmentation-evening effects. For sensitive skin, it is wise to begin with three to five minutes and work up from there. Keep this routine up for at least three weeks and continue if you can.  


Post Mask:

Try a daily protective addition of shield product to protect your newly exfoliated skin. Look for products containing pomegranate, jojoba, and grape extracts to help protect from ultraviolet damage from the sun’s rays, throughout the year.

Hydrate, Plump and Nourish

To fulfil these roles of hydrating and plumping our skin while correcting patches of dryness, we need to look for ingredients that help to soothe and regulate our skins composition. Key ingredients include honey, aloe, squalene, and vitamin E.  
Used for millennia in natural cosmetics, honey has long been understood by the very first cosmetologists to have an ability to soothe. Modern methods of analysis have allowed contemporary scientists to understand why. Honey has been shown to have both emollient and humectant effects on our skin, allowing it to soothe while retaining and increasing moisture, which in turn reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. With natural antibacterial effects and an ability to regulate the pH of our skin, it has cleansing properties to add to its many roles within a face mask.  
Aloe is another ingredient used for thousands of years in cosmetic preparations. Dermatologists today are aware of its natural ability to soothe and like honey, to improve hydration of our skin through its ability to attract water into skin cells to help smooth fine lines. The presence of vitamin E enhances the action of aloes impact on lines and wrinkles while the addition of squalene, from olive oil, dampens down inflammation incurred through exposure to sunlight and air pollutants.

When, How Long, How Often?

A luxurious creamy, comforting, and calming mask based on honey and aloe can be used nightly. It can be left on for ten to twenty minutes or simply be left on overnight.

Pre-Mask:

A light fruit acid peel before using a nourishing, honey and aloe-based mask can help to prepare our skin and is particularly helpful if wanting to improve the appearance of blemishes and acne.  

Purify, Detox and Decongest  

There are phases and moments as we move through life when our skin deserves and needs a deep cleanse, to help energise and refresh its look and feel. At these times, turning to a clay mask is ideal but it is important to choose the right clay base to avoid irritation and over-drying. Kaolin is an ideal light, white mineral clay with an ability to draw out excess sebum from our skin and to extract oiliness without over drying.  

The addition of ingredients such as lavender lends a clay-based mask a natural way of further purifying our skin through its gentle antimicrobial effect while oil from eucalyptus adds antiseptic properties. These combined actions help a mask to deal with acne and blemishes, roles that are further backed up with the presence of salicylic acid, which naturally exfoliate.  

Lavender extracts have the added advantage of boasting more plant compounds which also help to calm and soothe as they work their way into our skin’s deeper layers, through the application of a clay-based mask.  

When, How Long, How Often?

Using the mask in the evening and leaving on for ten to fifteen minutes can reduce oiliness after just one application. For on-going healing and skin adjustment, using twice a week is idea.  

Pre-Mask:

A treatment with a retinol containing serum the night before a clay mask treatment can be especially helpful for mature skin, particularly in areas that feel a little rough, need mottling pigmentation evening out and fine lines to be treated.  

Anti-Ageing Collagen Boost  

The elasticity of our skin and its ability to resist the formation of lines, wrinkles and sagging depends to a large extent on the production, preservation, and overall health of collagen within its middle layer. This is because collagen gives our skin structure and bounce, allowing it to ping back into place after facial movements. Regular use of a collagen-based gel mask is therefore an important component of our overall anti-ageing strategy, and it is never too soon to start.  

Ingredients to look for on the label include alpha-lipoic acid, DMAE and MSM as well as rosehip oil and vitamin E. These deliver a burst of antioxidants which work together as they penetrate deeper layers of our skin to help with both production of collagen and to protect it from future damage.  

Another key ingredient is collagen itself. There has been much debate over the value of applying collagen directly to our skin via masks, but if in the correct form, soluble collagen has been noted by researchers to restore skin elasticity. Counterintuitively, this is not by just directly boosting collagen in the middle layers, which the antioxidants are protecting but instead, because as an ingredient, it has a great ability to bind water.  

Collagen in the mask in fact forms a film on our skins surface, which in turn, reduces water loss. Together these properties leave the skin more able to maintain a good water content, while helping to moisture, and soften the skin in the process.  

When, How Long, How Often?

The evening is an ideal time to apply a collagen gel mask, which can be left on overnight. It can be used each evening, allowed to be fully absorbed and followed just before sleeping, with a night cream.  

Pre / Post-Mask:

To enhance and boost the role of a collagen mask, application of a hyaluronic acid serum is ideal preparation. Hyaluronic acid is known to be a highly efficient ‘humectant’, capable of binding over a thousand times its weight in water. Along with collagen, we lose hyaluronic acid as we age, with increased loss of skin volume, hydration, and plumpness as a result. Allowing a layer of hyaluronic-rich serum to be absorbed prior to using a collagen mask will offer further hydration and volume. Meanwhile a stabilised Vitamin C serum the morning-after mask, is ideal. Vitamin C has an astonishing array of skin enhancing and anti-ageing properties, which include an ability to stimulate collagen production in the middle layer and help to reduce its breakdown. The vitamin E in the collagen mask will help vitamin C to replenish its antioxidant properties, allowing it to continue with its collagen protecting role in the day ahead.  

Written by:  
Amanda Ursell
BSc Nutrition
Registered Nutritionist AFN
PG Dip Dietetics,  
Associateship King's College (AKC)

Twitter: @AmandaUrsell
Web: amandaursell.com

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