Satisfying? Yes. Weird? Yes. Photo: Rachel Adler/Fashionista
When peel-off face masks — the formulas that begin as gels or creams and then dry to rubber-like sheets when you let them set on skin — began to trend recently, they led us to reminiscence about the pore strip standbys of our teen days. There’s something intensely satisfying about peeling a hardened mask off your face, revealing a smooth, exfoliated, glowing layer of baby softness underneath.
There’s also something appealing about the shareable nature of them; snapping a selfie mid-peel-off is basically a requirement in the age of social-media-driven beauty. But though it’s easy to love how cool (creepy?) they look on camera, how legit are they really? Is it worth swapping your traditional clay face mask for a peel-off one instead? We asked an expert.
As it turns out, the peel-off mechanism itself isn’t doing much for your skin, says Dr. Julie Russak, a dermatologist in New York City. It’s more about the ingredients and how they’re being delivered while the mask is actually on your skin. Because they sit on skin’s surface without evaporating for extended periods of time (typically at least 10 minutes or longer), peel-off masks are able to deliver high concentrations of ingredients to the skin rapidly.
“Peel-off masks usually contain lower concentrations of alpha or beta hydroxy acids — the two most common ingredients are glycolic and salicylic acid,” explains Russak. “The high concentration of alcohol in the masks thins the solutions so they better penetrates the skin. Polyvinyl alcohol reacts with the air quickly, and within 10 to 15 minutes, the mask will dry completely and form a hard, dry layer that can be peeled off.” Simple enough.
Russak also broke down exactly which peel-off formulas are best for different skin types: If you have oily or acne-prone skin, look for a glycolic- or sulfer-based mask to absorb any gunk in your pores. Masks with salicylic acid also help with exfoliation to prevent breakouts from forming. But if you’re looking to soften the appearance of fine lines and leave your complexion looking plump and smooth, look for glycolic acid (which speeds cell turnover) and hyaluronic acid (which hydrates). “For dryness or irritation, look for soothing or moisturizing ingredients, like cucumber and aloe vera,” says Russak.
Chloe Hall, Fashionista’s social media manager and combination skin haver, put seven of the most popular peel-off masks of the moment to the test, giving us her uncensored first impressions as she slathered each one on (and then peeled them back off). Click through the gallery below for her honest take — and to find out which product left her feeling like a “gilded angel.”
Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Hydrating Modeling Mask, $46, available at Sephora: The only “rubber” mask of the group (meaning it begins as a powder you mix with water to form a rubbery layer that’s much thicker than the other formulas), this bright-blue pick had a “jelly slime” quality for Chloe, but… in a good way. With hyaluronic acid and marine algae, this hydrating mask leaves skin feeling coddled, not stripped, when you peel it off. Chloe also enjoyed the hands-on “science experiment” act of concocting the mask in the included bowl before smoothing it over her skin.
Origins GinZing Peel-Off Mask to Refine and Refresh, $26, available at Macys: Chloe’s favorite mask in the group (and hands-down the most photogenic, too) Origins’ rose-gold mask made her look like a “gilded angel…or an extra on Game of Thrones.” She did report that peeling it off required a bit of tugging and hurt a tiny bit, but the smooth, glow-y results made that momentary discomfort so worth it.
NIA Sunday Detox Whipped Clay Peel-Off Mask, $36, available at Ulta: As if a peel-off mask wasn’t already fun enough to begin with, this formula is a whipped foam, which dispenses almost like shaving cream. Cool, yes, but Chloe noted that this also made it a bit messier to apply. The good news was that even though she applied only a very thin layer, it still came off in one very easy sheet, which is a major peel-off bonus. A-peel-ing, if you will.
Boscia Luminizing Black Mask, $34, available at Sephora: The oh-so-popular Boscia mask — an OG of the peel-off category — was also a win with Chloe. It’s spiked with charcoal, which attracts gunk and dirt from pores, making for an extra-satisfying result when you peel it off.
H2O+ Aquadefense Matcha Detox Mask, $38, available at Ulta: This mask is one of beauty editor Steph’s favorites, but Chloe didn’t love how “drippy” it got as it dried. She did, however, appreciate its selfie value for helping her to channel “Incredible Hulk” vibes. And she had to admit that she loved how bright and smooth her skin looked after the treatment.
First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Purifying Red Clay Mask, $30, available at Sephora: Admittedly, this mask looked the most grotesque of the group, and was also one of the messiest when it came to peeling it off (Chloe said it gave her horror movie vibes). But the red clay does work wonders for regulating oil production and de-clogging pores, which Chloe might have experienced had she had any to begin with.
Sulwhasoo Clarifying Mask, $34, available at Nordstrom: Chloe’s face pretty much says it all here: This formula peeled off the funkiest of them all. But despite that, it’s a personal favorite of my own — it smells like heaven. As Chloe noted when she tested it, you have to be very careful about layering to get the correct thickness as you apply (it’s honey-textured!).
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