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Victoria Beckham’s fave foil face mask, which is based on cell-cleaning technology, got me thinking that there have to be better options out there. I’ve always been a big fan of face masks — they can multitask or focus exclusively on brightening, tightening, cleansing or hydrating. Also nice: because they don’t need to sink into skin, masks are formulated with mostly actives sans the solvents, emulsifiers and carriers that often go into serums and creams.
But after weeks of studying and slathering, I’ve found that many popular face masks are full of nasty chemicals and irritants. I also found some that are very unique and promising. Here are those that I rejected before getting to a selection for testing.
Fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask ($62)
Its base is a kind of clay called fuller’s earth that is popular with kitty litter manufacturers due to its absorbent properties. This not-so-fresh formula also includes the irritant pentylene glycol, potentially toxic polyacrylamide, and BHT, as well as mineral oils.
GlamGlow Supermud Clearing Treatment ($62)
Although widely popular, this mask seems to have been created by a bacteria-phobe. There are a slew of harsh preservatives inside, including every paraben known to man (with their controversial associations with cancer), plus neurotoxins phenoxyethanol and sodium hydroxide. You will find English ivy extract, but that doesn’t quite compensate.
First Aid Beauty 5-in-1 Bouncy Mask ($38)
I was grateful to see that this 5-in-1 mask wasn’t just overpriced clay. It’s made with some good botanicals such as lentil, algae, apple and feverfew, as well as two forms of vitamin C. However, the dominant ingredient, propanediol, is a known irritant, and there’s plenty of silicone, pentylene glycol and sodium benzoate (reported to be toxic when mixed with vitamin C).
Dermovia Lace Your Face Smoothing Peptides Mask ($55)
Casting around for something less predictable, I came across this variation on the sheet mask. It’s a strange, lacy fabric with stem cells and peptides. Sadly, the first four ingredients include the irritant propylene glycol, toxic chlorphenesin, and methylisothiazolinone, a neurotoxin that’s only considered safe in rinse-off products (although I could concede that a mask is).
Nügg Face Masks ($16.45 for 5)
Nügg calls itself the skin mask authority and you can’t accuse them of overcharging for their products strangely packaged to look like the salad dressing that comes with your deli lunch. They get off to a good start with aloe and olive oil, plus anti-aging niacinamide. Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good with some of the harsh ingredients identified in the reviews above.
Selected for testing
Arosha Lifting Contouring Mask
I tend to think that less is more when it comes to a good mask. I love the simplicity of I Pekar’s ($98 in the shop), which is based on thermal mud from Hungary. I’m not a fan of the faddish sheet masks. They don’t get into the nooks and crannies, are often compromised with chemicals, and fall off unless one lies prone for 20 minutes. However, I recently made an exception for one from Italy called Arosha Lifting & Contouring Mask. It comes saturated with quinoa seed extract, hyaluronic acid, peptides and resveratrol and really does leave the face looking lifted and contoured. Additionally, I'm eager to give the following masks a try.
Lilfox Chlorophyll + Tourmaline Brightening Mask ($68)
I don’t know if this will bring out my inner vixen, but it seems one up from yet another clay mask with tourmaline crystals, algae, matcha tea and sea buckthorn. Even better: It contains no nasties.
Lina Hanson’s Global Face Trio ($70)
Thanaka powder is an interesting and uncommon ingredient. Extracted from the bark of a tree, it’s an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that can also block UV light and prevent hyperpigmentation. It is the highlight of this cleanser and exfoliater, as well as a mask.
Luzern O2 Infuse Firming Mask ($70)
This comes with a vial of serum to top it off. Even without it, this seems elevated above the standard clay mask, thanks to yeast extract, edelweiss, algae, phospholipids and ubiquinone. The formula is marred by the irritant propanediol, but the good far outweighs the bad.
Palmetto Derma Rejuvenating Mask Antioxidant ($64)
This looks to be a good brightening mask with vitamin C, glycolic and lactic acids. There are tons of plant extracts, such as cranberry fibers, bayberry, hibiscus and cayenne, chosen for antioxidant properties and a nod to science in the form of a peptide. I note two harsh preservatives, but otherwise this product seems worth a try.
Laurel Skin Facial Mask Antioxidant ($56)
Red clover is on my radar as an ingredient that’s shown especially helpful for menopausal skin. This clay mask has 13 ingredients, is mostly organic, and features purifying nettle and dandelion.
Hylunia Antioxidant Mask ($39)
A hydrating mask that goes beyond hyaluronic acid caught my attention with grape stem cells, noni and pomegranate.
La Bella Figura Healing Manuka Mask ($60)
I like the idea of a Manuka honey mask, especially when it comes with chokeberry (full of antioxidant polyphenols), turmeric and fig. Looks good enough to spread on toast.
Stay tuned for full product reviews. In the meantime, tell me about your favorite face mask below!