If I manage to skirt the Naughty List, Santa usually sneaks a few beauty goodies in my stocking each year. I can’t count how many glosses, shadows, and makeup brushes have come from that merry man up north. This time around, it wasn’t Santa but my surrogate brother (not blood-related but like family) who surprised me with a gift for my face. Knowing that I would need to kick my skincare routine into high gear this year in preparation for my fall wedding, he consulted with a beauty editor friend on her favorite cosmetic. What she suggested - and he ultimately sought out for me - was the Dior Hydra Life Beauty Awakening Rehydrating Mask.

The problem with some beauty magazine editors (and this is a generalization) is that they often write for their advertisers as much as (if not more) for their readers. That means heaps of congratulatory fluff and scant candid substance, which is to say, the exact opposite of TIA. Dior’s face mask is a perfect specimen of the beauty mag editor breed. Just as its name promises, it does in fact awaken and rehydrate the skin. You know the proverbial moist and dewy complexion of the models in beauty shots? Well, Dior’s mask can give you that look. It is also free of any fragrance - a plus for all who prefer natural odorless beauty - and keeps skin thoroughly hydrated for an entire night out. There’s your beauty magazine blurb!

My first impressions of the mask were only positive. My skin had not looked so glowing and supple since the summer. It created a miraculously smooth canvas for my makeup. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that the mask was merely putting a band-aid over my dry skin. The instructions indicate that you’re supposed to let the mask sit on your face for 5 to 10 minutes, and then wipe it off with a damp cotton pad or massage the remainder into skin. My parched skin immediately gulped down the cream, and after only a minute there was nothing left to remove or rub in.

So why doesn’t Dior just call a spade a spade and concede that this product is more a cream than a mask? I think the answer lies in the fact that, unlike a daily moisturizer, Dior’s mask is only meant to be used once or twice a week. There must be a reason it’s not indicated for everyday use. I dipped into the formula to figure out why.

A quick scan revealed that the star ingredients touted in the Hydra Life line are buried at the bottom of the barrel. Supposedly, the “Dior Innovation Center selects plant resources with amazing benefits, extracts their purest part, enriches it, and uses it to heighten the effectiveness of Hydra Life skincare.” But a plant extract isn’t going to have any effect if it’s tacked at the tail end of a body of fillers. The first instance of a botanical - Black Rose - does not occur until seventeen ingredients down the list. It is followed in haphazard succession by antioxidant vitamin E, healing centella extract, anti-inflammatory mallow extract, and hydrating sodium hyaluronate. Those trifling ingredients, in a nutshell, account for Dior’s ‘amazing benefits’ sourced from nature.

What makes up the remainder? Glycerin, with its knack for moisturizing, softening, and protecting skin, is the best of the bunch. Its bedfellows include emulsifiers, thickeners, preservatives, solvents, stabilizers, silicones, and various synthetic skin-conditioning agents. Which means that the majority of the formula is dedicated to perfecting the product’s consistency and longevity instead of its efficacy. The mask’s short-sighted goals might be excused - especially considering its rather reasonable $37 price tag - if only so many of those fillers weren’t so questionable.

To name a few, phenoxyethanol appears way too close for comfort to the top of the list. We prefer to stay away from formulas containing this risky preservative at concentrations over 1%, and Dior clearly passes that mark. Sharing properties with the known allergen propylene glycol, pentylene glycol is associated with contact dermatitis and organ toxicity. Another strong irritant, sodium hydroxide has been linked to every danger from severe burns to cancer. Cetyl alcohol, like many other fatty alcohols, is believed to alter the skin’s protective barrier and trigger allergic reactions. The polymer polyacrylamide is formed from units of acrylamide, a known toxin that registers at a level 10 heath hazard by the EWG. Dior’s profusion of fillers is hardly harmless.

Nonetheless, it is no surprise that Dior Hydra Life Beauty Awakening Rehydrating Mask would be a beauty editor’s pet product. On the surface it does everything you could want in a moisturizing mask. As said beauty editor would tell you, it is a refreshing gulp for dry skin and a swell addition to our arsenals of age-defying paraphernalia. But what you won’t hear - unless you come here - is how Dior’s mask might compromise your skin and your health.

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Ingredients:
Water, Isononyl Isononanoate, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Pentylene Glycol, Phenyl Trimethicone, Betaine, Butylene Glycol, Steareth-2, Steareth-21, Phenoxyethanol, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Dimethicone, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Rosa Hybrid Flower Extract, Decyloxazolidinone, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tocopheryl Acetate, Polyacrylamide, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Dimethicone/Phenylvinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Parfum, Centella Asiatica Leaf Extract, Malva Sylvestris (Mallow) Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Ajuga Turkestanica Extract, Sodium Hydroxide, Laureth-7, Ethylhexylglycerin, BHT, Cl42090 (Blue 1).