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Tracy E. Robey

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The Woman in the Iron Mask

One of the hottest trends in skincare is a mask made with iron particles, removable only with a magnet — but is it good?

Even before Dr. Brandt Skincare launched the Magnetight Age-Defier mask ($75, provided to Racked by the brand for this review) in August and before Memebox stocked Korea’s Milky Dress Black Luster Mask ($52), magnetic masks were sold in the US. They were primarily offered for hundreds of dollars by MLMs (multi-level marketing companies), the sorts of skincare brands one finds in Vegas (namely the type that also lack a working website), or as part of spa facials. Now with a more upscale pedigree and lower stated retail price, magnetic masks are reaching mainstream customers, who see the masks in YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat videos and want to experience the magic in person.

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The selling point of the masks is, of course, that they’re magnetized. The masks derive their deep gray color and source of magnetic attraction from iron particles, listed first in the ingredients. Despite the presence of tiny bits of iron, the masks overall have a consistency much like a regular mud mask, with the Dr. Brandt mask being slightly creamier. The mask is supposed to be applied with the included spatula and then removed using a magnet, also provided in both mask kits. Using the Dr. Brandt spatula to apply the mask very carefully took me about 4 ½ minutes; save time by just removing a dollop of mask with the spatula and then applying it with your fingers (although this will require some extra cleanup).

To remove the mask, wrap the magnet in a piece of cling wrap or facial tissue (I found cling wrap to be more effective) and hold the magnet over the bits of mask you want to remove. In the instances where I managed to get some mask directly on the magnets without a covering, I sang "The Work Song" from Cinderella and scrubbed fruitlessly with a dry paper towel — not recommended. Depending on the strength of the magnet, the iron particle-laced mask will actually jump from your face to the outer edges of the magnet.

The Milky Dress magnet — chess pawn-shaped, easy to hold, and very strong — was the one aspect where the K-beauty mask proved superior to the Dr Brandt version. The small triangle-shaped magnet included with the Dr Brandt mask kit is easier to use around the eyes and allows greater control in case you want to make words or designs when removing the mask. Once the iron has been removed, massage the remaining mask goo into your skin. Dr. Whitney Bowe, dermatologist and member of the Dr. Brandt Skincare Skin Advisory Board, said via email that after the iron and black tourmaline have been removed, "all that’s left behind are emollients, antioxidants, essential oils and firming peptides."

The tiny iron particles are likely not going to be a source of irritation for most people. I managed to use the Dr. Brandt mask three times in the course of one afternoon without any tingling, burning, or unusual redness. Conversely, the Milky Dress Black Luster Mask caused a good deal of irritation for my skin, causing a tingling sensation while the mask was on as well as redness and a hot feeling as I massaged in the mask oils that remained. Sensitivity varies by person, but Bunny aka grav3yardgirl on YouTube reported a similar reaction to the same mask. I asked Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and a co-founder of The Beauty Brains, if massaging trace amounts of leftover iron particles into my skin was to blame for the reaction. He said that the reaction was likely not due to the iron and was instead caused by natural oils, which are "notoriously allergenic or irritating. Not everything in nature is good for your skin."

The Dr. Brandt mask didn’t cause irritation, but the remaining mask goo felt slick, likely because dimethicone — the same stuff that gives makeup primers such as Smashbox’s Iconic Photo Finish Foundation Primer their slip — is the second highest ingredient by concentration in the mask, following only iron. Dimethicone and other emollients can help to temporarily and immediately smooth skin, a result seen by the Dr. Brandt Skincare team while testing the Magnetight mask. Dr. Bowe reported that high resolution photos taken before and after the masks were used twice weekly for a month demonstrated "an average reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by 26%" while one person had "a 54.84% reduction in fine lines."

Claims related to the magnetism of the mask offering special skincare properties were rejected by Romanowski and Jasmin Chang, a nurse practitioner at teledermatology firm Curology. While the Memebox product page for the Milky Dress mask claims it can "Attract (literally) the dirt out of your skin!" Romanowski said, "[i]ron will not help remove dirt." Chang thought there could be some merit to this argument, citing experiments conducted by scientists attempting to clean birds after oil spills; by mixing iron particles with the oily feathers, scientists were able to remove the iron and oil mixture using a magnet. While it’s uncertain if the iron particle size in the masks is small enough to enter pores, wrote Chang via email, excess oil on the surface of one’s skin might be removed due to a similar effect. Other claims related to magnets reducing signs of aging are not specific and not supported by peer-reviewed scientific research wrote Chang and Romanowski.

While these masks do offer skincare benefits (provided your skin is amenable to the ingredients), the price of the masks per use is extremely high for what they actually do. Over the course of rather unscientific tests using my kitchen scale, I found that applying the Dr. Brandt mask thinly using fingers resulted in about 7g of product used per mask session, allowing one to theoretically stretch the jar to 13 uses at a cost of around $5.77 plus tax per mask session. When I used the included spatula, I ended up using between 13g and 15g of product, meaning that I’d only get 6 or 7 uses out of the jar and each application could cost $10.71 to $12.50 plus tax. When asked if the magnetic masks are worth buying at more than $50 each, Chang wrote, "for what they claim to do for the skin, I believe there are cheaper alternatives that can be just as, if not more, effective." Romanowski echoed her statement, stating that the magnetic masks "aren't doing anything for your skin that a moisturizer can't do."


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