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The World Doesn't Really Need Dry Sheet Masks

At least not until we've perfected the technology.

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Do I love this mask? Do I hate it?
Photo: Shutterstock

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Sheet masks, one of the Korean beauty industry’s biggest success stories, are pretty ubiquitous here in the US. If you haven’t tried one yourself, you’ve surely seen them all over Instagram: those white or animal-printed masks that make the wearer look like the villain in a horror film. They’re usually soaked with an essence or serum, and they come in all different formulas depending on your skin type or concern. The one constant, though, is that they are wet. Often drippingly so.

To some, this is a great thing. Tons of product to slather all over your face! But some people hate the sensation and think it feels creepy and slimy. I’m of the former persuasion; to me, there’s nothing better than relaxing with a cool hydrogel mask soaked with antioxidants that I obsessively pat into my skin after I take the mask off. But I get that people hate it.

Photo: Charlotte Tilbury

So I was intrigued when I saw that the latest iteration of the sheet mask is dry. Two brands, Charlotte Tilbury and Nanette de Gaspe, now offer them. They supposedly offer less of the things people might dislike in a standard sheet mask — the goopiness— while ostensibly offering something more: results.

I tried both brands. Charlotte Tilbury’s ($22) is only available for the face, while Nanette de Gaspe ($85 to $120) has versions for several body parts, including face, mouth, hands, and the neck, which is the one I tried. According to The Guardian (whose writer is pro-dry mask), the technology in both of these comes from the same lab, which uses a dry-printing technology to stamp a solid oil and active ingredient mixture onto a fabric sheet mask. When you massage the mask, it activates the ingredients and causes them to melt into your skin.

I didn’t enjoy the experience. The Charlotte Tilbury mask, which fit great thanks to loops that go over your ears, was not soft and gave me the sensation of wearing one of those paper hospital masks, something I had to do frequently when I was a bone marrow transplant nurse. It felt rough around my eyes and mouth.

While the Nanette de Gaspe mask was softer, the neck version comes with an admittedly pretty ribbon, which I stopped admiring once I realized I had to thread it through the mask and tie it around my neck after I already had the top half of it on. After I removed them, both masks left what can only be described as greasy residue on my skin. They also left me a bit pink and irritated. You can supposedly apply makeup afterwards and go on with your day (while the results last for hours), but I washed it off immediately.

According to a cosmetic chemist that Allure spoke to, the technology might be legitimate. She noted that a lot of work has been done studying textiles to deliver ingredients. It’s a concept that was first used in medicine with dry transdermal patches that can deliver meds through the skin.

There’s not a whole lot of clinical science available on traditional wet sheet masks. The theory is that the occlusiveness of the mask helps the ingredients absorb better. This may or may not be true, though dermatologists concede that occlusion definitely can help hydrate your skin at the bare minimum.

I’m burying the lede a little bit here, but the most egregious thing about these masks might be the price. A wet sheet mask costs anywhere from $1 to $9, which is actually pretty pricey if you think about how many doses of serum you can get out of a more traditional skincare bottle or tub of moisturizer. But that’s nothing compared to the dry mask prices. At $22 and up to $120 a pop per mask, that’s a lot of money. However, you can use the dry masks up to three times before you have to toss them, since they say they won’t attract bacteria, which takes the cost per use down a bit.

While there might be legitimate science here, the experience was not pleasurable and to me that was a problem, especially since I equate sheet masks with relaxation. Granted, a lot of beauty treatments are unpleasant, but in this case the ends do not justify the means. I promise that I’m not trying to be all “Get off my lawn!” here; I love a beauty innovation probably more than the average person. But I don’t think this one is perfected yet.

The Verdict: Wait until they’re cheaper and nicer to use.

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