Few experiences feel more like an act of true #selfcare than kicking back with a good face mask at home. Face masks are all about taking a much-needed time-out—and of course, they make your skin feel amazing, which doesn’t exactly hurt. The whole process is one of my favorite things in the entire world, and I indulge in it regularly.
I understand some people go to spas for these treatments, but frankly, that sounds both expensive and stressful to me. I don’t want to worry about the cost of a destressing treatment while I’m trying to destress, and I definitely don’t want a stranger who works in beauty for a living to see me with a face mask on. I barely want my dog to see me with a face mask on.
I love the process of blending ingredients in my kitchen, unscrewing the lid off a pot of store-bought mask, or even just ripping open a sheet mask. In fact, my favorite thing about sheet masks is they’re pretty gunkless, which means you don’t have to spend 20 minutes sleepily scrubbing out your bedsheets in the bathroom sink after you inevitably fall asleep watching The Deuce (ask me how I know). They’re also so low effort, you’ll actually do them on a weeknight.
Anyway, whether you want to scoop your mask from a jar or tidily unfold a sheet mask from a packet, here’s how to find the best one to manage your skin concerns.
1. Shiny, Oily Skin
When your skin becomes more reflective than a Mylar balloon, you need help mattifying. “I suggest hyaluronic acid for oily skin, as it’s noncomedogenic,” says Michele Green, M.D., a New York-based board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. “Individuals with oily skin tend to overwash or use products that are too drying. When the skin is overdry, it tends to produce more oil.”
One great option for carefully rehydrating skin that needs some help becoming grease free: Garnier’s SkinActive Moisture Bomb Super-Mattifying Sheet Mask ($12.70 for six, amazon.com). It hydrates and soothes skin with both hyaluronic acid and a green tea extract, leaving it soft, hydrated, and radiant. “Green tea is an excellent antioxidant for sensitive skin; it contains catechins, which reduce inflammation,” Green says.
2. Breakout Skin
We’ve been seeing tons of those seemingly magical charcoal peel-off masks, which strip blockages straight out of your pores like some kind of fairy. But can ripping stuff out of your face actually be good for your skin? According to Green, the answer is nopenopenope. “Those masks are dangerous,” she says. “They strip the skin of natural oils, and most of them are made with glue. When applied to the skin and left to harden, this can cause severe damage to the skin’s protective layer.”
But it’s not charcoal that’s the issue. In fact, charcoal may help strip away impurities by bonding to dirt and oil, leaving your face extra clean. Just look for the kind of mask that washes off, rather than peels off.
What else is good for breakout-prone skin? Products that contain benzoyl peroxide, according to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria on the skin, which promote inflammation and acne breakouts,” he says.
3. Visibly Annoyed-With-Everything, Ultra-Sensitive Skin
If you have skin that’s just clearly mad at you about every product you’ve ever tried to put on it, the weather, allergies, our political climate, whatever, opt for a soothing oatmeal mask.
“Oatmeal has both skin-protecting and calming effects,” Zeichner explains. “It provides a seal over the skin to allow the skin to heal itself. Anti-inflammatory ingredients in oatmeal called ‘avenanthramides’ also help reduce inflammation.”
Green agrees. “Oatmeal is excellent for sensitive skin, as well as for dry, itchy skin and eczema sufferers,” she says. “Grind one cup of oats in a food processor to a fine powder to create your own colloidal oatmeal.” This can be added to a bath for a full-body soak or combined with yogurt and Manuka honey for a super-soothing, sensitive-skin face mask.
4. The Skin of a Person Who’s Been Pulling a Lot of All-Nighters
We’ve all been there: You ended up taking on more than you can handle (or more than you could handle jumped into your lap and stayed there), getting human amounts of sleep has just not been an option lately, and your skin is reflecting your new lifestyle in ways that are profoundly unappealing.
“Antioxidants like green tea or vitamin C help brighten a dull, tired complexion,” Zeichner says. “They’re like fire extinguishers that reduce inflammation caused by free radicals in the skin. They also help lighten dark spots caused by sun exposure.” One mask that Zeichner recommends: Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Power C x 30 Vitamin C Brightening Sleeping Mask ($42.50, amazon.com). This is absolutely made for the exhausted: You can literally fall asleep in it and wake up looking far more refreshed than you’d ever thought possible.
5. Combination Skin
If you have the Chex Mix of skin—a little bit of this, a little bit of that, shake in some peanuts because why not—then you need a mask that works multiple ways. “A mask containing salicylic acid is great for combination skin,” Green says. “This ingredient helps control excess sebum and minimize pore size.” One great mask for this skin type is Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial ($80, sephora.com), which, while pricey, packs five different acid types (including salicylic)—and has a drunk elephant drawn on the packaging, for obvious added value.
6. Dull-As-Dry-Toast Skin
While it’s uncomfortable if your skin feels as shiny as a factory-new Tesla, you do want a certain healthy, yes-I’m-still-breathing glow.
If your skin is feeling dull, consider a mask containing aloe vera, Green says. One good option: TonyMoly’s Daily Fresh Aloe Mask Sheet ($8.50 for 10, ulta.com), which can restore brightness to dry, damaged skin.
7. Fine Lines
If they haven’t started for you yet, just memorize this section (time comes for us all, y’all). “Retinols, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin A all reduce the appearance of fine lines,” Green says. You’ve probably seen that ultra-trendy Hanacure mask ($29, hanacure.com) making the social media rounds (and allegedly tightening up the faces of celebrities far and wide), but does it work? Yes, according to Zeichner. “The Hanacure mask has skin brightening, exfoliating, and tightening properties,” he says. “It’s best for those with aging skin [who have] early signs of pigmentation and crepiness.”
8. Pretty Darn Happy Skin
If your skin is looking great, feeling great, and problem free (a situation that I hear occurs but have never actually experienced myself), you can still treat yo’self to a vitamin C mask, which is an investment in future skin health.
“Vitamin C is excellent—it fights free radical damage from the winter and brightens the skin,” Green says. For this option, consider going for Tatcha’s Violet-C Radiant Mask ($68, sephora.com) offers two types of vitamin C—one water soluble and one oil soluble—to increase absorption effectiveness.
Jess Novak is the Greatist lifestyle and beauty editor. She doesn’t really fall asleep wearing face masks that often. Follow her misadventures on Instagram @jtothenovak.