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“Anti-aging” face masks: fact vs. fiction

Is a face mask really a “cure” for wrinkles?

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 8 min read
Woman rubbing skincare cream into her face with purple background
Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 8 min read
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Anti Aging face masks: fact or fiction?

If there’s one thing I’m looking out for in skincare, it’s snake oil — not as an ingredient, but as a metaphor for over-priced and unnecessary products that may be damaging skin. Face masks for wrinkles that claim to have the physics-defying ability to turn back the clock are especially suspect, due to the lack of clinical studies proving their effectiveness. That’s why the American Association of Dermatologists and Curology agree to avoid overdoing it by keeping our skincare routines as simple as possible.

On the other hand, how many of us look forward to a face mask as a way to unwind? Korean sheet masks are my go-to when it comes to relaxation. It’s 2019, and sheet mask selfies are practically synonymous with “self-care” as a marketing buzz phrase. So, while dermatologists tend to agree that face masks aren’t a necessary step for every skincare routine, cutting loose with your ooey gooey veil of choice isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as it doesn’t contain harmful ingredients. That’s why I’ve whipped up this quick face mask review for people like me, who can’t (and don’t want to) resist.

Anti-“anti-aging” skincare

If you’re new to the blog and just stumbled onto this post, we just want to give a head’s up that we’re anti-”anti-aging” in these parts. Most “anti-aging” skincare isn’t age-specific — it wouldn’t surprise me if you, dear Age-Concerned Reader, were a 23 year-old or an 83 year-old. The method to soothing and preventing wrinkles and other fine lines in the skin is generally the same when it comes to what products to use. (If you’re not new to the blog, you already know that regular sunscreen application is a major key!)

Secondly, I don’t know about you, but the idea of having a Benjamin Button experience literally terrifies me. Age = experience = wisdom, which is something to take pride in. Being “anti” about it is ageism, which is just another form of body shaming. I’m not down with that, and neither is the rest of my fam at Curology. At the end of the day, everyone’s skin is individual, and age is only a small piece of the bigger dermatological picture.

Sheet masks vs. science

As a skincare blogger, I know better than anyone else that when it comes to skincare, there’s skincare science and then there’s skincare culture. “Skincare minimalism” is becoming a bit of a trend, especially as a response to maximalist skincare fads of years past. For example, Curology’s 3-step set has been catching on, as opposed to the 10-step kits that were popular in 2017.

There are also broader cultural differences between skincare in the United States and elsewhere. For example: Korean skincare products tend to have long lists of ingredients that make reference to the natural world — I strongly identify with snail mucus, personally. If you’re like me, you’re somewhere in the middle of skincare minimalism and maximalism — a sheet mask isn’t a daily (or even weekly) essential, but breaking them out for a special occasion is a treat (especially if the occasion is sitting in my PJ’s and watching TV).

If you have skin problems, always remember less is more, especially if you’re adjusting to your Curology custom cream. You might be doing yourself a favor by holding off on using any masks until your skin has adjusted. (We have a guide for that!)

7 friendly mask ingredients, explained

  1. Vitamin C skin benefits include preventing skin damage before it starts; it also may help repair skin by stimulating collagen production. Because UV exposure decreases the amount of vitamin C naturally produced by our skin, it’s a great product to use to combat damage caused by sunlight.

  2. Vitamin A is most commonly found in skincare in the form of either prescription retinoids or the less-effective OTC retinols. They’re great for improving the texture of the skin.

  3. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (better known as AHA) skin benefits may include reducing hyperpigmentation. Because they’re more moisturizing than their siblings, BHAs, AHAs (such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid) are often found in face masks. While AHAs and vitamin C used together may be beneficial in removing the appearance of dark spots, AHAs can cause photosensitivity, and should only be used at night, followed by good sunscreen habits throughout the day.

  4. Kaolin is short for kaolin clay, and is often found in (you guessed it) clay masks. Along with its sibling, bentonite, these ingredients draw out water and oil from the skin, temporarily shrinking the appearance of pores. The flipside is that these types of masks can dry out your skin, so YMMV — occasional use should be fine if it doesn’t irritate your skin.

  5. Butylene glycol acts as a delivery agent and solvent. It’s commonly used in face masks for assisting in the absorption of other ingredients, and is often one of the primary ingredients listed. Masks with butylene glycol tend to work well for hydrating skin.

  6. Sodium hyaluronate is a commonly found form of hyaluronic acid for the skin. It has been shown to have a positive effect on the appearance of wrinkles and to improve skin elasticity.

  7. Ceramide lipids occur naturally in the skin and, like sodium hyaluronate, act as reinforcement troops for your skin’s moisture barrier. They’re great for dehydrated skin, as ceramides help your skin retain the water it needs to look and feel hydrated.

If you’re looking for some anti-”anti-aging” face masks, here are reviews of my current picks that 1) pass the CosDNA test, 2) include age-defying ingredients, and 3) make a girl feel special. A disclaimer: these are all moisturizing products. If you prefer a drying, exfoliating mask, seek out ones with the aforementioned kaolin clay — and let me know if you’d like to read a review in a future blog!

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Overnight face masks

A sleep mask (a.k.a. sleeping pack) is a cream that’s massaged into the skin before bedtime, allowing for your skin to be soothed and intensely hydrated while you sleep. I find that the best face masks are used overnight, with a goal of making skin appear brighter and tighter by morning. Personally, I use a lot of different products on different parts of my face/body, but the most effective one for my skin texture issues is my Curology custom cream with tretinoin. And, as someone who does this homework when it comes to skincare, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that, at roughly $20/month, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than face masks with similar (yet less effective) ingredients.

But that’s not to say Curology is right for you. I, for one, always indulge in a mask when the mood calls for it! Here are some other overnight products for the face that bring great results:

1. Too Cool For School Pumpkin Sleeping Pack

Too Cool for School is a Korean brand that you can find at Ulta and Sephora. This product contains derivatives of vitamin A and C, as well as a small amount of sodium hyaluronate and ceramide, which helps to lock in moisture while you sleep.

2. Pixi Beauty Overnight Retinol Oil

I haven’t tried the newest product from Pixi Beauty yet, but as a hot new release, I couldn’t not mention it. The big thing I noticed is that it contains retinyl palmitate and retinol as primary ingredients — a rarity in the age-defying masks I analyzed. Just make sure that, when using any retinol, you’re super vigilant with your sunscreen use.

3. Laneige Lavender Water Sleeping Mask

If you’re prone to dry skin, LANEIGE has become a skincare cult favorite of mine and many others. This lavender-scented sleeping mask has water and butylene glycol as primary ingredients, so it’s geared toward locking moisture into the skin. It also contains citric acid and sodium hyaluronate.

4. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Overnight Mask

If you’re looking for the best drugstore face mask, Neutrogena makes a great overnight gel that fits the bill. One thing to keep in mind is that it contains added fragrance, which may cause reactions in sensitive skin.

5. COSRX Hydrogel Very Simple Pack

If you’re a fan of Korean skincare, you’ve probably heard of COSRX. This one has our friends butylene glycol and sodium hyaluronate, as well as Ceramide NP, which means it’s super moisturizing.

Korean sheet masks

I am an absolute sucker for a good Korean sheet mask. If the packaging anthropomorphizes plants, food, or animals, I’m in there like swimwear. A skincare trend influenced by Korean brands, sheet masks are really easy to come by — and so are their controversies. That said, a milky face-shaped slip of paper is the closest I’ll ever get to actually becoming a Sanrio character, so you can’t make me stop. Here are a few Korean sheet masks you’ll have to pry from my cold, dead hands:

1. Leaders 7 Wonders Tundra Cranberry Anti-Aging Mask

The primary ingredients of this sheet mask are water and butylene glycol, meaning it’s focused on moisturizing. It also contains small amounts of retinyl palmitate, niacinamide, and ceramide.

2. The Oozoo Bear Aurora Illuminating Mask

The main ingredients of the mask’s ampoule (aka serum) are water and sodium hyaluronate. I absolutely love what sodium hyaluronate does for moisturizing my skin, and finding it in such a high concentration is a rarity in masks — especially ones that are $4.00 at Ulta.

3. The Crème Shop Gudetama Tighter ‘N Brighter Sheet Mask

Nothing is more age-defying than using skincare that lets you relive childhood nostalgia. Gudetama, the Lazy Egg, is my self-care icon. I like this one because it has our friends butylene glycol and sodium hyaluronate, but also a few more adventurous ingredients (including snail secretion filtrate). This mask is not for the faint of heart, or the highly sensitive of faces. But I, personally, trust Gudetama with my life.

4. TONYMOLY I’m Real Aloe Mask Sheet

This is one of the first masks I ever tried and a persistent favorite for years now. TONYMOLY has a lot of options when it comes to sheet masks, and I’m partial to this one with aloe extract, which has anti-inflammatory properties. With butylene glycol and sodium hyaluronate, this one can help improve signs of aging with its hyper-moisturizing properties.

5. patchology FlashMasque Facial Sheets — Firm

This one has butylene glycol, aloe, ceramide, hyaluronic acid AND sodium hyaluronate, which are all ingredients that work well with my super-dry skin. The drawback? It has a super long ingredient list, so there’s probably extra stuff that won’t do much for your skin. While the non-comedogenic formula means it’s less likely to break you out, look out for other unsavory reactions in your skin!

Do it on the daily

If you don’t have time for a 10-step routine twice a day, Curology is a simple and reliable solution. The thing is, Curology isn’t just a product, but more of a service. Our custom cream is formulated specifically for you by a medical provider who will stick with you to see how you progress, month by month. Our 3-step skincare set makes cleansing, moisturizing, and soothing an absolute snap. Sound good? Then sign up for a free trial, and start your (sk)individual routine for just $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

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