No two face masks are alike. Some dry on your face and soak up all the grease and grime clogging your pores; others calm irritated skin; or deeply nourish cells for a brighter complexion. And they all have different applications, too: Some dry on and peel off, or go on invisibly until you rinse them off, and others come in sheets.
Would you know which one is best depending on the specific scenario, like for dry skin, ultra-nourishment, sunburnt skin, oily complexion, and so forth? We contacted our dermatologist friends for some answers. Below are their favorite kinds of masks (plus a couple of our own favorites, too) depending on some of the most common situations.
“One thing to remember is that whenever you’re using these products, follow the timing guidelines or err on the side of caution,” says dermatologist Papri Sarkar, M.D., of Brookline, MA.
Never wear a mask for longer than the recommended allotment—whether it deep-cleans or deeply nourishes. With the cleansing ones in particular, pay attention to them as they dry: That’s when you need to remove them.
“Everyone has different levels of tolerance for ingredients and products, so start slow and work your way up,” she says.
Sheet Mask: Best for Moisture
“Sheet masks are a great way to impart moisture to dry, dull skin,” says Dr. Susan Bard of New York City. The mask creates an occlusive environment which allows for greater penetration of moisturizing ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and ceramides, in a short period of time (15-30 min). It also allows for better penetration of other active ingredients that can help with anti-aging and soothing.”
Bard recommends: Charlotte Tilbury Instant Magic Facial Dry Sheet Mask. “It’s not as messy as most others, and doesn’t leave behind any residue.”
Aloe Masks: Best for Treating Sunburn or Irritation
“The anti-inflammatory properties in aloe help soothe and relieve burns,” says Bard. It’s just like applying aloe lotion to your sunburnt body, only this one is sensitive enough for your face and won’t clog your pores.
Bard recommends: Sephora’s Aloe Vera Face Mask.
Vitamin C Masks: Best for Sun Spots and Discoloration
A mask with Vitamin C will help even your skin tone, neutralizing discolorations from the sun, or the remnants of pesky acne blemishes.
Bard recommends: Dr. Jart+ Brightening Infusion Hydrogel Mask
Bio-engineered Masks: Best for Sensitive Skin
For her patients with sensitive skin, Lauren Meshkov Bonati, M.D., of Edwards, CO, recommends a high-grade mask specifically engineered to calm and soothe the skin—whether it’s naturally sensitive or just momentarily (following a laser treatment or even a shave). These are great because other masks can be overdrying, or just designed for oily skin.
Bonati recommends: SkinCeuticals Biocellulose Restorative Face Mask. “It’s especially great for reducing discomfort and heat experienced post-laser treatment, but can also be used to simply hydrate and protect delicate skin.”
Clay Masks: Best for Oily Skin
Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D., of New York City favors clay masks (like kaolin), applied twice a week to control oil production and shine. You should still follow each application with a moisturizer, however, to reinvigorate and hydrate your skin.
Bhanusali recommends: Neutrogena’s Deep Clean Clay Mask
Salicylic Acid Masks: Best for Acne-prone Skin
For his patients who breakout easily, Bhanusali suggests masks with salicylic acid. (It’s not as caustic as it sounds—the opposite in fact.) Salicylic acid decreases oil production, since the ingredient can dissolve dead skin cells and further prevent clogged pores.
Dr. Bhanusali recommends: Yes To Tomatoes Clear Skin Acne Fighting Sheet Mask, because it has anti-inflammatory properties and ingredients, to counter any overdrying and redness (in the rare event it should occur).
Hyaluronic Acid Masks: Best for Dry Skin
Look for another acidic ingredient if it’s dry skin you’re treating. (Yes, you can still do a mask if you’re prone to dryness.) Dr. Amy Spizuoco of New York City says hyaluronic acid while be the most nourishing and moisturizing of your options.
We recommend: Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Hydrating Modeling Mask, which will turn your skin from dull and dry to firm and bright.
Hybrid Masks: Best for a Faster Regimen
Cleanse, moisturize, exfoliate… What’s the order of operation for a full skincare regimen? Alexander Dane, M.D., of Morristown, NJ, thinks it’s best to find a mask that does all three, and to cycle it into rotation once a week after cleansing.
Dane recommends: Avène Cleanance Mask: “It’s a clay mask that turns into a scrub and contains glycolic and salicylic acid as well as biodegradable beads that help exfoliate the skin,” Dane says. “It also contains zinc gluconate that soothes irritation and redness, improving your complexion.”
Clarifying masks: Best for Optimizing Your Skincare Regimen
Onyeka Obioha, M.D., of Beverly Hills, CA, tells her patients to invest in a skin-clarifying mask—that is, one that focuses on “clearing the canvas” so you can start with a healthy, fresh slate for other products to work more effectively. This straightforward kind of mask should deep-clean the pores, balance oil production, and leave your skin feeling smooth and hydrated. “I love (clarifying masks) with anti-inflammatory properties, such as turmeric,” she says.
Obioha recommends: Kiehl’s turmeric and cranberry seed mask.
2-in-1 Masks: Best for Same-Day Events
In general, if you have an event and need to look like your most handsome and alert self, then try a back-to-back application of two types of masks (one to soak up impurities and the other to deeply hydrate and restore your skin). For the latter, Dr. Sarkar likes to find hydrating masks with serum, since it can deeply penetrate the skin and thus brighten and even out your complexion. You’ll be camera- or date-ready on the spot.