Using treatment masks as part of your skincare routine is not something new, at least for women. Some historians believe Cleopatra used a clay mask she mixed herself in Ancient Egypt. But with more men becoming attuned to skincare (and self-care), interest in masking among men is reaching a fever pitch.
If washing your face is like daily cardio, a mask is like a HIIT workout.
So let us be the first to welcome you to the age of man masking. It’s not a surprising development. The nature of a mask is ideally suited to men, who tend to use fewer products and to be a little more impatient when it comes to results. Masks are not designed to be used every day or for very long; they offer a quick shot of treatment in one go, and when used regularly can attack skin issues like breakouts, dehydration and redness quickly and effectively. If washing your face is like daily cardio, a mask is like a HIIT workout.
This isn’t to say that all masks are the same. There are as many kinds of masks as there are shampoos, and different styles are suited for different needs. Most masks fall into five different categories with an infinite number of subcategories, ingredients and uses. Navigating the world of masking is confusing, so let’s break it down.
The most classic kind of face mask, clay masks are what you think of when you envision someone in a day spa with cucumbers over their eyes and mud smeared on their face. But they’re just as effective when used at home. As the slick clay dries, it sucks out dirt, oil and impurities from your pores much more effectively than your face wash could ever hope to do. Clay masks are ideal for oily skin (men tend to have larger and more active oil glands than women) as they soak up oil and help control breakouts. Some new versions even contain charcoal, which helps to absorb impurities and oil-based grime. If you’re prone to breakouts, you can even use clay masks as spot treatments to help dry out zits.
GOOD: Tomatoes Detoxifying Mud Mask by Yes To $16
BETTER: Urban Blue Detox Clay Mask by Lab Series $28
BEST: Intensive Purfiying Mud Mask by Tom Ford $61
Thanks to social media, sheet masks have emerged as the most selfie-friendly type of mask. The philosophy behind them is simple: the (usually) paper sheets are soaked in a treatment serum and, when pressed onto your face and left for around 20 minutes, deliver a higher concentration of treatment than a typical product could give you. There is a staggering variety of sheet masks, so it’s easy to find one for nearly any skin issue. Where they really shine, however, is moisturization. Because of the amount of serum, dry or dehydrated skin perks up almost immediately and many offer a cooling sensation to help soothe red or irritated skin. If you’re worried about wrinkles, they are also great at delivering anti-aging ingredients to skin quickly. For men, sheet masks can have trouble sticking to facial hair, so look for masks that come in two parts if you have any scruff at all.
GOOD: Rich Moist Soothing Tencel Sheet Mask by Klairs $3
BETTER: Deep Hydration Mask by Verso $80
BEST: Bro Mask by Jaxon Lane $28
Peel-off masks are mud-sheet hybrids. You apply them like a mud mask directly onto your face, but as they dry, these gel masks form a sticky layer over your whole face. To get them off, you pull them off like a sheet. It’s like when you put rubber cement on your hand in elementary school — and scientifically, not that different. These masks typically use sticky ingredients like polymers which attract and stick to dirt in your pores. As the mask hardens, these polymers trap the dirt and take them with it when you peel it from your face. They’re perfect if you have blackheads, oily skin or large pores. Peel-off masks should be used less frequently than other masks; if you allow them to stay on too long, they can be uncomfortable to remove and you can risk damaging your skin’s protective barrier. You should also remember to always moisturize after you use one, especially if you have dry skin.
GOOD: Peel-Off Mask With Super Volcanic Clusters by Innisfree $13
BETTER: Skin Purifying Mask With Red Clay by First Aid Beauty $30
BEST: Luminizing Black Charcoal Mask by Boscia $34
Speaking of moisturizing, not enough men do it on a regular basis. If you notice you have dry, flaky or irritated skin, a hydrating mask could help restore some moisture. These masks usually have a thin gel texture and are meant to be worn longer than clay masks (sometimes even overnight). Ingredients like aloe and cucumber are often found in these masks, because they help to soothe and calm irritated and redness prone skin. They’re perfect for the winter months, when frigid temperatures, biting wind and indoor heat dry our skin out quickly. They’re also great for post-beach sunburns in the summer, as they can help restore moisture lost from staying out in the sun too long. Alternate mud or peel-off masks with a hydrating mask to make sure you’re not overdoing it with drying agents like charcoal. It’s all about balance.
GOOD:Renewal Water Sleeping Mask by Laniege $19
BETTER: Cucumber Gel Mask Extreme Detoxifying Hydrator by Peter Thomas Roth $52
BEST: Calendula & Aloe Soothing Hydration Mask by Kiehl’s $45
Removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, especially as you get older, is an important part of a complete skincare strategy. Sure, a facial scrub can help, but those only attack the surface of your skin. But thorough exfoliation will help with skin cell turnover and regeneration even from deep down. An exfoliating mask, usually referred to as a “peel,” typically uses chemical exfoliants like acids and enzymes to break down the connections between dead skin cells and slough them off the surface of your skin. This sort of exfoliation tends to be gentler than a scrub, so it’s ideal for anyone with sensitive skin. Be careful to follow the directions carefully, since leaving these on your skin too long can cause irritation, and start slow at first (try it once a week and work up from there as needed).
GOOD: Brightening Enzyme Mask by Malin + Goetz $55
BETTER: Blue Tansy Mask by Herbivore Botanicals $48
BEST: Resurfacing Mask by Tata Harper $62
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