Masks: A basis for healthy skin
By Rhonda Allison
The use of facial masks as part of the beauty regimen dates back to ancient Egypt and China when several notable historical women used clays and creams to help purify their skin and preserve a youthful appearance. These women set the tone for what would become an essential part of any good skin care regimen.
Facial masks transcend generations since they can be used to clean up excess oil or acne conditions, maintain skin health, tone, tighten and brighten or simply provide some pampering time.
While masks have been widely adopted by most consumers, many may not know the differentiation between the types available, when and how to best use them, what each type does for the skin, and how to enhance the results.
Masks, often referred to as finishing masks, are a dynamic component of the facial and are typically applied at the end of a treatment to hydrate, calm and soothe by working from the skin’s surface. When they are blended with actives that correct, results can be more targeted and the absorbability increases. The different varieties of masks that are available and how each works can help skin care professionals educate clients and boost results in the treatment room.
Masks Throughout History
Masks have a very long history that weaves through ancient times when herbs, fruits, flower extracts and certain clays were discovered for their powerful skin healing and pro-youth benefits. In fact, it has been said that Cleopatra, in addition to her milk and honey baths, used clay masks to draw impurities out of her skin.
Another notable was Yang Gui Fei, a royal in the Tang Dynasty, who was regarded as one of the four great beauties in ancient China. She was known for her masks of pearl, white jade and ginseng, which was ground into a fine powder and mixed with lotus root starch. This combination would lighten, brighten and tighten the skin. Today, this similar practice may be used in masks utilizing various flower extracts to enhance the brightening, rejuvenation and toning of the skin. The value of hibiscus flower, lotus flower and other flower extracts hold valuable ancient traditions. Given the results they realized from these masks, there is not any wonder why their use has continued throughout history.
The Results are in the Base
Just as Cleopatra and Yang Gui Fei discovered, a variety of ingredients may be used to create different masks that provide beneficial results. While there can be an endless variety of ingredient combinations, masks will typically fall under one of three base categories: clay, cream or powder.
Clay masks – Two superb clays are bentonite and kaolin. They are best known for their ability to draw out heavy metals and toxins, as well as clean up excess sebum and oil. Clay-based masks are extremely useful in effectively treating acne, but also work well for dehydrated and aging skin as they provide strengthening and firming benefits.
- Bentonite clay is derived from volcanic ash deposits in marine environments. It is highly absorptive and works to bind and draw out heavy metals and other toxins from the body. The mineral-rich clay also absorbs excess oil, reduces surface shine, and provides soothing and healing benefits.
- Kaolin, also known as China clay, is a natural silicate clay mineral found in soils that have formed from the chemical weathering of rocks in hot, moist climates like tropical rain forest areas. It absorbs sebum, removes impurities from the skin, and helps prevent pore clogging.
Cream masks – Cream-based masks are typically used for hydrating, infusing the skin with antioxidants, or calming and soothing the skin. Some powerful ingredients used in cream-based masks include:
- Milk protein is known for its nutrient value and has a very positive effect on traumatized skin and supports the wound repair process.
- Herbs of rosemary and basil reduce inflammation and purify the skin.
- Wasabi is a natural stimulating herbal that increases blood circulation and softens and detoxifies skin.
- Chocolate extract provides potent antioxidant benefits and protects from free radical damage.
Powder masks – Powered-based masks are wonderful for stimulating the facial muscles as well as toning and firming the skin. These may be used to effectively improve sagging skin and even scarring associated with adolescent or adult acne. Powder-based masks also require a liquid activator, which may include ingredients such as aloe vera for its hydrating, soothing and anti-inflammatory benefits, a combination of AHAs and retinyl palmitate to stimulate cellular turnover, and hyaluronic acid for its potent humectant qualities. Some powerful ingredients used in powder-based masks include:
- Albumin, otherwise known as egg whites, is a protein that works to stimulate the muscles in the face, which actively firms and conditions the skin.
- Pearl powder, milled from freshwater pearls, is rich in minerals and provides antibacterial, detoxification and skin-nourishing properties.
- Blue lotus powder, which is rich in bioflavonoids, inhibits oxidative and free radical damage, provides anti-inflammatory and antibacterial support, and strengthens capillaries.
Enhancing the Results
Most masks work from the surface of the skin to hydrate, calm and soothe, as they do not typically have absorbability properties until they are enhanced with actives. Depending on the active, specific skin health goals such as infusing nutrients, targeting facial muscles for toning, or balancing and increasing circulation for tissue respiration may be achieved. For instance, when treating acne, green tea, wasabi root extract and D-tocopherols will enable a clay-based mask to penetrate deeper to heal and clarify acneic skin. These actives will also provide antibacterial and antimicrobial support, as well as fight free radical damage.
At a glance, some ingredients that work to boost the results of masks include:
- Salicylic acid is used for its antioxidant and antiseptic benefits. It also provides mild exfoliation to soften dead skin cells.
- Sulfur is an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic; it helps soothe and keep excess oil at bay.
- Resveratrol is derived from red grapes and provides potent antioxidant benefits.
- D-alpha-tocopherol is a vitamin E that works to soothe skin tissue and infuse it with antioxidants.
- Allantoin is a dependable keratolytic agent with cell proliferating, healing and moisturizing properties.
- Resorcinol is used for its antiseptic, anti-itching and exfoliating benefits. It is also useful for treating chronic skin diseases.
Masks offer versatility in the treatment room. They can be chilled for cooling summer treatments, heated with steam or a warm compress for winter treatments, or simply to introduce different sensations during the facial.
Finishing masks not only help soothe and relax the skin following stimulating acid or enzyme applications, they also infuse rejuvenated skin with antioxidants and skin-building ingredients. Integrating masks as a final step during a treatment will enhance the overall facial experience by supporting optimal skin health, as well as offering soothing, healing support.