Sheet masks are starting to dominate the skin care market, and that’s a good thing. We could all use a little rejuvenation in our lives, right? Sheet masks—Korean sheet masks in particular—have taken Western markets by storm in recent years; according to one estimate, in 2015, the global sheet mask market was valued at $160 million; by the end of 2024, it’s expected to reach $336 million.
While we’re psyched to see this Korean beauty secret take hold in the States, we’ve seen conflicting tips for using sheet masks. Do you leave them on for hours at a time? Does brand really matter? Could we get the same moisturizing effect by simply covering our faces with lotion and standing under a waterfall?
We had a lot of questions, so we reached out to the experts. Whether you’re looking into sheet masks for the first time, or you’re a well-moisturized veteran of the sheet mask game, here’s what you need to know.
What is the difference between a sheet mask and a regular mask?
If you’ve used cream or clay facial masks, you might wonder what makes Korean sheet masks so remarkable.
“Sheet masks are face-shaped sheet fabrics soaked in serums or essences that have many benefits to the skin,” says Yves Saint Laurent Beauté ambassador Elisa Lee (@sokobeauty on Instagram). “Depending on the active ingredient, it can help with sebum production and refining the skin texture.”
“The sheet can be made of a variety of materials [such as] paper, fiber, or gel. They’re usually packed individually, so you can only use them once,” Lee explains. “They’re very different from regular wash-off clay or cream masks. With sheet masks, you are hydrating your skin by locking the moisture in during the 10 to 20 minutes when you have the mask on. You often don’t need to wash off after applying a sheet mask, while you normally would with a regular mask.”
Basically, Korean sheet masks are designed to hydrate your skin, while wash-off facial masks are intended to provide a cleansing effect.
“Sheet masks and regular masks do, in fact, complement each other,” says Ryan Sim, better known as Singapore-based beauty blogger Ryanraroar. “There is a reason why you can only experience a truly deep cleansing effect from a clay mask that comes in a jar. On days when you want an exfoliative deep cleanse, pick a clay, mud, or charcoal mask over a sheet mask. A sheet mask would not be able to offer that kind of deep cleansing effect.”
Lee agrees with that assessment.
“If you would like to exfoliate dead skin cells, remove white or blackheads, and deeply cleanse the skin, then I would recommend to go for a clay or mud mask,” she says. “Sheet masks mainly focus on hydration and nourishment. Depending on the active ingredient, [a sheet mask] can remove excess sebum as well, but it won’t deeply cleanse the skin.”
What’s in a sheet mask, exactly? What ingredients should I avoid?
There’s no standard ingredient list for sheet masks, so consumers have to do a bit of homework. Read the ingredient lists of any two, and you’ll probably find quite a few differences. Sheet mask benefits are largely driven by their active humectants (a substance that keeps skin moist), which vary among products.
“I love sheet masks with hyaluronic acid to moisturize the skin,” Lee says. “I also like niacinamide to brighten the skin. I usually [avoid] arbutin, which is a whitening ingredient, because I personally don’t prefer it. I also avoid alcohol, which may dry out the skin. If one of the two ingredients are listed in the first row of the ingredient list, I stay away from it.”
“I personally don’t like heavily scented sheet masks,” she adds. “I’ve got a sensitive nose, so I stay away from those.”
“With almost any sheet masks, when you look at the ingredients, the top three are usually water and humectants,” says Jude Chao, director of marketing at Beautytap and blogger at Fifty Shades of Snail. “That makes up the vast majority of the volume of the product. When people go looking for sheet masks, usually I just tell them to look at the ingredients.”
“Make sure that it doesn’t have anything that you’re sensitive to,” Chao suggests. “Find things enjoyable to you so that you’ll like using it and you’ll get into the habit of using it. Barring any real sensitivities or allergies, I personally think people can just use what they want to use.”
“There are some ingredients that work exceptionally well for you personally, but not as well for others,” Sim says. “Personally, I adore ingredients like vitamin C, centella asiatica, madecassoside, arbutin, and niacinamide. As for what ingredients to stay away from, I would advise people to read up about [individual ingredients] online to form their opinions, but one ingredient, in particular, is methylisothiazolinone (MIT).”
Widely used in cosmetics, methylisothiazolinone is a preservative and a potential allergen. According to the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database, some studies indicate that the substance could be neurotoxic, and the European Union has banned the use of methylisothiazolinone in leave-on cosmetics.
How often should you use sheet masks?
Well-hydrated skin is certainly a good thing, but we did wonder whether or not overuse could cause issues. According to our experts, you can use sheet masks as often as you’d like, provided that you’re not experiencing any negative reactions.
“You can sheet mask every single day,” says Lee, “but if you don’t have the time for it—which I can imagine—I recommend using them two or three times per week to keep your skin moisturized.”
Sim also recommends starting with two to three sheet masks per week.
“We’ve all heard the saying, ‘Everyone’s skin is different,’ and that’s true,” he says. “We all have varying skin types and skin needs, therefore, we should all listen to our skin and address it accordingly. …[Frequency] greatly depends on how the skin feels. There are some people, myself included, who do a sheet mask daily without an issue. I’d like to think that there is no hard-and-fast rule here. Ultimately, you just have to be aware of your skin type/condition and be selective about what you put on your skin.”
If you feel like you aren’t getting results from your current sheet mask regimen, and you haven’t noticed any tender or irritated skin, feel free to increase the frequency of your sessions.
“The basic function of the sheet mask is to hydrate,” says Chao. “It’s not a treatment product, so it really depends on how much you like using them. I think that well-hydrated skin tends to be more resilient in general. It tends to heal faster, and that’s something that sheet masks help a lot with. You won’t get those kinds of effects from any other type of product.”
“So it’s all personal taste,” Chao continues, “but I definitely find my skin looks its best when I’m using them almost every day.”
What should I know about sheet masks if I have sensitive skin?
“I think for some people, ingredients like alcohol or fragrance may be problematic,” Chao says. “That’s especially because of the function of the sheet mask. It’s this cylindrical sheet that holds the product on your face, keeping it moist for quite a long time. [Sheet masks] use a bunch of penetration enhancers to help more of the volume of product get into your skin. Ingredients like alcohol and fragrance that may not pose as much of a problem in regular-use skincare may be more irritating for some people when their skin is exposed to them for such a long period of time.”
With that said, Chao says that fragrance and alcohol aren’t absolute no-nos.
“I’ve used masks that have them and don’t personally have problems,” she says. “I think you kind of play it by ear. Some masks, you open them up and they just smell like alcohol, or they just smell strongly fragrant. I won’t try those, but a little bit here and there won’t be an issue for most normal skin.”
If your skin is especially sensitive, you’ve still got options, but you’ll have to do more research before making a purchase.
“For dry or dehydrated skin, you can look for sheet masks with one of these main ingredients: hyaluronic acid, manuka honey, aloe vera, or snail [secretion],” Lee says. “Some Korean brands also have cream sheet masks, and those are perfect for dehydrated or dry skin.”
“For acne-prone or sensitive skin, you can look for centella asiatica, tea tree, snail, salicylic acid, or propolis, and for oily skin you can look for charcoal or green tea,” she suggests.
Where do sheet masks fit into a balanced skincare regimen?
“On nights when I use a cotton-type sheet mask, I would use it right after my toner step,” says Sim. “However, if it is a hydrogel-type mask, I would first tone my skin and follow up with a serum/ampoule—usually a simple hydrating one with hyaluronic acid—before applying the mask. This is such a great trick to double-up the moisture and increase the overall masking experience.”
“You can use it after your serum and before your moisturizer,” Lee notes, “so the order can be toner, essence, serum, sheet mask, then moisturizer.”
We asked our experts for other general tips for using sheet masks properly.
“You should always, always apply a mask over cleansed and toned skin,” Sim suggests. “The active ingredients will better penetrate the skin when your skin is moist.”
If you’re still not seeing results, consider extending the length of your sheet mask sessions.
“I would say to leave the sheet mask in place for a minimum of 20 minutes,” Chao says. “I personally like leaving them on even longer, so for around 30 to 45 minutes. When I take the mask off, I feel that more of the product absorbed … If you take it off too soon, your face is still really wet, and I always feel like I’ve not absorbed as much product as I can.”
Still, don’t overdo it.
“Avoid leaving the mask on to the point of total dryness,” Sim says.
What specific sheet masks do these beauty experts recommend?
“I absolutely love masking and [am] always up to trying out and discovering new ones,” Sim says. “At the moment, some of the ones I have used and liked are Naruko Tea Tree Shine Control & Blemish Clear Mask, Dr Jart+ Dermask Micro Jet Clearing Solution for when I am dealing with pimples, Neogence N3 Arbutin Brightening Mask for brightening, Neogence N3 Ceramide Moisturizing Mask for hydration, The Face Shop Real Nature Mung Bean Mask for soothing, and The Face Shop MASK.LAB Chitosan Face Mask for skin renewal.”
Brand preferences aside, our experts agreed that a sheet mask’s price tag can’t tell you everything.
“It all depends on the brand and what ingredients they use,” Lee notes. “If you purchase a sheet mask of a high-end brand, it doesn’t mean that it will be better than the mid-level ones. The mid-level brands can create amazing sheet masks as well. “
“You may see brands overcharging because they want to profit from the sales, but there are some genuine cases whereby brands actually use new technologies or premium ingredients in their products to warrant a slightly higher than normal price point,” Sim says. “If the science and lab data matches the marketing claims put out by the brand, then I would say go for it!”
How can I use sheet masks in an eco-friendly way?
Let’s address the big, green elephant in the room: Sheet masks are wasteful. That’s true of just about any disposable single-use product—but if you’re careful, you can reduce your footprint.
“The materials used in most mask pouches are not recyclable, so that is an issue,” Sim says. “However, most of the sheet masks themselves are made of biodegradable material (e.g. cotton, pulp fibers), so we can compost those. An eco-friendly option would be to purchase those economical mask packs that come in a pack of 30 sheets.”
“Examples of [those] mask packs include LuLuLun Face Mask, which has 32 sheets in one pack, Saborino Morning Face Mask, which [also] has 32 sheets in one pack, Quality 1st All in One Sheet Mask, which has 50 sheets in one pack, A’PIEU Hyaluthione Soonsoo Daily Sheet Mask, which has 33 sheets in one pack, and MISSHA Pong Dang Water Daily Sheet Mask, which has 30 sheets in one pack.”
“There are certain brands that make a point of being more eco-friendly,” Chao says. “You can look to each brand’s individual policies to find out whether their packaging is recyclable.”