Must-Have Masks

cucumber

Ancient Egyptians simply smeared mud all over their faces – an effective beauty ritual – but hey, what did they really know about fighting pollution and sun damage…? These days, the ingredients in masks are targeted at specific skin types and all manner of skin woes – from clogged pores to dryness, fine lines to dullness – that your regular daily regime may not address. They’re ‘fast fixes’: good for putting back radiance when skin’s got the ‘blahs’, and personally, I can’t live without them.

Ritually, I slap something on twice a week, including Sunday night because I want to look my best for Monday, and Sunday’s my mega-bath night (lashings of Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Shower & Bath Oil, scoops of Magnesium Flakes and whatever novel I’m reading right now). Sometimes, I’ll grab a mask that’s in a jar or a tube – but very often, I’ll whip up something myself – so I’ve included some recipes here.

As with any skincare, you need to match the mask to the task. But without a facialist on hand to prescribe the perfect mask, how can you choose from the dozens – no, probably hundreds – of masks out there? The key is to recognise how your skin varies from a normal, ‘balanced’ state – then, once you’ve identified your complexion’s problem, find the mask to treat it.

Does your skin feel taut and dry? Sometimes, especially in winter, regular moisturisers are unable to keep pace with the dehydrating double-whammy of Sahara-dry heat indoors, cold outside. Hydrating masks are usually gel or cream formulations, containing a mix of humectants (which attract moisture from the air) and oils, to help trap moisture in the skin. If dryness is your skin challenge, avoid masks which feature clays as these are definitely better for oilier faces.

Does your skin look dull? Does your make-up ‘cling’ to certain areas of the face? This calls for a mask with some kind of exfoliating action – usually from tiny grains or jojoba beads; the idea is that when you rub off the mask with your fingertips, you dislodge the dead cells. The word ‘gommage’ sometimes indicates that the mask has a scruffing action. Alternatively, look for masks based on enzymes which work to gently ‘melt’ the dead skin cells, before they’re rinsed away.

Is your skin oily at the end of the day? Clay is superporous – nature’s great purifier: it absorbs the dirt and dead skin cells on the skin’s surface, while the mask hardens. The clay and impurities are then swished away when you remove the mask. Seaweed’s another good ingredient for oilier skins.

Is your skin sensitive? This is the reason why some women avoid masks altogether. Fragrances are often the cause of skin irritation, but you can find a number of masks that are targeted at touchy skins, where the fragrance level tends to be very low. (If you’re truly hyper-reactive, do a patch test first behind your ear, 24 hours before applying to the rest of your face. And of course, with any mask, avoid skin that has broken out, is red or irritated. You’re likely to make the problem worse, not better.)

And these are a few of my favourite home-made masks… All of these feature in a book that I had great fun writing, about D-I-Y beauty products, The Ultimate Natural Beauty Book (Kyle Cathie, £14.99). Lie back – and enjoy…

Home-made mask for sensitive skin
Mix half a cup of oatmeal with the same amount of Greek yoghurt, and a spoonful of honey. Mix the ingredients together and apply to the skin for 10-15 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.

Starflower mask for mature skin

  • 50 g. (2 oz.) aloe vera flesh
  • 30 ml. (2 fl. oz.) plain yoghurt
  • 2 capsules of starflower (borage flower) oil
  • 10 fresh borage flowers (in season – which they will be any minute…)

Aloe vera flesh is quite hard to blend, so I like to zoosh all these ingredients in an electric herb chopper. (You’ll need to snip the starflower oil capsules, and squeeze out the oil.) Then massage the mixture into the skin of the face and neck, whereupon the most extraordinary thing happens – within 15 minutes, your complexion will have soaked up almost all of the mask, and look plumped-up and younger. This is my all-time favourite mask – I love the way it softens and ‘plumps’ my dry skin.

Cucumber anti-blemish mask for oily/blemished skins

  • A 2.5 cm. (1 inch) chunk of cucumber
  • 1 drop rosemary essential oil
  • 1 egg white

Whizz the cucumber in a blender until it’s a liquid consistency and then add the drop of rosemary essential oil. (Rosemary is a super-effective antiseptic.) Whisk the egg white until stiff, then fold in the cucumber mixture and smooth over the face. The egg white will tauten on the face; remove after 15 minutes using a clean, damp cloth.

How to get the best effects

Cleanse first. A face mask can’t get to clogged pores if make-up and impurities aren’t removed first. Last month I wrote about scrubs, and personally, I like to scrub before I use a mask.

Lay it on thick. With very few exceptions, masks work best when coverage is generous. Sealing skin with a mask packs its nutrients into pores because moisture is trapped while you’ve got the mask in place, skin emerges well-hydrated.

Don’t forget the neck and chest. These get plenty of exposure to sun, in particular (and are often overlooked when applying sun protection), so they deserve masked TLC.

Put your feet up. You’ll redirect blood from your lower body to your head, bringing oxygen to the face to boost the mask’s action.

Moisturise immediately. With all those dead cells removed, your moisturiser will penetrate deeper for maximum results. (NB Some of the more skin-quenching masks can, alternatively, be left on and smoothed into the skin – although personally, I always like to remove them and the gunk they take with them…)

Stop if irritation occurs. Anything more than the merest tingle isn’t normal; if redness or patchiness happen after a mask, discontinue use.

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