Disclosure: Affiliate links.
Welcome to the latest installment of my Do I Need This? series. In these posts, I offer my experience and opinion about whether or not I think a product or technique is worth it. Obviously, you don't really need ANY beauty products, so the answer to the question is always going to be no, to some extent. But is it going to change your life (or face)? Is it going to make things easier? Are you going to notice any difference at all? That's what I'm getting at. You may disagree with my verdict, because we all have different bodies/faces/brains/desires, but I'll try to offer a starting point, at least.
Masks are having a moment. There are masks out there that claim to do just about anything you could possibly want. They come in creams and clays and sheets and gels and who knows what else. There are even masks for your hair and lips and various other body parts. One of the types of masks that brands are really pumping out right now is the overnight mask, also called a sleeping mask or sleeping pack--the latter especially from Asian skincare brands.
Do you need a sleeping mask?
Short answer: No. There are some nice ones out there, but you probably already have products that you can use in a similar way.
I'm going to review three overnight masks that I've tried: one a more expensive Western brand, one a cheaper Western brand, and one from and Asian brand.
But first, I wanted to talk a little about what makes a sleeping mask different from any other product you might put on your face at night. The main difference between a mask and a cream or a serum or a toner or a lotion or essence is that you meant to rinse a mask off of your face after a certain amount of time. If it's a clay mask or a peel, that's usually after 5-15 minutes. If it's a sleeping mask, you put it on before bed and rinse it off in the morning, so much longer (I hope!). In theory, a mask has some quality that means you don't want to leave it on your skin for a very long time, but sleeping masks can obviously be in contact with your face for hours. In a lot of cases, I think this is just a trendier name for products that used to be called "night creams," but people want to buy things with word "mask" in the name these days. In theory, a sleeping mask should have especially sophisticated ingredients from which your skin will benefit from prolonged contact. Then again, so should most other newly formulated products, like serums and moisturizers.
Asian sleeping packs are potentially a little different from Western sleeping masks, in that they are primarily designed to add an occlusive layer after your other products to sort of seal everything in and keep your skin moisturized while you sleep. The idea is that you will apply a whole slew of other products first and use the pack as the final layer. But they usually contain similar skin care ingredients meant to soothe and moisturize, so in practice the difference is not a major one.
For the most part, the reason you'll want to remove a sleeping mask in the morning is not that it will harm your skin if you don't, but that it has some properties that would make it unpleasant to leave on as you go about your day. It might feel heavy or greasy or leave a film. This means that many sleeping masks are extra-rich moisturizers that you probably wouldn't want on your skin during the day. That's all. But obviously you can apply other products to your face before bed and leave them on your skin to do their thing while you sleep.
That's why I don't think you necessarily need to add a product that's labeled an overnight mask or sleeping pack to your routine. If you want extra moisture and nice ingredients while you sleep, apply the serum of your choice and then a heavy layer of moisturizer, preferably something with a humectant like glycerin or hyaluronic acid in it. For very dry skin, you could add a layer of petrolatum (i.e. Vaseline) on top, which is a very good occlusive. Or if you have a moisturizer or skin cream that you find too heavy for regular use, repurpose it as a sleeping mask.
This is not to say that there aren't any good products out there marketed as overnight masks. There are. But there's a good chance that you already have a product or products that will fulfill the same function, so you don't need to give into the trend unless you really want to. There's nothing particularly unique about these products as a category.
Obviously I couldn't deliver my pronouncement on these things without trying some of them myself. So here are three sleeping masks I've used:
Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Hydrating Treatment Mask ($24)
Of these three options, this is by far my favorite. As soon as I apply the mask, the moisture feels really refreshing and soothing, especially when my skin is unusually dry. It feels good on chapped or irritated skin. Then when I wake up in the morning, my skin feels soft, not tight, soothed, and moisturized. It does leave a film on the skin that you can sort of rub off with your fingers, but I haven't noticed it transferring to my pillowcase, even though I am a face-sleeper. The film is more of a smooth, siliconey layer than a greasy one, but it doesn't feel heavy on the skin. You only feel it if you touch your face. I don't think, however, that you would want to use it as a regular daytime moisturizer, because of this film. It has a sort of light, pleasant smell, even though it's not fragranced (it's not like some unscented products that smell bad). This mask has all sorts of antioxidants in it, which can't hurt--unless you are sensitive to them, I suppose.
Freeman Honeydew & Chamomile Sleeping Mask ($4)
I bought this mask because I've had some good results with Freeman's extremely affordable masks--I'd say my track record with them is about 50/50. I hated this one (so no affiliate link). It's mostly coconut oil, which can cause breakouts for some people, and shea butter. I got bad cystic acne after using it the first time, but I wasn't sure if that was coincidental or not. The second time I applied it, the extremely strong artificial melon scent was so obnoxious that I considered removing it right away. It also stung badly on the chapped skin around my nose and on the skin near my eyes, which is not what I'm looking for in a soothing mask. Then I remembered my breakout the first time, and I decided to just wash it off after 10 minutes or so instead of leaving it overnight. So this review is based on just one and a half tests, but that was enough for me to repurpose this as a body lotion. Even if you are one of the people whose skin loves coconut oil . . . just use coconut oil. Put it on your face overnight. Change your pillowcase in the morning if you want to.
Laneige Water Sleeping Mask ($24)
Now I know this is probably the most popular product from Laneige, so I expect some people are going to disagree with my verdict here. It didn't do anything for me. I got a mini-jar in a Target beauty bag that contained enough product for at least a dozen uses, if not more. This mask looks and feels like a gel moisturizer, but for me it wasn't very moisturizing, even though it's supposed to "recharge dehydrated skin." I used this for the first time late last winter, the time of year when my skin tends to be at both its driest and its most dehydrated (read about the difference here). It made my skin feel tighter immediately after I applied it. By morning I was desperate to apply a more effective moisturizer. I picked it up again in the summer, and it was better then, but still no different from a light moisturizer. And yes I did apply it on top of other products, including ones with moisturizing properties (which the "most helpful" positive review on Target's website accuses detractors of not understanding).
The Water Sleeping Mask also has a very strong fragrance that they call "Sleepscent," which consists of rose, sandalwood, and orange flower. The rose is the strongest component, but otherwise it smells like products that have the word "ocean" in the name. This fragrance is supposed to soothe you and help you sleep, I guess, but personally I find strong scents distracting when I am trying to sleep, and if I really wanted one, I would prefer not to have it on my face. It contains silicone, glycerin, some antioxidants, and willow bark extract.
So if you really feel the siren song of the sleeping mask, my best recommendation is the one from Paula's Choice, which I am glad to have on days that my face feels particularly parched or irritated. But if you are wondering whether your lack of a sleeping mask constitutes a major weakness in your skincare routine, I'd say no. There are plenty of other products you can use for the same basic purpose.
Do you use a sleeping mask? Or are you using something else that serves the same purpose at night?