I had a mini tube of REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask that I used up recently and loved. My skin doesn't really respond to what is supposedly the most powerful form of AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) found in skincare: glycolic acid. That means that all of the Paula's Choice AHA products do nothing for me. Lactic acid, on the other hand, does work for me, and so that's why I think the REN mask made my skin feel so incredibly soft and smooth after each use. Unfortunately, it costs $55 for a full size bottle (or around $30 from Amazon, so if I ever do cave and buy it, I'll get it from there).
In the meantime, I had a gift card for Bed Bath & Beyond to burn, and after some responsible purchases like a shower head and a butter dish, I saw tubes of this Freeman Banana Oat Instant Smoothing Mask on the end of an aisle marked down to $2. Lactic acid is high on the ingredients list, so I picked one up. (For more info about how AHAs work, see this useful post from Lab Muffin.)
Before using it, I searched for some reviews. I discovered that a lot of people reported serious irritation and redness after using the mask. In fact, on the back of the tube, in very fine print, there are instructions to patch test the mask before use. I rubbed a little into the inner side of my elbow and left it over night. I didn't have any reaction to it, so I felt comfortable using it on my face the next day. I would highly recommend testing any product with high levels of chemical exfoliants or other unfamiliar ingredients before use, however. You never know what your skin might hate.
This mask comes in a fairly thick gel format, and it has an artificial banana fragrance. Unlike the obnoxious fake melon smell of Freeman's sleeping mask, however, this was mild enough that it didn't bother me, despite the fact that I usually dislike fake banana. The mask is easy to spread, and I haven't experienced any irritation when I use it. It does, however, make my eyes water, which is something that I have noticed on occasion with other masks. I think that as they dry and some of the ingredients evaporate, those sort-of fumes will sting my eyes a bit. But I am prone to watery eyes in general.
The instructions say to leave it on for "up to 7 minutes," and you probably shouldn't go any longer, since it's pretty potent. After rinsing it off and applying moisturizer, as instructed, my skin feels extra soft and smooth, and it stays that way for a couple of days. That lactic acid really does its thing. I've also used this mask a couple of days after my 1% retinol treatment, when my skin is extra flaky, and it does an excellent job of exfoliating away the flakes.
While the results from this Freeman mask aren't quite as dramatic as with the REN, I'm quite satisfied with it. It usually costs a little over $4, so getting something almost as good as that for less than a tenth of the price is pretty fucking fantastic in my book. I'll add the Banana Oat Instant Smoothing Mask to my list of other favorite Freeman masks, along with the Avocado and Oatmeal Clay Mask and the Charcoal and Black Sugar Polishing Mask.
Do you use any AHA products? What else is good out there?