...begins with one troubled face. A few years ago, my skin staged a small coup d'état and I was caught without a strategy, much less an army. My battle back to skin I could look at in the mirror began with oral antibiotics, topical day and night antibiotics and a serious re-evaluation of my skincare routine. My dermatologist took care of the first three things. My friend Jane, who meticulously follows a 10-step Korean skincare regimen helped with the last. Jane is in possession of some Grade A, 19-year-old looking skin (officially declared so by the SK-II skin age test), despite being a 34-year old hag. She is also a skincare buyer at Sephora, so I take her recommendations seriously.

I made many changes in those first few months but the routine with the quickest and most visible result was the daily masking Jane insisted was a must. The masking ritual consisted of freshly cleansed skin followed by a mud mask and then a sheet mask. Taking approximately 30 minutes to complete, it is a lot of time to devote to masking. I executed the double mask strategy during my nightly television-watching wind-down and at any time of day or night on the weekends. At this time of year, the sugar and alcohol binge that is the holiday season calls for some skin TLC the day after. Daily masking will aid in that recovery.

Below is a short overview of the mud masks that formed the foundation of this routine and some of my favorite sheet masks I used, dictated by my skin's daily condition. At the end of the post, I've listed some other masks that are wonderful but pricey and/or not widely distributed. Read and mask away with reckless abandon. For reference my skin type is: Oily but dehydrated, sensitive, prone to redness, and slightly acnegenic. 

Masks - Aesop Graphic.JPG

Aesop is a small Australian beauty brand with very limited distribution in the United States. If you live in New York, you know their stores because we've all passed by and taken a pump (or three - one of each scent) of hand cream from their outdoor hand cream bottles. I have a somewhat biased affinity for Aesop because their best essential oil is named...Catherine. Essential oils aside (that may be what got me into this skin care mess), Aesop's Chamomile Concentrate Anti-Blemish Mask was key in stopping my active blemishes in their tracks without burning the life out of my somewhat sensitive skin. It also calmed the redness caused by the topical antibiotics, which most skin experiences until it adjusts. The jar will last about a month with frequent use but while you're in the Shock-And-Awe phase of this war, I recommend always having a jar on hand. This mask was used 2-3 times a week. On "off" days, I used the Fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask in its place.

Masks - Dr Jart+ graphic.JPG

The Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin etc. etc. etc. sheet mask helps restore skin that has seen some bacteria massacres courtesy of those topical antibiotics. A ceramide is a lipid/fatty molecule found (in great numbers) in the membrane of the cells that live on the surface of skin. These ceramide lipids lock moisture into skin, limits skin's loss of this moisture and also creates a barrier against environmental assault (the exhaust from an MTA bus tail pipe, the second-hand smoke coming at me from the outdoor lobby of my office building, the dirt and dust swirling through the air on a windy day).  This sheet mask became crucial as my skin dried out. I hydrated (12 glasses of water daily) and moisturized but this mask re-built my skin's moisture barrier which locks all of the good stuff in and keeps the bad stuff out. By locking in hydration, my skin decreased oil production in response. This is always good news for acnegenic skin.

Masks - Tatcha Graphic.JPG

Oh, to have mochi-hada. That's baby skin; fresh, plump, supple and lustrous. I refrain from delusional thoughts and scenarios in which I possess the skin quality of a Geisha but the story and legend of these women looms large in the Tatcha brand identity. All romanticism aside, at some point during this whole process, my skin became uncomfortably dry and visibly dull. I had never been in this figurative place and I was at a loss for answers and products. Jane to the rescue, again. She ordered me to run across the street to my local Sephora and get this. She did not warn me of the price tag but Jane is my George Washington and I am a mere soldier in her Skincare Continental Army. As I peeled that jellied paper from my skin and patted in the remaining serum, it was like my own personal Battle of Saratoga. My skin, no longer the texture of crumpled paper, bounced back to the touch and had a glow promised by the product claims.

Note: I've discussed Geisha heritage, Revolutionary War references and Sephora visits in one paragraph. I sort of hate myself for this.

Masks - Aztec Healing Graphic.JPG

Once my face recovered with blemishes at bay, I needed an inexpensive, deep-cleansing maintenance mask that would help with upkeep and, to be frank, suck the sebum out of my pores. The Indian Healing Clay Mask does just that. It requires some simple mixing (you can mix with water or ACV or both) but the extra effort required isn't that taxing. I didn't use this more than once a week - more than that was too harsh for my skin but if you're more of a rhinoceros in the skin department, I suppose you might like it more frequently.

Some other masks I tried and loved are:

- If you seek hydration and radiance: Amore Pacific Moisture Bound Intensive Serum Mask ($32 for two, $90 for six)

- If you seek a naturally-derived, multi-talented mask routine with anti-aging properties: Farmacy Dawn Coconut Gel Face Mask Medley ($24)

- If you want to see what you'll look like when you're the same age as Kirk Douglas (101 as of this post), while getting a non-surgical face lift, while spending a ton of disposable income you may or may not have, try the miraculous Hanacure All-in-One Facial Starter Kit ($29). Yes, that's the price of one application and yes, there is a waiting list. And no, I didn't buy it. My friend gave me one of hers, most likely because she felt bad for me as I told her, between sobs, I thought I was dying of some yet-to-be-discovered rare disease. It wasn't intentional but if it isn't a great skincare war strategy, then I'll eat my hat (that phrase is an homage to my dad, who has quite lovely skin).

- If you're not looking to resist and start a revolution but are looking to sheet mask once in a while, try Peaches and Lily where there is a sheet mask for every skin predicament.

Header artwork: dee dee, photo by author.