While recording the Snailcast a while ago, Chel and I got to reminiscing about the early days of AB life. Just a couple of years ago, hauls were major events that demanded planning, patience, and possibly a Hangul cheat sheet. These days, US-based Asian skincare fans can get a solid routine and plenty of extras, like sheet masks, in two days or less from Amazon Prime–without the hefty shipping costs that things like sheet masks can incur on many other sites. Kids these days have it so damn easy. Get off my lawn (so the Amazon delivery guy can get to my door).
Affiliate links marked with an asterisk(*).
My skin concerns are dryness, dullness, unevenness, and ¡¡¡OLDNESS!!!, which these masks address without breaking me out or breaking my bank.
The Holy Grail
There are tons of masks out there that do really nice things for my skin, and then there are the elite, my all-time favorites, the holy grails. These are the masks I use before special occasions or after particularly rough days. They do great things for my skin and even greater things for my mood. And Amazon carries the one I love the most!
Primary effects: Dramatic brightening, firming, plumping, smoothing, moisturizing, skin texture refining
Secondary effects: An insatiable lust for all things Miss Flower & Mr Honey
Ferments! Extracts! Honey! Propolis! Royal jelly! Miss Flower & Mr Honey has them all.
It’s been a year and a half since I reviewed these masks and gave them holy grail status, and my feelings haven’t changed since then. For my skin, the Miss Flower & Mr. Honey masks are sweet magic. The thin, soft, shimmering golden gel sheets smell like heaven and melt slowly into my skin, leaving it as close to porcelain as I’ve ever seen it look. I have a fresh box of them scheduled for delivery to my door tomorrow and a passionate reunion planned, since it’s been way too long since the last time I used one.
Banila Co. Miss Flower & Mr Honey Hydrogel Mask ingredients: Purified water, glycerin, niacinamide, ceratonia siliqua (carob) gum, carrageenan powder, lactobacillus ferment, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, camellia sinensis (white tea) leaf extract, artemisia princeps extract, houttuynia cordata extract, yuzu extract, castor seed oil, 1,2-hexanediol, caprylyl glycol, phenoxyethanol, ferric oxide, titanium dioxide, synthetic fluorphlogopite, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, chrysanthemum indicum flower extract, butylene glycol, saccharomyces ferment, honey extract, oenothera biennis (evening primrose flower) extract, calendula flower extract, chamomile flower extract, propolis extract, royal jelly extract, ethylhexylglycerin, adenosine, disodium EDTA, potassium hydroxide, fragrance (CosDNA)
The High Performers
Just a step below holy grail status are these masks, which, while not quite as unicornish, give me consistently impressive results at a more affordable per-mask price (and are generally easier to come by).
Primary effects: Firming, smoothing, brightening, skin texture refining, barrier repairing
Secondary effects: Hydrating, moisturizing, calming
I originally gave these masks a 5/5 holy grail rating just like the Banila Co. Miss Flower & Mr Honey Hydrogel Masks, and I stand by that rating just like I stand by the Miss Flower & Mr Honey rating. For my skin, using these masks is about on par with discovering a way to turn beauty filter on, except in real life not on my camera. Even better, the ceramides, cholesterol, and assorted lipids in the Donkey Milk Aqua gel essence quickly and reliably patch up my barrier whenever I’ve gone overboard with the actives or scrubs again.
The only reason I’ve classified these as high performers here rather than holy grail is that the experience of these masks isn’t quite as luxurious as the experience of the Miss Flower & Mr Honey hydrogels. The only sparkle to these masks is on their packaging, they lack the perfect cling of a true hydrogel, and the Donkey Milk Aqua scent can’t compare to Miss Flower & Mr Honey’s…uhhh…flowers and honey.
Freeset Donkey Milk Aqua Skin Gel Mask Pack ingredients: Water, glycerin, dipropylene glycol, donkey milk, honey extract, pyrus pyrifolia (pear) fruit extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, cimicifuga racemosa root extract, polygonum multiflorum root extract, sesamum indicum (sesame) seed extract, phellinus linteus extract, angelica gigas root extract, morus alba bark extract, paeonia lactiflora root extract, sophora angustifolia root extract, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, triethylhexanoin, butyrospermum parkii (shea butter), panthenol, cetearyl alcohol, hydrogenated polydecene, butylene glycol, 1,2-hexanediol, dimethicone, hydrogenated lecithin, ceramide 3, potassium carbomer, cholesterol, potassium c11-15 alkyl phosphate, ceramide 2, phytosphingosine, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, polyglutamic acid, hydrolyzed collagen, PEG-32, betaine, allantoin, carbomer, arginine, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, fragrance, methylparaben, disodium EDTA (CosDNA)
There are new versions of the Freeset donkey milk masks in circulation now. The updated masks are paraben-free, labeled in compliance with FDA regulations, and identifiable by the English text on the front of the packets: they say “Reprogramming the Future of Your Skin” under the donkey crest.
The product pictured in my Amazon link is the original version, as is the ingredients list above. If you want to see the ingredients in the reformulated Aqua masks, I’ve added them to CosDNA here. Personally, i find the effects of the updated masks almost identical to the original. They are a tiny bit less brightening for some reason but just as firming and reparative as always.
Primary effects: Firming, brightening, intensely hydrating and moisturizing
Secondary effects: Guilt, skin texture refining
Swiftlet nests have been harvested and used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and remain popular as an ingredient in anti-aging beauty products. Unfortunately, unethical harvesting practices by some suppliers make bird’s nest products controversial, since we can’t tell from the consumer side whether any given company is using an ethical or unethical bird’s nest supplier.
If you’re comfortable with swiftlet nest as a beauty ingredient, I think the MBD Imperial Bird’s Nest masks are among the best around. They deliver incredible amounts of moisture, smooth out my skin better than a liter of water and 8 hours of sleep, banish redness, and leave my face even, glowy, and bright.
My Beauty Diary Imperial Bird’s Nest Mask ingredients: Water, glycerin, propylene glycol, butylene glycol, phenoxyethanol, sodium lactate, chlorphenesin, triethanolamine, polysorbate 20, sodium hyaluronate, xanthan gum, citric acid, hydroxyethyl urea, adansonia digitata pulp extract, avena sativa (oat) kernel extract, hydrolyzed swiftlet nest, kappaphycus alvarezii extract, laminaria digitata extract, lecithin, centella asiatica extract, codium tomentosum extract, cichorium intybus (chicory) leaf extract, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, hydrolyzed rice protein, magnesium gluconate, hydrolyzed soy protein, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, gentiana lutea root extract, maltose, polysorbate 80, malva sylvestris (mallow) flower extract, saccharum officinarum (sugar cane) extract, acer accharum (sugar maple) extract, citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) fruit extract, citrus medica limonum (lemon) fruit extract, glyceryl glucoside, soluble collagen, carbomer, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, polyglutamic acid, sodium hydroxide, fragrance, glycosphingolipids, tocopheryl acetate (CosDNA)
Like the rest of the My Beauty Diary masks in this list, the 2015 Imperial Bird’s Nest masks are made of thin silk fiber sheets soaked with so much essence that I feel like I’m being waterboarded with beauty when I have them on.
Primary effects: Significant brightening and calming
Secondary effects: Hydrating, firming, sudden honey cravings
I like several flavors of Tosowoong sheet mask, but though the Pure Snail and Pure Deep Sea Water masks are fantastic in their own ways, the Pure Propolis outshines them by a thousand watts. Much like the My Beauty Diary Imperial Bird’s Nest masks but without the crushing guilt, the Tosowoong Pure Propolis masks do just about everything and do it all well. The cotton mask sheets are thick but comfortable and saturated with nourishing essence, and the essence smells delicious.
Tosowoong Pure Propolis Mask Pack ingredients: Water, glycerin, butylene glycol, niacinamide, propolis extract (942 ppm), xanthan gum, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, phenoxyethanol, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, ethylhexylglycerin, adenosine, sodium polyacrylate, disodium EDTA, allantoin, panthenol, perfume (CosDNA)
5. Naruko Snail Essence Intense Hydra Repair Mask, 10 for $16.15*
Primary effects: Significant soothing and brightening, resulting in noticeably calmer and more even skin tone
Secondary effects: Plumping, hydrating, skin texture refining; sudden embrace of slippery slimy textures
I have multiple boxes of these masks in my stash, will use up every last one of them, and will gladly buy more. Of all the snail masks I’ve tried, Naruko’s is king. The slippery slimy texture can be unsettling and literally hard to handle (I’ve lost control of a couple of these masks, which like to flop out of my hands right onto the bathroom floor), but the Snail Essence Intense Hydra Repair Masks even out my skin tone so much that I almost always skip cushion or BB cream the next day. Totally worth it.
Naruko Snail Essence Intense Hydra Repair Mask ingredients: Purified water, algin, snow fungus (tremella fuciformis) extract, hydroxyethylcellulose, butylene glycol, carbomer, glycerin, cucumis sativus (cucumber) fruit extract, PEG-45M, phenoxyethanol, ethylhexylglycerin, sodium hyaluronate, snail secretion filtrate, allantoin, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, calendula officinalis flower extract, avena sativa (oat) kernel extract, triethanolamine, beta glucan, sodium polyglutamate, fragrance, dipotassium glycyrrhizate (CosDNA)
Finally, one tier below the high performers are my staple masks. These masks’ results aren’t as spectacular for me as those of my holy grails or my high performers, but they are still excellent for an everyday boost to keep my skin in its best condition.
Primary effects: Barrier support, long-lasting hydration
Secondary effects: Moderate calming and brightening
When I’ve really, really messed up my barrier, I reach for one of the Donkey Milk Aqua masks, but when the damage isn’t too severe (or when I’m out of donkey milk), I go for one of these instead. The hydrating and anti-inflammatory ingredients work well with barrier-supporting squalene to take my skin out of the overexfoliation or overcleansing danger zone and back to safety.
My Beauty Diary Squalene Restorative Mask ingredients: Water, glycerin, butylene glycol, propylene glycol, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, pseudoalteromonas ferment extract, phenoxyethanol, chlorphenesin, triethanolamine, nasturtium officinale flower/leaf extract, laminaria digitata extract, fucus vesiculosus extract, gentiana lutea root extract, arnica montana flower extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, polysorbate 20, citric acid, sodium hyaluronate, enantia chlorantha bark extract, hydroxyethyl urea, hydrolyzed rice protein, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, glyceryl glucoside, codium tomentosum extract, lactobacillus/soy milk ferment filtrate, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) bark/leaf/twig extract, hibiscus sabdariffa flower extract, hydrolyzed soy protein, lecithin, polysorbate 80, squalene, carbomer, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, xanthan gum, fragrance, sodium hydroxide, sodium lactate, sodium PCA, glycosphingolipids, tocopheryl acetate (CosDNA)
The 2016 version of these masks have also appeared on Amazon!* And in my Amazon cart.
7. My Beauty Diary Liposome Hyaluronic Acid, 8 for $12.43*
Primary effects: Extreme hydration and plumping for ultra juicy, bouncy skin
Secondary effects: Mild brightening, sudden urge to repeatedly poke bouncy bouncy cheeks while looking in the mirror
The My Beauty Diary Liposome Hyaluronic Acid sheet masks are some of the most ridiculously hydrating masks around. The uppermost layers of my skin have a tendency to look crepey when dehydrated, but no matter how bad it gets, 45 minutes with a Liposome Hyaluronic Acid mask will puff my dry and deflated skin right back up and give it the dewy, lit-from-within look that only lots and lots of hydration can provide.
My Beauty Diary Liposome Hyaluronic Acid Mask ingredients: Water, glycerin, butylene glycol, propylene glycol, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, annanas sativus (pineapple) fruit extract, citrus medica limonum (lemon) fruit extract, ruscus aculeatus root extract, citrus grandis (grapefruit) fruit extract, fucus vesiculosis extract, laminaria digitata extract, panax ginseng root extract, phenoxyethanol, polyglutamic acid, chlorphenesin, sodium lactate, arnica montana flower extract, polysorbate 20, triethanolamine, sodium hyaluronate, citric acid, sodium PCA, propylene glycol hyaluronate, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, glyceryl glucoside, lecithin, malva sylvestris (mallow) flower extract, saccharum officinarum (sugar cane) extract, acer saccharum (sugar maple) extract, citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) fruit extract, polysorbate 80, hydrolyzed collagen, carbomer, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, xanthan gum, sodium hydroxide, fragrance, codium tomentosum extract, glycosphingolipids, tocopheryl acetate (CosDNA)
Primary effects: Highly hydrating and clarifying
Secondary effects: Plumping and firming
I picked up my first box of these masks when I was at the height of my fancy water infatuation. I love the idea of simmering for hours in a hot spring, relaxing my mind into oblivion while my skin soaks up all kinds of healthful minerals. I have never actually been to any hot springs, but I think of My Scheming Hot Spring Water Moisturizing Masks as the sheet mask equivalent of that experience.
Yes, I’m a sucker. But these masks really are wonderful for everyday use! Overloaded with essence, the thin silk sheets cling perfectly and saturate my face with clean, non-sticky hydration. My skin always looks juicy and translucent and feels baby-soft after a good soak in one of these masks. I’m currently out, but more are on their way.
My Scheming Hot Spring Water Moisturizing Mask ingredients: Water, glycerin, butylene glycol, hydroxyethyl urea, hydroxyethyl ethylcellulose, niacinamide, chlorphenesin, sodium hyaluronate, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, xanthan gum, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, phenoxyethanol, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, arginine, hydrolyzed elastin, fragrance (CosDNA)
The mask sheets used in the Hot Spring Water Moisturizing Masks and the honey version below are thinner, clingier, and more pliable than the ones used by My Beauty Diary but also much more delicate and prone to stretching and tearing, so be careful when putting these on.
Primary effects: Deeply hydrating and moisturizing
Secondary effects: Calming, smoothing
Have you noticed how much I like bee stuff yet? These masks make use of one of my favorite comfort ingredients, honey, which almost always saves the day when my skin feels parched and rough. I especially like using the My Scheming Honey Hydrating Masks on very arid days, when the weather seems determined to suck all the life out of my skin. These masks take me from BBC dry to Kdrama dewy in 30-45 minutes and calm irritation while they’re at it.
My Scheming Honey Hydrating Mask ingredients: Water, glycerin, butylene glycol, hydroxyethyl urea, hydroxyethyl ethylcellulose, niacinamide, chorphenesin, sodium hyaluronate, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, honey extract, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, xanthan gum, iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, phenoxyethanol, milk protein, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, arginine, fragrance (CosDNA)
By now, you may have noticed that the effects of a lot of my favorite masks overlap. And that may have you wondering why I couldn’t just list (or indeed just buy) one for each particular effect.
Thing is, that wouldn’t be very fun, at least not for me. I would find daily masking horribly tedious if I had to stick to just a few varieties. I need to make skincare fun for myself in order to stick to it consistently, and a huge part of the fun of skincare (especially AB skincare!) lies in the sheer variety of ingredients and themes available. Can’t decide between MBD Liposome Hyaluronic Acid or My Scheming Hot Spring Water? Not sure which Tosowoong mask to choose? Go with the one whose ingredients capture your imagination the most. If you’re like me, the mask whose ingredients are the most fun for you will be the one you stick with long enough to see results.
What are your favorite sheet masks?