I use my Instagram account partly as a public skincare diary. I take and post photos of my morning and night routines to show how I put all those things in my beauty stash together on a daily basis. With my evening routines, there’s almost always a mask involved. That has led to many people asking me one particular question:
Fiddy, why do you use your sheet mask after your essences and serums and not before?
I’ve answered the question in comments a couple of times, but it comes up pretty frequently, so today I’m going to answer it here!
First of all, though, I totally get the confusion. Sheet mask instructions typically say to use the mask immediately after cleansing and toning. So, either in place of one’s essence and serum steps, or before those steps. Plus, if you follow the thin-to-thick guideline for putting products in order in a skincare routine, the thin and watery liquid used in most sheet masks should be used underneath even a moderately thick serum, right?
So why do you do it so weird, Fiddy?
There are a couple of reasons, all of which have to do with the unique properties of a sheet mask.
The mask sheet is the important thing, as New York dermatologist Arielle Kauvar explained to me when I wrote about sheet masks for Fashionista last year. Liquids evaporate. A mask sheet physically prevents much of the liquid underneath it from evaporating. Yes, even sheet masks lose some volume to evaporation, but nowhere near as much as if you put the same volume of the same liquid on your face without a mask over it.
Of course, the mask sheet would have the same evaporation-preventing effect whether used early or late in a routine. But here’s the thing: I find that using a sheet mask after my essences and serums and ampoules can transfer some of its intense absorption-enhancing properties onto all the products I’ve layered underneath. The penetration enhancers in the sheet mask essence help. So does the way a sheet mask dampens skin for a prolonged period of time. Damp skin tends to absorb product more readily, so between that, the penetration enhancers, and the physical occlusion of the mask sheet, it’s a great combination of factors for maximum absorption. More stuff gets in; less is left behind as residue on the surface.
I’ve experimented with using sheet masks immediately after toner, of course. Used the usual way, I do still find masks helpful for increasing the absorption of the first few products I put on afterwards. For me, though, the overall effect falls short of using sheet masks after treatment steps. By the end of a routine in which I’ve used a sheet mask before my serums, I find that the last few products aren’t going down as well as they usually do. On the other hand, using a sheet mask after piling on the serums almost always results in everything getting sucked right in to my skin. In fact, the surface of my skin often feels almost bare after I take a sheet mask off–except that it’s visibly calmer, more even, and more hydrated. Perfectly ready for cream or sleeping pack!
But Fiddy, how do you know the sheet mask isn’t actually just washing everything off of your face?
Because I have specific expectations for what the rest of my skincare is doing, and for the most part (and especially when it comes to products I’ve been using for a long time and know to be effective), I can see them working. My skin is continuing to improve in evenness, pigmentation, firmness, smoothness, and elasticity. None of that would be happening were my skincare routine not working. And since most of the products that produce those effects go in my evening routine rather than my morning routine, I’m confident that late sheet masking is possibly enhancing and definitely not hindering their effects.
If your evening routine is pretty short, I don’t think it matters as much whether you sheet mask before or after your treatment steps. If you’re working with a lot of product, however, give it a try for a little while. You might like it as much as I do!