- Effective hydrating face masks contain ingredients such as hyaluronic acid (HA), vitamin C and aloe vera, which encourage the skin to retain moisture.
- Moisturizing face masks are formulated with a wide variety of ingredients, and can be chosen based on the specific needs of your skin type.
- Hydrating face masks can be purchased over the counter (OTC) or made at home with natural ingredients.
Effective hydrating face masks are formulated with ingredients that either moisturize the skin or enhance the functioning of the skin’s moisture barrier.
All skin types can benefit from the effects of hydrating face masks, as any skin type can become dry and dehydrated at times. However, those with consistently dry or sensitive skin are the most likely to benefit from these masks’ hydrating and soothing properties.
What Is a Hydrating Face Mask?
Hydrating face masks are formulated with ingredients that contain active compounds that function in a number of ways. Some compounds actively draw moisture into skin tissues; others lock in moisture and prevent water loss by enhancing the skin’s barrier and reinforcing cellular structures.
Moisturizing ingredients belong to one of four major classes based on how they function:
- Humectants draw moisture into the skin from the environment and the underlying tissues
- Emollients are fats and oils that fill in the gaps between skin cells, sealing in moisture and improving the skin’s barrier function
- Occlusives are oils and waxes that create a barrier to prevent water loss
- Proteins such as collagen, keratin and elastin are important for skin cell structure and function, and are integral to the skin’s barrier function.
Hydrating face masks offer a variety of benefits depending on the class of ingredients they contain. Their hydrating effects translate into other skin care benefits as well.
|Ingredient Class||Benefits||How It Works||Ingredients|
|Humectants||Hydrates||Draws moisture into the skin from the environment and from deep within tissues||Aloe vera, glycerin, Honey, HA, lactic acid, mineral oil, petrolatum, urea|
|Emollients||Improves the skin’s barrier function to encourage moisture retention||Repairs and fills in the gaps between skin cells with fats and oils||Aloe vera, arganl;avocado, castor, coconut and sunflower oil; lauric, oleic, linoleic and stearic acid; shea butter, cetyl alcohol|
|Occlusives||Improves the skin’s barrier function to encourage moisture retention||Creates an oil or wax-based barrier on the skin||Castor, jojoba, mineral oil; cocoa butter, lanolin, petrolatum, zinc oxide|
|Proteins||Improves the skin’s barrier function to encourage moisture retention||Reinforces cellular structure and promotes cell regeneration||Collagen, keratin, elastin|
|Antioxidants(nonmoisturizing)||Preserves the firmness and suppleness of the skin; protects the moisture barrier||Prevents free radical damage that causes the destruction of connective tissues and disrupts the moisture barrier||Grapeseed oil, green tea, HA, oats, vitamins A, C and E|
|Anti-inflammatories(nonmoisturizing)||Reduces skin inflammation||Prevents free radical damage||Aloe vera, grapeseed oil, green tea, honey, vitamins A, C and E|
Types of Hydrating Masks and How To Use Them
Several types of hydrating face masks are available and vary as to form, application method and treatment time.
Most masks are best used once or twice weekly depending on the severity of your skin’s dryness. If your product has accompanying instructions, be sure to follow them closely for the best possible results.
Sheet masks are face-shaped fiber sheets infused with a serum of powerful moisturizing ingredients. They adhere when applied to the face and the serum is then slowly absorbed into the skin, resulting in deep hydration.
Sheet masks are packaged individually and are ready-made, with holes cut out for the eyes and mouth. They are designed to be easily applied directly from the package and removed with no mess.
Most sheet masks should be removed and discarded after about 15 minutes.
Cream masks are dense formulas designed for direct application to the skin with a brush or fingers. While moisturizing gels, lotions and serums tend to be water-based, cream mask products are usually oil-based. For this reason, they tend to have a more powerful occlusive effect, and are therefore better suited for sealing in moisture.
Most cream masks should be rinsed off after 10–20 minutes.
Overnight or sleeping masks are rich cream or serum formulations designed to be applied before bed and washed off in the morning. Overnight wear allows the ingredients in these masks more time to soak into the skin and replenish moisture.
The skin’s circadian rhythm is known to fluctuate from day to night. During the day, sebum production is at its highest; during the night, the protective barrier function weakens and the skin loses moisture. Overnight masks can help prevent any skin dryness that may develop and ensure skin is hydrated by morning.
However, the longer a product is left on the skin, the greater the risk of triggering an allergic reaction. When selecting an overnight mask product avoid any formulations containing ingredients to which you are sensitive or allergic.
Some overnight masks may contain ingredients that can stain fabrics. If you are concerned about this possibility, you may wish to cover your pillow with an old T-shirt that you can set aside for these occasions.
How to Choose a Hydrating Mask for Your Skin Type
Those with dry skin are most likely to benefit from the moisturizing, barrier-restoring effects of hydrating face masks. As well, the gentle, natural ingredients in many hydrating masks may also benefit those with sensitive skin, who may experience irritation from other types of face masks.
Hydrating masks may exacerbate sebum production for oily skin types, causing oil buildup and clogged pores – and potentially triggering acne breakouts. However, this skin type can choose hydrating face masks with water-based formulations.
Selecting a mask that contains ingredients appropriate for your skin type will help minimize your risk of experiencing irritation, breakouts or allergic reactions.
|Dry||Vitamins A and C, HA, aloe, plant oils, ceramides, glycerine, honey, green tea, oats, collagen, elastin and keratin|
|Oily||Vitamins A and C, green tea, oats, collagen, elastin and keratin|
|Sensitive||Vitamins A and E, aloe, ceramides, glycerine, oats, honey, green tea, collagen, elastin and keratin|
Those with dry skin should select masks containing gentle hydrating ingredients such as HA, glycerine and plant oils. Cream formulations offer a more powerful occlusive effect than lightweight gels, serums and lotions, and will reinforce the skin’s protective barrier, further protecting against moisture loss.
Sheet masks that contain bacterial cellulose (also known as bio cellulose) can also provide potent benefits to those with dry skin. The fibers in these masks are highly absorbent and can store many times their dry weight in water, which makes them effective at delivering large doses of cooling, hydrating ingredients. One study found that these masks safely and effectively increased skin moisture uptake by 7–28%.
Oily skin tends to respond well to products that are noncomedogenic, including lightweight gels, lotions and serums. Those with oily skin may also benefit from antibacterial or anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as oats, green tea and vitamin A, which can help reduce the risk of acne breakouts.
Sheet masks are not suitable for oily skin, as they are not breathable and encourage acne-causing bacteria to remain in contact with the skin. Cream-based and overnight masks also tend to be unsuitable for oily skin, as they contain ingredients that can exacerbate oil buildup and clog pores.
Sensitive skin will benefit from soothing, hydrating ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties, such as ceramides, honey and vitamin E. That being said, most of the ingredients in hydrating face masks are gentle and unlikely to cause irritation. Even those with very sensitive skin should rarely experience side effects from their use.
DIY Hydrating Mask Recipes
In addition to being purchased OTC, hydrating face masks can be made at home with natural ingredients that are readily available from drugstores and health food stores.
Honey, yogurt and hyaluronic acid mask
- 1 tbsp yogurt
- 1/2 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp high molecular weight HA acid powder
- Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix to form a consistent paste
- Apply to clean, dry skin with a brush
- Wait 10 minutes; wash off with lukewarm water
Sunflower seed oil, avocado, vitamin C and oat mask
Sunflower seed oil has been found to improve the skin’s moisture barrier. Avocado oil, which is rich in vitamins A, C, E and linoleic acid, can also enrich dry skin and repair moisture barrier damage.
Colloidal oatmeal contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce skin dryness, itchiness, roughness and scaling. Vitamin C is also an important skin nutrient that plays a role in collagen production, and can have a brightening effect on the skin by reducing pigmentation.
- 1/2 tsp sunflower seed oil
- 1/2 tsp avocado oil or flesh
- 1 tbsp colloidal oatmeal powder
- 1/4 tsp vitamin C powder
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl until smooth
- Apply to clean, dry skin with a brush
- Wait about 15 minutes for the mask to dry; wash off with lukewarm water
You may replace sunflower seed or avocado oil with another plant-based oil containing similar active compounds, such as jojoba, grapeseed, argan or coconut oil.
Aloe, coconut and borage oil mask
Aloe vera gel is rich in chemical compounds called mucopolysaccharides, which bond readily with water molecules. When the gel is applied topically, these compounds draw moisture into skin tissues and hydrate them.
Aloe vera has also been found to soften flaky skin, reduce the severity of peeling, and soothe redness and irritation. This makes it a prime ingredient for treating many symptoms and conditions associated with dry skin.
Coconut oil contains anti-inflammatory, antibacterial compounds that help improve the skin’s moisture barrier. Borage oil can also help to improve the skin’s barrier function, and is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, an important source of nutrients for the skin.
- 1 tsp extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp aloe vera gel
- 1 tsp borage oil
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl until smooth
- Apply to clean, dry skin with a brush
- Wait 10 minutes, then wash off with lukewarm water; alternatively, massage the mixture into your skin for deeper hydration
In order to avoid potential irritation caused by chemical contaminants, be sure to use extra-virgin, cold-pressed plant oils in your DIY face mask formulations.
Should You Use a Hydrating Mask?
Hydrating masks can, for the most part, be used by all skin types, however some ingredients and masks should be avoided by some. For example, those with oily or acne-prone skin should forgo ingredients and masks that smother the skin, such as rich waxes, oils, creams or sheet masks.
Those with sensitive skin should select masks with as few potentially irritating ingredients as possible to avoid triggering allergic reactions or worsening dryness. Common skin irritants include:
- Soaping agents
- Synthetic preservatives
For all skin types, immediately rinse off and stop using a face mask if any unpleasant side effects occur. These may include:
- Burning, stinging or itching
- Severe redness
- Dryness or tightness
Alternatives to Hydrating Masks
Hydrating masks are an effective treatment for restoring moisture to dry skin, however they are not intended for daily use. OTC moisturizers can offer similar hydrating effects, and can be applied daily as a regular part of an effective skin care routine.
Moisturizers are available in a number of different formulations, each designed for specific use.
- Lotions are light, water-based formulas ideal for daytime use.
- Gels are light, usually water-based formulas that are easily absorbed by the skin. Gels are also noncomedogenic, making them suitable for those with oily skin.
- Creams are rich, usually oil-based formulas ideal for nighttime use. As they contain heavy moisturizing ingredients, they may clog pores when applied to oily skin, and are better suited for those with dry skin.
- Ointments are heavy oil-based formulas that take longer to absorb. They can be used to treat severe dryness, and may be medicated in order to treat irritation and burns.
Hydrating face masks are formulated with ingredients that encourage moisture retention in the skin. There are four major classes of ingredients that each work in different ways; humectants draw moisture into skin tissues, while occlusives, emollients and proteins strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier.
Cream, sheet and overnight masks are generally better suited for those with dry skin, as are rich, hydrating ingredients such as HA, aloe, ceramides and glycerine. Oily skin is better addressed with light, water-based formulations, and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as oats, green tea and vitamin A.
Hydrating masks are highly unlikely to cause irritation, however ingredients such as fragrances, preservatives and alcohols may trigger negative reactions for some. Avoid products containing these ingredients – especially if you have sensitive skin.
Professional hydrating mask products purchased OTC are easy to use and tend to provide more powerful results. Hydrating masks can also be made at home with natural ingredients, and carefully formulated to address your skin’s needs.
- Algiert‐Zielińska, B. , Mucha, P. and Rotsztejn, H. (2019), Lactic and lactobionic acids as typically moisturizing compounds. Int J Dermatol, 58: 374-379. doi:10.1111/ijd.14202
- Al-Niaimi, F., & Chiang, N. (2017). Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(7), 14–17. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605218/
- Amnuaikit, T., Chusuit, T., Raknam, P., & Boonme, P. (2011). Effects of a cellulose mask synthesized by a bacterium on facial skin characteristics and user satisfaction. Medical devices (Auckland, N.Z.), 4, 77–81. doi:10.2147/MDER.S20935
- Danby, S. G., AlEnezi, T. , Sultan, A. , Lavender, T. , Chittock, J. , Brown, K. and Cork, M. J. (2013). Effect of Olive and Sunflower Seed Oil on the Adult Skin Barrier: Implications for Neonatal Skin Care. Pediatr Dermatol, 30: 42-50. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1525-1470.2012.01865.x
- Endly, D. C., & Miller, R. A. (2017). Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(8), 49–55. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5605215/
- Jegasothy, S. M., Zabolotniaia, V., & Bielfeldt, S. (2014). Efficacy of a new topical nano-hyaluronic acid in humans. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 7(3), 27–29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3970829/
- Karagounis, TK, Gittler, JK, Rotemberg, V, Morel, KD. Use of “natural” oils for moisturization: Review of olive, coconut, and sunflower seed oil. Pediatr Dermatol. 2019; 36: 9– 15. https://doi.org/10.1111/pde.13621
- Lin, T. K., Zhong, L., & Santiago, J. L. (2017). Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. International journal of molecular sciences, 19(1), 70. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796020/
- Mandal, M. D., & Mandal, S. (2011). Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity. Asian Pacific journal of tropical biomedicine, 1(2), 154–160. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3609166/
- Matsui, M. S., Pelle, E., Dong, K., & Pernodet, N. (2016). Biological Rhythms in the Skin. International journal of molecular sciences, 17(6), 801. doi:10.3390/ijms17060801
- Reynertson KA, Garay M, Nebus J, Chon S, Kaur S, Mahmood K, Kizoulis M, Southall MD. Anti-inflammatory activities of colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) contribute to the effectiveness of oats in treatment of itch associated with dry, irritated skin. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Jan;14(1):43-8. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25607907
- Rodan, K., Fields, K., Majewski, G., & Falla, T. (2016). Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plastic and reconstructive surgery. Global open, 4(12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp), e1152. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5172479/
- Surjushe, A., Vasani, R., & Saple, D. G. (2008). Aloe vera: a short review. Indian journal of dermatology, 53(4), 163–166. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.44785
- Vitamin C. (2018). https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/