- Effective hydrating face masks contain ingredients to improve or maintain skin hydration.
- Most hydrating face masks are good for all skin types but some formulas and ingredients are better for certain skin types than others.
- Many hydrating ingredients are natural and easy to find at home or buy at the drugstore or natural health store.
Many factors can dehydrate the skin or reduce its ability to hold moisture including:
- hormonal changes
- skin conditions
Hydrating face masks contain ingredients that temporarily hydrate the skin by strengthening its moisture barrier, usually by improving cellular structure or function, drawing in moisture or trapping moisture. Hydrating face masks tend to benefit all skin types though they are often best suited for dry or sensitive skin.
Why Use a Hydrating Face Mask?
Hydrating or moisturizing face masks may increase skin hydration temporarily using active compounds that add moisture to the skin or increase its ability to hold water. A 2018 study in Cosmetics found that a hydrogel mask improved skin moisturize, tone, luminosity, and signs of aging after one use.
Common hydrating skincare ingredients:
- Skin barrier waxes and fatty acids: hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin.
- Antioxidants: grape seed oil, green tea, oats, vitamin A, C and E.
- Skin barrier proteins: collagen, elastin and keratin (often sold as hydrolyzed collagen, polypeptides or oligopeptides).
- Temporary skin sealants: aloe vera, honey.
- Skin-enhancing plant oils and butters: shea, jojoba, avocado, sunflower, coconut and argan oil.
Hydrating face masks are best for people with dry, sensitive, scaling, or flaky skin. But people with most skin types can use hydrating face masks.
The main reason to use a hydrating face mask is to temporarily improve skin hydration. But keeping the skin hydrated, and ingredients in many hydrating masks, can often:
- Anti-aging effect on fines lines and wrinkles by encouraging connective tissue production: collagen, elastin, keratin, vitamins A and C.
- Improve skin texture by replacing fats in the skin’s moisture barrier: ceramides, shea butter, coconut oil.
- Increase skin hydration by attracting or trapping moisture: glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe, honey.
- Stimulate rejuvenation by reducing collagen and elastin destruction: hyaluronic acid, vitamin A, C and E.
- Reduce inflammation through antioxidant action: vitamin A, C and E, aloe, honey, green tea, grape seed oil.
- Repair the skin’s natural moisture barrier: argan oil, jojoba oil, borage oil, oat oil.
Types of Hydrating Masks and How To Use Them
There are several types of hydrating face masks with different defining features, advantages and disadvantages.
Sheet masks are individually packaged sheets infused with beneficial skin compounds.
Sheet masks smother the skin and trap moisture and hydrating ingredients on the skin’s surface, letting it soak in longer. But sheet masks may not be ideal for oily or acne-prone skin because they increase how long bacteria sit on the skin and cut off the flow of air.
Sheet masks placed on the face and pressed onto the skin for full contact. Most sheet masks sit on the skin for 10-20 minutes before being are rinsed off. But some sheet masks are peeled off and the ingredients left on the skin. Use sheet masks a couple of times weekly depending on skin dryness.
Cream masks are nutrient-packed creams applied directly to the skin. Water in oil formulated products like creams can help seal in moisturize longer and better than gels, lotions, or serums. But creams can be too heavy for sensitive, oily, or acne-prone skin.
Most cream masks can be applied using a clean brush or fingers. Some are rinsed off after 3-20 minutes but others are overnight masks. Use cream masks as often as recommended by the manufacturer or recipe.
Sleeping or overnight masks are heavy-duty creams, gels, or serums applied before bed and rinsed off in the morning. During the night the skin’s moisture barrier becomes weaker and loses more water. Sleeping masks soak in overnight to help prevent night-time moisture loss.
Sleeping masks allow ingredients longer to penetrate the skin making them an excellent moisturizing mask. But being on the skin longer also increases the risk of allergic reactions. Some sleeping mask ingredients might also stain fabrics. Use sleeping masks as often as recommended by the manufacturer or recipe.
How to Choose a Hydrating Mask for Your Skin Type
Certain hydrating face mask formulations and ingredients are better for some skin types than others. And using the wrong type of skin mask increases the risk of irritation, breakouts and allergic responses—which can cause dry skin or make it worse.
It’s important to choose a hydrating face mask designed to match your skin types that has proven hydrating ingredients.
|Ingredient||Intended skin types|
|Hyaluronic acid||Dry skin|
|Vitamin A||All skin types|
|Vitamin C||Dry/Oily/Acne-prone skin|
|Vitamin E||Sensitive skin|
|Collagen, elastin and keratin||All skin types|
|Green tea||All skin types|
|Plant oils and butters||Dry skin|
|Oats||All skin types|
Dry skin may benefit the most from masks with gentle but intensely hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerine and plant oils or butters. Water in oil formulas, like creams, may also offer more hydration than oil in water formulas like lightweight gels, serums and lotions.
Sheet, gel or heavy cream masks that create a seal over the skin are also ideal for dry skin. In a 2018 study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 75% of volunteers using a bacterial cellulose hydrogel face mask saw a 76% increase in skin moisture.
Oily skin may benefit from ingredients that are antibacterial or anti-inflammatory, such as coconut oil, oats, green tea and vitamin A. Oily skin may also respond well to masks with clay or charcoal that act as astringents to reduce skin oils.
Acne-prone skin may benefit the most from ingredients that are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory or repair the skin’s moisture barrier, like vitamin C, green tea, jojoba oil and aloe. Acne-prone skin also tends to respond well to products that are non-comedogenic (doesn’t clog pores) and don’t smother the skin, such as lightweight gels, lotions, and serums. Acne-prone skin may also benefit from purifying clay or charcoal masks.
Sensitive skin may benefit the most from soothing, hydrating ingredients like ceramides, honey, glycerine and vitamin E. Sensitive skin, which also tends to be dry, may also respond well to rich gel or sheet masks.
DIY Hydrating Mask Recipes
Honey, Yogurt, and Hyaluronic Acid Mask
Yogurt contains lactic acid, which encourages skin rejuvenation. Hyaluronic acid is a powerful moisturizer available in the form of powder or serum that may improve the skin’s ability to hold water.
- 1 tbsp yogurt
- ½ tbsp honey
- ½ tsp high molecular weight hyaluronic acid power or a few drops of serum
- Combine ingredients in a blender and mix until even.
- Apply a thin layer to the face.
- Wait 10 minutes then rinse off with lukewarm water.
Sunflower Seed Oil, Avocado, Vitamin C, and Oat Mask
Sunflower seed oil and oats contain compounds that are soothing and may improve the skin’s moisture barrier. Avocado oil—rich in vitamins A, C, E and linoleic acid—may also enrich dry skin and repair barrier damage.
- ½ tsp sunflower seed oil
- ½ tsp avocado oil or flesh
- ½ tsp oat paste or oil
- ¼ tsp vitamin C powder or a few drops of serum
- Grind oats in a food processor or with mortar and pestle, then boil them and let cool.
- Combine with other ingredients in a bowl and mix until even.
- Apply a thin layer to the face.
- Wait for the mask to dry then rinse off with lukewarm water.
If desired replace other plant-based oils with similar active ingredients to sunflower seed and avocado oils.
Plant-oil substitutes include:
- jojoba oil
- grape seed oil
- argan oil
- coconut oil
- olive oil
Aloe, Coconut and Borage Oil Mask
Coconut oil contains anti-inflammatory, antibacterial compounds that may improve the skin’s moisture barrier. And borage oil contains omega-6 fatty acids important to skin function and structure. Borage oil may also normalize the skin barrier.
- 1 tsp extra virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil
- ½ tsp aloe vera mucilage (gel inside leaves)
- 1 tsp borage oil
- Combine ingredients in a bowl and apply to the face evenly.
- Wait 10-15 minutes then rinse off with lukewarm water. Massage into the skin for deeper hydration.
Use extra virgin, cold-pressed plant oils or gels to avoid irritation from chemical containments. People with oily or acne-prone skin may also want to add roughly 5% clay to their mask. Green clay and aloe may work better in combination.
Cosmetic grade clays are often sold in a powder form that’s mixed with water or oil. Rinse off clay masks after 10-15 minutes.
Should You Use a Hydrating Mask?
When selecting a face mask try to avoid products with irritant like:
- solvents, surfactants (soaping agents)
- a lot of preservatives
People with sensitive skin should select masks with the fewest ingredients to reduce the risk of irritation. People with oily or acne-prone skin should avoid ingredients and masks that smother the skin, like rich waxes, oils or heavy cream and sheet masks.
Immediately rinse off or stop using a face mask if any unpleasant side effects occur. Common face mask side effects:
- burning, stinging, or itching
- severe redness
- dryness or tightness
Alternatives to Hydrating Masks
Moisturizers contain ingredients that may impact the skin’s moisture barrier. Moisturizing ingredients belong to one of four major classes based on how they work.
Classes of moisturizing ingredients:
- Humectants: Attract moisture to the skin’s surface layer from the environment and other skin layers.
- Occlusives: Oils and waxes that create a barrier trapping moisture.
- Emollients: Fats and oils that fill gaps between skin cells, sealing in moisture and improving the skin barrier.
- Protein rejuvenators: Proteins important for skin cell structure and function, like collagen, keratin and elastin.
Moisturizing products are also sold in different formulations. Common facial moisturizer formulations:
- Lotion: Oil in water formula. Ideal for daytime use.
- Gel: Water in oil or oil in water formula that is non-comedogenic and easily absorbed. Ideal for the face.
- Creams: Richer water in oil or oil in water formula. Ideal for night-time use.
- Ointments: Water in oil or oil in water formula with a strong occlusive effect.
A good over-the-counter moisturizer may offer better hydration than facial masks because they’re used daily. But there’s not much research comparing skincare products like facial masks and moisturizers.
Hydrating face masks include ingredients that improve the skin’s moisture barrier. Heavy gel, cream, sheet and sleeping masks are usually best suited for dry or sensitive skin. Clay, charcoal or lightweight gel, lotion, or serum masks may be best suited for acne-prone or oily skin.
Many popular ingredients for hydrating face masks are easy to purchase or access. But there’s still little scientific evidence that even commercial-grade facial masks offer more than temporary hydration.