As part of our current collective obsession with self-care, masking (no, not that kind) has reached new heights. Everyone and their Instagram-savvy grandmother is doing it. So, which one do you go for? Old school clay, painted on with a brush, or the latest serum, wrapped up in a face-shaped sheet? Well, it depends on how you feel, and even more importantly, on how your skin is feeling at that particular moment. And that’s part of the joy of masking right there: the focus is on immediate results, not the long term. Remember, a mask is a quick boost, not a replacement for a good routine; it’s a jewel-toned satin sandal, not your favourite perfectly cut tee. So just as one always needs a few shoe options, let us present your new curated masking wardrobe, with an option for every mood.

When you want glow, and your skin feels up to the challenge

Oskia Renaissance Mask or Go-To Transformazing Sheet Mask

The brightening capabilities of Oskia’s rose-scented, peach-hued mask, which contains both enzymes and AHAs for serious chemical exfoliation, have to be seen to be believed. It works well enough as intended, but I share with you now a pro-tip for application derived from UK skincare guru Caroline Hirons: instead of gently patting it on, instead apply it like you would a cleanser, rubbing it in vigorously. In doing so, the product will transform from peach to opaque white, which, when removed, will reveal a newly soft, high wattage visage.

Once upon a time, SK-II made us all want to use sheet masks any time, anywhere. (Remember back to the distant past when you used to fly, and would give your poor seatmate a heart attack thinking they’d sat next to Michael Myers? Ah, memories…) For a while there, it seemed they were taking over. But do they actually outperform traditional masks? And what about the environmental concerns they raise (most masks, along with the individual sachets they are housed in, are neither readily recyclable nor biodegradable), fit issues (there is truly no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to our faces), and general gripes that they’re too fiddly, too messy, too wet, and don’t really allow for talking or eating (my two favourite past times). I am ultimately a much bigger fan of traditional masks, but will acquiesce that sheet masks do allow a large dose of serum to stay in contact with the skin, where it would otherwise just drip off without the sheet holding it in place. One of the most impressive in the category is Go-To’s Transformazing sheet mask, which contains plant and fruit extracts high in vitamin C. These ingredients mean it gives great glow, and as part of your prep before a wedding or other major daytime event where you want to be truly luminous, it is an excellent option. However, it may prove too much for those with easily upset skin, so if that sounds like you, read on.

When you want glow, but your skin is sensitive

Sisley Express Flower Gel or Neutrogena Hydro Boost Mask

If your skin is in need of a little boost but is feeling tetchy, this Sisley mask is a great option. It’s particularly incredible, if not also a little upsetting, to you use this when your skin is particularly dehydrated: you can actually see your face drink it in, before rather rudely demanding reapplication. The creamy gel texture is fairly unusual in a mask and one I’d like to see more of, as it feels immediately cooling and refreshing, and will suit a wide variety of skin types. Despite the product name and inclusion of various flower extracts, the scent isn’t particularly floral but rather softly sweet; regardless, it fades quickly. You can expect to look brighter and more hydrated immediately after use, which makes this a particularly good choice prior to makeup application. If you’re after a more affordable shot of hydration, Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost sheet mask is a smart pick: it revitalises the skin while also bringing down redness and evening out skin tone.

When you need comfort but you’re either prone to spots, or are so dry you never get spots

Clarins SOS Hydra or Clarins SOS Comfort

Definitely don’t feel left out if you don’t enjoy sheet masks. Old school cream masks have been reinvented to be more effective than ever, though are still just as soothing as you remember. The aptly-named SOS mask range from Clarins includes SOS Hydra, which is like a fix-all, cosy blanket, though one that is not too heavy for oily skin, while the mango seed oil in SOS Comfort gives it a more nourishing feel suited to very dry skins. Try using this style of mask once a week after cleansing – apply, leave on for as long as you find comfortable (with soothing masks like these, rather than those with active ingredients, that may be much longer than the usually recommended 10 minutes), then continue with the rest of your steps for comfortable, plumped up skin.

When you want to indulge in sensorial self-care

Chanel Hydra Beauty Hydrating Oxygenating Overnight Mask

The results of using this mask are certainly pleasant enough, but it’s the very act of using this that I really find the joy in. For a start, it comes with a masking accessory that is as practical as it is beautiful. A single white camellia petal, icon of the house of Chanel, is reimagined in silicone, and engraved with the signature interlocking Cs. You apply the mask to the petal and then use the petal to brush it ever so gently onto the skin, whereupon the gel texture transforms into tiny droplets that burst as you push them into the skin with your hands. It’s the wonder of a good science lesson (“how do they do that?”) combined with the pleasures of kindergarten (the joy of finger painting, reimagined for adults), and is taking masking to a whole new level. Plus, it will help any skin’s hydration levels.

When you want to do something but don’t feel like being covered in product

Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery Eye Mask

I may have made plain my overall dislike of sheet masks, but I am very willing to make an exception for these miniature versions, which allow you to mask without a face full of goop. To the sceptics who may query if these are really any different to just applying an eye serum, I am happy to report that they are, as the fabric crescents allows much more product than you’d normally apply to the eye area to stay perfectly in the intended place. (This isn’t just based on feeling, either: due to the packaging, which keeps the fabric separate from the serum for optimum freshness, you can see just how much product is included. It’s generous, to say the least. And secure – popping the liquid barrier was the only part of using these eye masks I found tricky.) As with the full face sheet masks mentioned earlier, these would be best used just prior to an event for which you’d like to look particularly fresh; you won’t still see the results of these the next day, but for the entire day on which I had applied them and into the evening, the fine lines around my eyes were incredibly plumped up, and all without any irritation of my sensitive eye area.

When you’re mad at your face

Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel or Clarins SOS Pure

Getting angry at your own skin may be counterproductive, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen. I find myself most cross when a look in the mirror reveals either a visage that is grey (dull, dry and uninspiring), or bright red (hello, breakout city). Either way, the key is to deal with the problem much more gently than you’d like to, or you will only wind up making things worse. Elemis’ Papaya Enzyme Peel, a mild chemical exfoliant, is a useful option for restoring life to lacklustre skin without antagonising it.

If spots are your issue, particularly whiteheads, banish any thought of squeezing and instead try Clarins’ SOS Pure, the third member of its useful SOS trio. Pleasingly green in colour and botanical in scent, it relies on kaolin clay to draw the offending impurities up and out, but its soothing glycerine base means skin is calm after use, not dried out such that it’s ready to produce more oil than before.

When your face is mad at you

Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask

This much-lauded product, best used when you’ve overdone it (be it on actives the day before or alcohol the night before) and need to apologise to your skin, is the cashmere blanket of face creams. And for all that it’s known as a beloved mask, I really do mean a face cream. The directions say to leave on for 10-15 minutes and then remove with a cotton pad, but that seems criminal. Instead, my favourite way to use this is by applying a thinnish layer, much like you would a night time moisturiser, just before tucking yourself into bed. (Ideally one freshly made up with monogrammed silk sheets, naturally – this product deserves it.) Expect to wake up to plump, calm, smooth skin. If you are an adult acne sufferer like I am, and your spots generally only appear on the chin and jawline, try using it on areas of the face which aren’t affected, such as the forehead and cheeks, so you can still enjoy a comforting treat. And for those who don’t adore rose, fear not: its scent never veers into the dreaded powdery, old lady territory, and is luxurious rather than overpowering.

Story by Zoe Briggs. Hero image via Instagram @trunkarchive.

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