Though if you do a quick Google search on what sheetmasks are exactly - and by are, I mean why they're so much of a thing, the same way MAC lipsticks are coveted and Charlotte Tilbury stole the scene - you'll see a lot of reviews and posts touting the '5 best' or 'which works for your skin'. Which is brilliant, you just don't see a lot on the hows or the whys of their popularity. Or why they came to be.
I mean, I did have to naver to get the info I wanted. And I fkin hate naver sometimes.
So, to save you the trouble of learning Korean and trying to find this info yourself; hi. I did that. I spent about 15 hours doing that. :D
There's also a handy video version of this post that I made earlier this month. It's a lot snappier since I was trying to get it to under 5 minutes, but it's there for you to watch!
What are sheetmasks?
They're topical skin treatments, in the same way that creams and ointments are. They're usually sold individually and come in little sachets. Inside each sachet is a sheet in the shape of a mask, soaked in serum - the serum is also inside the sachet to make sure as much of it can be transferred to the mask as possible.
The mask itself is usually very thin and very porous. The molecules of the serum get trapped between the fibres of the mask so that when you pop it on your face they can transfer onto your skin.
Sheetmasks weren't designed to be deep skin treatments, but help improve the top few layers in appearance, targeting things like redness, blemishes and dehydration. They're a single step 'procedure', minimal fuss, minimal mess. Produced to help beauty brands compete with the world of dermatology by giving the ability to give yourself a 'facial' at home.
Where did they come from?
As myself and many other people reviewing sheetmasks have said, they originated in South Korea.
From what I've researched - and from talking to a couple of my beauty obsessed Korean friends they say the same thing - the first sheetmasks surfaced around the early 2000's. I'm desperately trying to find out when exactly, so watch this space, but Missha were carrying them in 2002 with their first store opening. In fact, they were giving away 'oriental mask sheets' in their 2003 first anniversary event. Since Missha are part of the Beautynet group I'm sure their sister brands at the time were carrying similar products.
That means that 1) over 10 years of a trending product and 2) wow the west was really, really slow on this one. (though in all fairness we were late on the bbcream trend too soooooo.)
Why are they popular?
I've spent far too long on naver the past few days trying to dig as deep into the questions and blogs as I can, but I've found out that almost every question to do with acne had at least one person suggesting the Missha lemon sheetmasks. In fact, one girl said that after going to see a dermatologist and having a proper facial, they recommended the sheetmask to help her skin stay clean, since she didn't have the time or the money for very expensive skin care. That was in 2004.
The Korean bloggers were fast to spread the word, as well as celebrities, then the commercials started and the rest is history.
Popularity is also due to the price. Sheetmasks starting price is about 1000won, which is the UK equivalent of 60p and around a dollar for you guys in the US. Depending on the brand, the price can vary wildly - Etude House's A-Z range sits 950won and their most expensive 24K Gold Therapy masks are priced at 5000won (their 60sheet eyemask pack is 18000won); while a single mask at Laneige will set you back around 10,000won - by they're still usually one of the cheapest products available by a brand.
Because of the affordable nature, it means they're super accessible to pretty much everyone.
Another factor is time - they take between 10 and 30 minutes until you need to peel them off. You can pop one on in the morning while you eat breakfast, or while you're scrolling instagram in the evening. There isn't any need to scrub off clay and hope you didn't forget that patch by your ear, which for me is one of the reasons most of my clay masks don't get used a lot. Sheetmasks are far, far quicker to whack on, let it do its job, peel off, and get on with whatever I need to do.
FInally, and probably most obviously, they're pretty heavily endorsed by celebrities. And those K-celebs have such beautiful skin that in all honesty, it works. Fan BingBing, one of the most successful Chinese actresses (multiple appearances at the MET Gala too, she's gorgeous) swears by sheetmasks. She does TWO. A. DAY.
That's 730 a year. Ish. If she doesn't do them on national holidays, obviously less, but still. Christ on a bike. In this CNN interview she said she goes through 600... but still, she also says she does at least two a day, so what's the real story???!?!? Regardless, her skin is almost absolute perfection.
Is there a major difference between brands?
Not particularly. The formulas are very similar, in all honesty, and it's about finding what works best for your skin. Personal preference. The more high-end products tend to use more expensive ingredients (gold. gooooold), but many of the popular brands - like The Face Shop, Skinfood, and the current trender that is TonyMoly - use naturally sourced ingredients that are highly effective.
What can I expect from using sheetmasks?
Generally, more hydrated skin. All the sheetmasks are moisturising - even if they're not specifically formulated for moisture retention - due to the serum element and the fact you have the mask sitting on your face for a solid 20 minutes until it's dry. Then the results vary depending on the type of mask you use. I haven't tried allllll of the different types available yet, but you'll probably notice a change in the areas that the mask targets. For instance, Tea Tree will help with blemishes, Aloe is soothing, etc etc.
I shall note that brightening is often mentioned on the packets as being a product of using certain mask types. Brightening is not the same as whitening - which features quite heavily, sadly, in Korean cosmetics - it's used to describe the effect of clearer, more radiant skin. So, after using the sheetmasks your complexion will look brighter and less 'dull'.
The results from person to person will vary, but changes to skincare and visible improvements often take a while to become apparent. It may take a couple of tries before you see what the mask promised it would do - but that's the same with most topical skincare, at least in my experience. They're not miracle products for everyone.
What do you recommend?
My personal favourites from any brand are Honey and Rice (Water). Water is in brackets because the name changes from brand to brand, sometimes it's rice, sometimes rice water. My skin responds best to these as they are both more along the lines of blemish/irritation/damage repairing masks and I have skin issues like eczema.
I also quite like pomegranate and berry type masks because they have antioxidants in them to improve the complexion.
Aloe is the type I'll always have handy in case I'm feeling like my skin is a little dry.
How do Western brands compare?
Um. I found out this week Superdrug do 5 minute sheetmasks and I laughed a bit? That's probably not the best start and I should probably give them a chance, so the next time I'm in Superdrug I'll get one. The rest of the western brands like indeed laboratories I'm a little skeptical of - masque bar too, even though it's developed in Korea - since the Korean companies pride themselves on using ingredients that will benefit the skin (skin care first) and in the West, chemicals are more generally preferred and far easier to manufacture. Estee Lauder I'm sure is pretty OK, but if I'm dropping that amount of money I might as well just get some gold-flecked Laneige.
However if you want to pick up a Shisheido pack in Boots be my absolute guest. The Japanese brands are just as good.
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This has turned into quite the essay and I hope it's at least somewhat helpful? If you've skipped it all because WORDS then here have a video:
I think that's everything though... If you have any questions, ask me and I'll respond as best I can. If you think I've missed anything then tell meeee! We can all learn together through the beauty of sharing knowledge. I hope this has been a little bit different than a sheetmask review - but I can do those too if you're after them ;)