Doing our skin care routine has become a little bit of a self-therapy moment before we start our day and/or before we go to bed. Sheet masks, on the other hand, can be the crème de la crème of a skin care regimen.
Aside from nourishing our skin, they have a relaxing, cooling effect that sometimes applying them can be a form of quality me-time done at home. I know that a lot of my friends like buying and storing them in the fridge so they can use them after a long day.
Because of how convenient they are, sheet masks which used to be found only in Korean brands have dominated the beauty industry now.
However, as they’re single-use and therefore not sustainable in nature, more people have questioned the environmental footprint of these products and they’ve been dubbed another plastic straw version of the skin care industry—much like wet wipes. Similar to plastic straws, sheet masks may promote a consumer habit of buying something just to throw it away after one use.
Elsie Rutterford and Dominika Minarovic, founders of sustainable beauty brand BYBI, explained, “Typically sheet masks are housed in a tearable plastic packet, which is not widely recycled with household waste. Even if the mask itself isn’t made from plastic, it may contain a thin film which helps keep its structure and is peeled off before use.”
Although some sheet masks are made from cotton, it isn’t rare to find plastic polymers as the material. When used only once and disposed of later, masks that contain plastic will break down into microplastics.
Potential greenwashing of the products
By themselves, the masks are an issue. That’s why many brands have started to offer sheet masks with eco-friendly claims. However, many are skeptical about such claims.
Brianne West, biochemist, CEO & Founder of Ethique, said, “Most sheet masks are not fully compostable, recyclable or biodegradable – there’s a huge problem with greenwashing in this category.”
The biodegradable term is tricky, and since plastics will also biodegrade at some point, brands can plaster that label to their products. And sometimes, the biodegradability comes from the mask only, not the packaging. “Everything on earth; steel, planes, plastic bottles will biodegrade at some point,” West said.
What about compostable? Well, it is more reassuring than biodegradable, but it’s still not the best option for our planet.
Remember that compostability really depends on some conditions. Some products will only turn into compost in industrial composting facilities or places with perfect conditions for decomposing.
“Single use materials, even when genuinely compostable, are not really sustainable. Because there is huge resource; water, pesticides, land, carbon; that goes into producing something, that is used for a very short time,” said Fiona Cartmel, Sustainability Consultant at Eco-Age.
To know just how true to some brands’ sustainable words are, Elle tested some compostable masks in their lab. The testing team put each mask in a compost bin in a controlled environment and timed how long they took to decompose.
Long story short, they left masks in their compost bins for a total 24 weeks (about 5 and a half months), and only three fully decomposed.
Compostable sheet masks
For those of you who are interested, here are the three masks that Elle tested and proved to be compostable.
lashPatch Lip Gels – 5 Pairs/Box by Patchology ($15.00)
Many people who applied the patch onto their lips reported less chapping, resulting in dehydrated lips. One tester saw the lines around their lips fade, and another felt added fullness and smoothness. It took 6 weeks to decompose, very true to its claim.
Biodegradable Detoxifying Pink Clay Sheet Mask Pack by Revolution Skincare (US$11.75)
One tester of this product reported seeing an improvement in the redness of angry blemishes, and 79% of those who tried it said that the mask is also hydrating. Despite the 6-week biodegradability claim, it actually took 20 weeks in Elle’s compost bin.
Environment-friendly packaging also matters
Aside from the masks inside the packet, the packaging is also important—as they’re also single-use. So, you should also pay attention to the packaging the next time you’re looking for eco-friendly sheet masks.
Be wary of recyclable logo or claims, as the packaging may not be recycled anyway. Whenever you’re shopping for masks, make sure to check the brands online to know their claims’ credibility.
Nevertheless, here are some brands that you may want to get, as they put their products inside eco-friendly packaging. However, do note that these brands’ packaging hasn’t been tested.
Hydrating Sheet Mask by Solawave ($9)
This brand uses thick biodegradable paper, though it’s unknown as to what the material for the mask itself. But the brand says that the mask “significantly boosts your skin’s moisture levels for immediate glowing and healthy, hydrated-looking skin.”
Vitamin C sheet mask by Pixi (£10 for three)
These face brightening masks are made from biodegradable fibers. The packaging isn’t made from paper or bioplastic—they’re just recyclable.
However, Pixi has a recycling point in both the London and LA stores. So, you can take your used sheet masks and old packaging and drop them into the recycling point.
So… there’s basically no sustainable alternative?
Well, there’s always reusables, if you’ve been so used to the feeling of sheet masks. One way to do it is through a little bit of DIY: soaking an organic cotton muslin cloth in serum of your choice.
Another option is those reusable silicone sheet masks, like Nurse Jamie’s FaceWrap Skin Perfecting Silicone Mask, Charlotte Tilbury’s Cryo-Recovery Face Mask, and Honest Beauty Reusable Magic Silicone Sheet Mask.
These reusable masks usually feature ear hooks to keep it in place, so you don’t have to lie down all the time like you do when using single-use sheet masks.
Honest Beauty founder Jessica Alba stated about the idea to make the product, “At the end of the day it’s just some serum and some moisturizer that you’re penetrating into the skin with the mask, so I thought wouldn’t it be great if we could have a more sustainable option?”
Aside from being a more environmentally friendly choice, silicone sheet masks can boost the benefits of your current skin-care routine.
According to Mallory McMahon, the associate director of research and innovation at Honest Beauty, “Using [exfoliating serums] with a [reusable] sheet mask may help boost efficacy; when used with hydrating products, it helps lock moisture in and decrease evaporation overall.”
Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara vouches for this benefit as well. “Essentially [a silicone mask] acts as a canvas to drive active ingredients [into the skin] as opposed to being the active itself. It works to protect the ingredients so they don’t rub off,” Gohara explained.
You can always rely on traditional masks
Sheet masks, from whatever material, aim to amplify the benefits of your skin-care regimen, and you can actually have great, smooth skin without. I mean, before sheet masks, we were doing quite well with slathering on homemade, brush-and-bowl masks, weren’t we?
Consult your dermatologist about homemade masks that are good for your skin and do a little DIY. And hey, it can be a fun group activity with your friends, too. It’d be fun applying masks to each other, don’t you think?
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