Over the winter, I had what one might call “problem skin”—it was testy and irritated and dry, and it completely rejected most things I put on it with the fury of a thousand suns, including the skin-care routine that hadn’t failed me for years prior. And as someone whose skin was generally well-behaved, it took me way too long to figure out how to console it.
Now that my face back to normal (can I finally blame the weather now?), I’m left with a bunch of dark spots; nothing insane or undisguisable with some good concealer (sup, NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Custard) and a Beautyblender, but they’re dark enough to make me think twice about leaving the house without makeup. I mostly blame myself: I know I shouldn’t have picked or popped or made all those cystic zits downright angry—that only results in darker spots that often take longer to fade—but I did, and here we are. My dermatologist said I should count myself lucky that they’re not even worse, or indented.
But a little over a month ago, I found a face mask, Uma’s Ultimate Brightening Face Mask, sitting at the bottom of my drawer, completely unopened. I remember taking it home and feeling ambitious about using it over the holidays, but then my skin went haywire and I figured I shouldn’t introduce new products to it. Now that we’re back on the straight and narrow, I’ve been using the mask at least two to three times a week for the past five weeks, and my skin looks, dare I say it, good. Not only did it tackle the spots that came over the winter, but a few on my cheeks that have been there for years look lighter, too. Just last week, my friend slept over when my boyfriend was out of town (don’t judge) and she commented on how much the more recent dark spots have faded. Could this single product really have improved my skin that much, and that fast?
“The mask contains a variety of botanical extracts like honey, saffron, and orange peel extract that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, skin calming, and brightening properties,” said Joshua Zeichner, MD and Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Highly concentrated, intermittent treatments certainly can be effective.” So, in a word—yes. But how exactly does it work?
“Skin brighteners reduce inflammation in the skin and blocking pigment production,” Zeichner told me. And though the mask’s directions instructed me to use it for “seven minutes or more”—it’s important to keep in mind that it’s an exfoliant, and leaving something like this on for more than a half hour or so could do more harm than good. Additionally, it’s important to keep any other exfolliants far, far away from my face when I’m using this one, lest I want to end up a flaky mess. (I don’t.)
As far as the cons go, there’s a few: The mask itself comes in a jar (ugh), is gritty-feeling, looks to be a highly unappetizing shade of brown, and uh, is kind of smelly. One night after I put it on, my boyfriend came over to give me a peck on the forehead and coughed at the smell—it’s a cross between an orange croissant (good), burnt cinnamon (not as good) and a stale, musky essential oil that makes you have to sneeze eight times in a row (not good at all). If you can get past the scent and the high price tag ($70 is a pretty penny for about three months of twice-a-week use), you’ll be left with smooth, even-toned, bright skin—and even more so if you pair it with the right regimen.
“In addition to any active skin brightening product, proper daily skin care is extremely important when addressing pigmentation. Gentle skin cleaners, daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30, and regular use of topical anti-oxidants like a vitamin C are all essential components,” Zeichner told me, who gave my daily routine of Simple Micellar Water, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, and Dermalogica Pure Light SPF 50 a thumbs up.
The last piece of my dark-spots-be-gone puzzle? On some nights that I didn’t use the mask, I’d substitute in a retinol—I like Shani Darden’s Resurface, as well as Neutrogena’s Rapid Wrinkle Repair—since vitamin C and vitamin A counteract each other, topically. “[Derms] usually add retinol to a skin brightening regimen because it enhances cell turnover, allowing the skin to shed darkly pigmented cells.” Hopefully by the end of April, I’ll feel good about stepping out with SPF 50 on—and nothing else.