Peel-Off Masks: Is It Just a Gimmick, Or Should Try Them?

Rachel Nussbaum
Peel-Off Masks: Is It Just a Gimmick, Or Should Try Them?
Photo: Voyagerix/Getty Images

There’s just something so satisfying about a peel-off face mask. Maybe it’s because some of them hurt so good when you take them off, or maybe it’s because sometimes you can actually see what’s pulled out of your pores on the mask. It’s a fun beauty ritual, but—like most trendy skincare products— they also get us wondering if the masks are all hype with no benefit.

Peel-off masks promise to do everything from reveal cleaner, revitalized, younger looking skin to gently peel away impurities, and we’ve seen the masks pop up in major skin care brands more and more over the past couple years. They seem to be capitalizing on the very real effects of a peel you would get at a dermatologist,  but do the masks’ peel-off properties hold a candle to an in-office chemical peel?

Kind of.

“The peel-off technique is more of a marketing thing,” said Lindsey Goodrich, an aesthetician and nurse at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group. “It’s more just the satisfaction that the consumer gets from peeling it off themselves, they almost feel like they’re peeling off the dead skin with it. It can have a little bit of a mild exfoliating effect, but I would say that the peeling isn’t really adding that much of a benefit.”

MORE: This Woman Trying to Peel Off a Painful Face Mask is The Funniest Thing Ever

But fear not, peel-off lovers, there is an upside to justify the peel-off fun: While there might be a little madness to the method, Goodrich said, the antioxidant ingredients commonly found in peel-off masks can make a significant difference to skin in the long-term.

“[Peel-off masks] tend to be more vitamin and plant-based, [with] grapeseed, avocado, some of the other antioxidants,” said Goodrich. “Those come in and help to repair and kind of sweep up damage, and help shield from future damage as well.”

It sounds like a win-win for the antioxidant-heavy masks, for those willing to partially suspend disbelief—the peel-off for instant, but meaningless, gratification, and the antioxidants for real, eventual skin benefits.

“You’re not going to look in the mirror after you do one and be like, ‘Oh yeah, wow, that works great,’” said Goodrich. “It’s going to be one of the things that you don’t really see a visible difference, it’s more something that happens behind the scenes and underneath what you physically can see. But it’s one of those things that if you didn’t use it, you would see a difference.”

Yet Goodrich also added that although the benefits of antioxidants are universal, peel-off masks aren’t for everyone.

“People with sensitive skin should try to avoid any stimulating masks, even peel-off masks,” she said. “The peel-off masks can be just a little bit too abrasive on the skin, so if you’re already sensitive and you’re having that extra bit of exfoliation, it’s not the best.”

Luckily, antioxidants come in every type of mask, so you can go by what your skin needs without sacrificing their benefits.

“There’s no particular mask that’s best for all skin types,” said Mojdeh Amirvand, Director of Business Development for skincare line IOMA Paris. “Peel off masks are great for detoxification, clay masks for clearing impurities and tightening pores. The overnight masks are more gentle and comforting and mostly used for hydration, fine lines, and firmness.”

Bottom line: pick your poison. Peel-off or not, if it has antioxidants in it, it’ll do you well.

“There’s a lot of things out there that have antioxidants in them, in masks and also in other skincare treatments, like some cleansers and some moisturizers,” said Goodrich. “You can use them forever.”

We’re suckers for a gimmick—peel-off masks are so fun, we just might.

MORE: I Tried a $3,300 Set of Gold Face Masks, and This is What Happened

Originally published November 2013. Updated March 2017.