Not all heroes wear capes—in fact, the hero in this rescue mission is a winter face mask. Between the bitter cool air outside and the drying artificial heat inside, our skin just can't catch a break this time of year. So to find out how to restore our thirsty skin and prepare it for the rest of the season, we tapped dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. First, she pointed the environmental reasons behind this change: "Low humidity levels degrade the skin's natural moisture barrier, which can lead to flaking, cracking and peeling," she explains.
"Since there's less moisture in the air, water in your skin evaporates more quickly than in humid months."
Dr. Engleman then goes on to describe the most common skin woes in the winter, which include dry skin and problems that persist as a result of it, including redness, acne, fine lines, dullness, and uneven tone. Since we can't control the forecast, the solution lies in combating this loss by giving our skin extra moisture vis-à-vis at-home treatments during our regular skincare routines. And since not all skin masks are made the same, it can be hard to find which ones are actually best for a specific season and skin type.
Read on to learn how to navigate the plethora of options out there, and then shop the best winter face masks to rescue thirsty skin in as little as 15 minutes.
Charcoal and Clay Masks
The bases of charcoal and clay masks are made with organic materials used to absorb excess oils and impurities, says Dr. Engleman. These are some of the most popular (and photogenic) face masks. There are a bunch of subvarieties within this variety of face mask, but in the winter, it's especially important to opt for a more gentle version that won't strip your skin of natural oils while clearing out buildup and debris.
Best For: Detoxifying impurities, stripping away buildup, and removing excess oil
"Skin regeneration is at its height between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.," says Dr. Engleman. "When the body is in a deep, restful sleep, the skin's metabolism increases, and cell turnover and renewal escalates." And that's why sleeping packs and overnight masks are the "holy grails" for people with dry skin, as the body's hydration rebalances while you're sleeping. Basically, serums and creams create a permeable seal on top of your skin, and then the overnight mask ensures you don't lose water while you sleep.
Dr. Engleman says they're also great for issues that would need a bit more work like fine lines and wrinkles, or sustained results.
Best For: Gently restoring deep hydration and maintaining moisture
This is the ideal mask if you have zero time for a post-shower mask, our expert tells us. If the goal is to create a hydrating barrier to brighten, soften, and smooth skin, she notes, it probably won't work miracles—"but a little goes a long way when you have dry skin." In other words, a rushed hydrating mask it's better than no mask. Just make sure you still apply it to clean skin.
Best For: Dull, thirsty skin on super-busy days
Sheet masks infused with nourishing ingredients that transfer to your skin, making them another ideal choice for anyone prone to dryness. While there are a ton of different types, Dr. Engleman loves hydro-gel and bio-cellulose masks, followed by pulp and fiber masks. If you've never heard of bio-cellulose, she explains that it's a plant-based material that's also used as artificial skin to heal and soothe burns, occlusive dressings to treat chronic wounds, [and] in micro-surgeries as molding for artificial blood vessels, and plastic and reconstructive surgeries.
All this is to say that masks with bio-cellulose properties are super effective for deep hydration.
Best For: Intense, restorative hydration in less time than an overnight mask
Even though exfoliating has a reputation for being drying, a lot of exfoliating masks are actually highly effective in the winter time. As Dr. Engleman explains, this is because a buildup of dry skin can create a barrier that prevents your skin from absorbing hydration, moisture, and nutrients—no matter how much moisturizer you pile on. So a gel or cream-based gentle exfoliating mask can help remove that barrier. Dr. Engleman says to look out for good ingredients like glycolic acid or lactic acid; they tend to be more gentle than some of the abrasive manual scrubs and powder-to-foam options.
She also recommends switching from gel-like masks to creamier, thicker consistencies in the winter; they allow you to leave the product on for a while longer.
Best For: Brightening, energizing, renewing, and evening skin tone and texture
Now that you have a glossary of face masks to guide you, start shopping the best winter face masks below.
This creamy anti-aging face mask is packed with two types of vitamin C and AHAs, which helps improve uneven texture dullness, dark spots, skin tone, fine lines, and wrinkles.
"I like BioEffect EGF eye mask treatment, which contains plant-based epidermal growth factors that promote collagen production. These targeted products are great for areas that need a bit more TLC like the thin skin around the eye area," says Dr. Engleman.
Here is an all-natural clay mask that won't dry you out since it's also packed with aromatic plant oils and raw honey.
Dr. Engleman recommends trying mask since it combines powerful botanical enzymes, salicylic acid, and eco-friendly micro-beads, which provide ideal physical and biochemical exfoliation to smooth and brighten skin.
If you want to try a sheet mask, opt for this one from Shiseido. It thoroughly saturates skin with moisture to give it a youthful radiance just after one application.
Containing antibacterial sulfur, this nighttime acne treatment is similar to a clay or charcoal activated mask. It instantly shrinks blemishes by cleansing pores and eliminating oil.
This mask is truly transformative and even earned a nickname as "the red carpet facial." With potent high-ingredients that only need about 15 minutes to be absorbed by the skin, you'll notice a dramatic difference.
Why limit yourself to one kind when you can multimask? If you want to experiment with a few before investing in one targeted face mask, get this trial set.
This one effectively evens skin tone and texture while minimizing pores. This exclusive mask offers an intense hydrating action, which helps to rebalance melanin distribution and reduce transepidermal water loss. Its creamy texture provides an effective plumping and illuminating effect, revealing a perfect finish and radiant skin.
"Freeman Beauty Infusions Manuka Honey is very inexpensive, and I slather it on in the shower," says Dr. Engleman.
Made with gentle fruit-based enzymes, micronized gemstone, and rice powder this brightening mask will give your skin a nice glow by exfoliating with drying.
Containing 25% AHA and 2% BHA, this exfoliating gel mask is truly an at-home facial. It removes built-up dead skin cells by breaking down the substance that holds them to the surface so your skin really does feel baby-soft after 20 minutes of use.
This is a great option for stressed-out winter skin. With a honey base, it's rich in antioxidants, soothing inflammation and plumping out sullen, dull skin.
Not only is this face mask incredibly photogenic, but it's also effective. Light an breathable, you can leave it on as you sleep to refresh, hydrates, smooth, and perfect your skin without doing any damage to your pillow.
With a fresh, fluid gel-cream texture, this affordable winter face mask will soothe thirsty, dehydrated skin and improve luminosity.
Dr. Engleman recommends this overnight winter face mask thanks to its ingredient list—there's glycerin to trap water as well as hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide. The main ingredient, camellia japonica flower extract, is a super-powerful antioxidant.
This trio will give you everything you need to fight your winter skin woes. One will cleanse, the other will brighten, and the last will boost hydration.
Next up, make sure your vanity is fully equipped to take on winter skin concerns with the most hydrating moisturizers for dry skin.