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. First, she pointed out 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 says the most common skin woes in the winter are 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 as a part of our regular skincare routines. And since not all face 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 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.
Best For: Gently restoring deep hydration and maintaining moisture
This is the ideal mask if you're short on time. If the goal is to create a hydrating barrier to brighten, soften, and smooth skin, these probably won't work miracles Dr. Engleman notes—"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 are 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, as occlusive dressings to treat chronic wounds, [and] in micro-surgeries as molding for artificial blood vessels. 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 wintertime. 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.
Tatcha Violet-C Radiance Mask
This creamy anti-aging face mask is packed with two types of vitamin C and AHAs, which help improve uneven texture, dullness, dark spots, skin tone, fine lines, and wrinkles.
BioEffect Eye Mask Treatment
"I like the BioEffect EGF eye mask treatment, which contains plant-based epidermal growth factors that promote collagen production," Dr. Engleman says. "These targeted products are great for areas that need a bit more TLC like the thin skin around the eye area."
May Lindstrom The Problem Solver Correcting Masque
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.
iS CLINICAL Tri-Active Exfoliating Masque
Dr. Engleman recommends trying this 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.
Shiseido Women's Benefiance Pure Retinol Intensive Revitalizing Face Mask
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 after just one application.
Malin and Goetz Acne Treatment Nighttime
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.
Zelens Women's Transformer Instant Renewal Mask
This mask is truly transformative and even earned the nickname "the red carpet facial." With potent ingredients that only need about 15 minutes to be absorbed by the skin, you'll notice a dramatic difference.
Peter Thomas Roth Mask-Erade
Why limit yourself to one kind of mask when you can multimask? If you want to experiment with a few before investing in one targeted face mask, get this trial set.
Natura Bisse Diamond White Glowing Mask
The Diamond White Glowing Mask minimizes pores and evens out your skin tone and texture. It hydrates, which helps to rebalance melanin distribution and reduce transepidermal water loss.
Freeman Beauty Hydrating Cream Mask
"Freeman Beauty Infusions Manuka Honey is very inexpensive, and I slather it on in the shower," Dr. Engleman says.
Herbivore Botanicals Brighten Pineapple Enzyme + Gemstone Instant Glow Mask
Made with gentle fruit-based enzymes, micronized gemstone, and rice powder, this brightening mask will give your skin a nice glow by exfoliating without drying.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
This exfoliating gel mask contains 25 percent AHA and 2 percent BHA. It removes built-up dead skin cells by breaking down the substance that holds them to the surface of your skin, so your skin really does feel baby-soft after just 20 minutes of use.
Earth Tu Face Honey Coconut Mask
With a honey base, this mask is rich in antioxidants, soothing inflammation and plumping sullen, dull skin.
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask
Not only is this face mask incredibly photogenic, but it's also effective. Light and breathable, you can leave it on as you sleep to refresh, hydrate, smooth, and perfect your skin without messing up your pillow.
La Roche-Posay Hydraphase Face Mask
With a fresh, fluid gel-cream texture, this winter face mask will soothe thirsty, dehydrated skin and improve luminosity.
Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Soombi Blooming Vitamin Radiance Booster
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.