Face masks can be expensive, but the experience of putting something on your face that will (hopefully) change the texture of your skin — and make you feel like a fancy spa patron — is incredibly satisfying. Luckily, there are DIY versions of most masks that can be made with household items, for a whole lot less cash. Below, our guide to the wide world of DIY mask options, including ingredients to avoid and what each ingredient does.
Photo by Esther Max
Do face masks work?
Yes, but only to an extent. Randy Schueller, a cosmetic scientist and blogger behind The Beauty Brains, said that while face masks can have some short-term benefits, they don’t compare to other beauty products such as creams and lotions. “The bottom line is that masks are fun to use and provide a temporary benefit, but they can’t be your main weapon,” Schueller said.
The main reason masks don’t work as well is because they’re only left on the skin for a short amount of time and are limited in the ingredients they can use. “Unlike a cream or lotion where you can easily combine oil and water soluble ingredients, masks tend to be made with more water soluble ingredients,” Schueller said.
But pure functionality isn’t really the reason a lot of people use face masks. I like using a $4 clay face mask even though I’m not sure if it’s working or not. It applies thickly and makes me feel like I’m Mia from The Princess Diaries during her makeover montage. “I love DIY face masks and, yes, some are much better than store-bought, but many are just more fun,” said Dr Ellen Marmur, former vice chair of cosmetic and dermatological surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center and the founder of Marmur Medical.
What are some good face masks I can start with?
If you’re unsure where to start with your mask, there’s no shortage of recipes. There are hundreds of Pinterest boards just for face masks. Lifehacker has a post with homemade skincare products, including face masks. Here are a few more suggestions from dermatologists:
For reducing redness, Dr Whitney Bowe, a New York-based dermatologist, recommends her green tea and honey mask. To make it, empty two tea bags and mix the tea leaves with a few drops of water, making the leaves slightly wet. Then, add in three tablespoons of honey and apply it to your face for 15-20 minutes.
Marmur likes mixing sweet potato (for moisture and antioxidants), honey (an antiseptic and exfoliant) and yoghurt (for exfoliation) to make a mask that smooths the skin and reduces inflammation.
A mask for exfoliation and reducing inflammation is Bowe’s coffee and yoghurt mask. To make it, combine three tablespoons of Greek yogurt and two tablespoons of finely ground coffee to form a paste. Then spread it onto your face and rinse off after 20 minutes with warm water.
What does each ingredient do?
There are a lot of common ingredients shared by most face masks. Generally, mask ingredients serve one or more of the following functions: Moisturise, firm up skin, reduce redness and inflammation, exfoliate, even out skin tone, or just making the mask smell good. There’s no fancy formula behind making a mask — you just need to combine a few ingredients. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect from each potential ingredient in the made-in-your-kitchen version:
Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic and kills bacteria on your face, which helps with acne.
Avocados can help moisturise your face. It is also an exfoliant, so it will help you remove dead skin cells and liven up your face.
Bananas have enzymes that remove dead skin cells and make your skin look firmer and brighter. Bananas are also good for moisturising your skin.
Bicarbonate of soda is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. It helps reduce acne but, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t fade acne scars.
Cocoa powder is exfoliating and slightly reduces inflammation.
Coffee or coffee grounds reduce swelling and puffiness in the face because they have caffeine.
Green tea is soothing and reduces inflammation.
Honey has is antibacterial, so it will help kill bacteria on your face and reduce acne. Honey is also an exfoliant that will help you remove dead skin cells.
Milk is a great moisturiser, and it helps reduce inflammation. It’s also useful in helping change the consistency of your face mask so that it’s more spreadable.
Oatmeal is a good exfoliant and anti-inflammatory. You can add it to your face mask when it’s dry or you can add water to make a paste.
Pumpkin contains salicylic acid, which reduces acne because of its antibacterial properties. It’s also slightly exfoliating.
Tomatoes are great for soothing irritated skin (including from sunburns). They’re also good for brightening skin. When using them in a mask, you can swap out tomatoes for tomato juice, which is generally easier to apply but makes the mask’s consistency more liquid.
Yoghurt helps soothe and moisturise irritated skin. It also exfoliates because it contains lactic acid (a type of alpha hydroxy acid), which will help brighten your skin.
Before spreading a DIY face mask onto your face, it’s a good idea to check if certain ingredients cause any breakouts or allergic reactions. You can do this by conducting a patch test wherein you put a small amount of your homemade mask on an inconspicuous your body (for example, the back of your ears) and wait to see if anything’s changed or you see signs of an allergic reaction. To test your mask, Marmur recommends applying some of the mask on inside of your arm for at least 20 minutes, but the times may change depending on the person — if you’re prone to reactive, sensitive skin, wait 48 hours after your patch to rule out slower-moving reactions.
What should you avoid using?
Lemon/Citrus fruit juices are highly acidic. According to Bowe, these acids “immediately disrupt your skin’s natural barrier and cause a significant amount of irritation. The oils in citrus fruits are also phototoxic, meaning they make you way more sensitive to the sun.”
Spices, such as cinnamon might irritate the skin. Cinnamon can be anti-ageing because it reduces inflammation, but it can cause the skin to burn. So do be sure to patch test it before applying it to your face.
Egg whites can temporarily tighten the skin, but raw egg whites have a small risk of salmonella, cautions Bowe. Also, if you use egg whites, be careful about how they react with other ingredients. “One of my favourites is a story of an egg white mask that someone draped with a hot wash cloth that then solidified on the person’s face,” Marmur said.
Also, don’t overuse charcoal. “If you suck out all of the moisture and lipid from your skin, you will look older and stress your skin,” said Marmur.
In general, “avoid anything that would sting your lip or tongue if you applied it there because these areas are even more sensitive,” said Marmur. And when using a mask, “If it stings, wash it off immediately with cold water, avoiding your eyes.”
How to make a DIY face mask
The fun part of DIY face masks is that you can customise it to what you already have. I don’t have a kitchen or a fridge (I live in a dorm), so the easiest DIY face mask for me was picking up a container of Greek yogurt and honey from the store.
To make a mask, start with the base of your face mask, which is the biggest portion of your mask. For my DIY mask, I used the Greek yogurt as a base, but almost any ingredient that you can spread onto your skin works.
Then, you can add in the other parts of your face mask, but this isn’t a requirement (One ingredient face masks are a thing). I used honey in a two-to-one ratio with the Greek yogurt and mixed them together.
Finally, apply the mask to your face for 15 to 30 minutes. I just used my fingers and waited until the mask dried (which took around 30 minutes).
Then, I washed off the mask with warm water, and my skin felt great. It felt smoother and firmer. I’m not sure if it will have a lasting effect, but it was a fun DIY that cost less than $4.
You can repeat this process every day for masks that just moisturise or up to once or twice a week for masks with other purposes such as exfoliation or anti-inflammation, according to Marmur.