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How to Know If a Mask Will Mess with Your Skin BEFORE You Try It

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Face masks that promise amazing skin can be so tempting—but who hasn’t tried one, only to look like an Oompa Loompa for several days? To find out which masks will make your skin glow without having to deal with any unsightly consequences (not to mention wasted money), scope out the ingredient list on the bottle before you put anything inside of it on your face. Debra Jaliman, M.D., author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist, breaks down the best and worst ingredients for your skin type.

If You Have Dry Skin
“You want to stay away from acids because they’re very drying,” says Jaliman. She also recommends steering clear of masks with sulfur, clay, benzoyl peroxide (which you’ll find in many acne solutions), and lime extract. While butters and oils are perfect for adding moisture back into dry complexions, tea tree oil is an ingredient you’ll want to avoid because it can also be drying.

Expert Picks: Lierac Comfort Mask ($28, lierac-usa.com) has a blend of shea butter, mango butter, and apricot oil. Masque Bar Refining Créme Mask ($9.99, target.com) contains glycerin, vitamin E, and shea butter, which are all very moisturizing.

If You Have Oily Skin
“Because you have hardy, thick skin, you need stronger ingredients,” says Jaliman. While most ingredients won’t irritate your face, you’ll want to avoid any thick moisturizers. Instead, look for ingredients that absorb oil, like kaolin, clay, sea salt, and mud.

Expert Picks: Kate Somerville Clearing Mask ($45, sephora.com) has phytic acid, which exfoliates, as well as kaolin and clay, which absorb excess oil. Queen Helene Mint Julep Masque ($3.99, walgreens.com) uses mud to remove out impurities. Blended with glycerin, it prevents the skin from getting too dry.

If You Have Sensitive Skin
Jaliman recommends looking for products that contain soothing ingredients that treat already-present irritation like redness and inflammation. Aloe, chamomile, and cucumber are three to be on the look out for. One warning: People with rosacea and eczema may not be able to use masks at all since their skin is inflamed on a regular basis, says Jaliman. “They might be able to do a cucumber mask, but they have to be very careful because it could up the redness in the skin.”

Expert Picks: Chantecaille Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask ($79, chantecaille.com) has chamomile and rosewater, which sooth irritation while vitamin B5 decreases redness. Aveda Intensive Hydrating Masque ($22, aveda.com) adds moisture while calming with aloe and lavender.

If You Have Combination Skin
First, what is combination skin? When you have oil just along the T-zone. If this is you, you’ll want ingredients that exfoliate without drying out your face. Jaliman suggests products that focus on hydration and have a low concentration of acids (which exfoliate your skin).

Expert Picks: Repechage Hydra Refine One-Minute Clarifying Mask ($25, amazon.com) has lactic acid, known for exfoliating without irritation, and sweet almond oil, which adds in just enough moisture without causing breakouts. Ren Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask ($55, renskincare.com) contains lactic, glycolic, tartaric, and citric acids, but in such low amounts that they don’t irritate skin.

Before You Apply…
Once you find a formula that may be compatible with your skin type, spot test before you slather it on your entire face. Apply a small amount of the formula to the area just inside your elbow, which is similar to the skin on your face, suggests Jaliman. Keep it on for the same amount of time that you would be using it on your mug, and see if there’s a reaction. If there’s not, you’re probably good to go.

But…even if you took every precaution listed above, Jaliman strongly discourages her clients from using a new mask less than a week before a big event. “You are trying something very concentrated, new, and it’s sitting on your skin for a while,” she says. “If you do it a week before, at least you have time to let your skin heal.”

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