Sometimes I crave a bit of nitty gritty when it comes to skincare; I appreciate the “kid gloves” approach (which is my own, 90% of the time) but when it comes to my pre-period week or I’ve been burning the candle at both ends or troughing through vast amounts of cheese (which always makes my skin look peaky), I want something that’s fast and just a little bit furious.
Enter stage right: exfoliating, resurfacing face masks. These feel positively old-school now, with their AHA-powered dead-skin-sloughing action and slightly tingly formulas, but by Jove are they effective. Instant brightness, instant smoothness and the feeling that someone has gone over your face with a very small, but very powerful skin hoover.
I say that they’re old-school, but only because AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) have now been mainstream for a while – I feel as though all the beauty excitement gets used up on retinol! And although I’ll admit that products with retinol have entirely changed the look and feel of my skin (posts coming up, brace yourselves), nothing beats the instant satisfaction of sitting in the bath wearing a powerful, fast-working exfoli-mask.
I also say old-school (blimey, talk about over-explaining oneself!) because face masks seem to be having a bit of a back seat moment. At least the ones in pots and tubes. The sheet ones appear to be part of a booming industry, which upsets me because a) I can’t abide the feel of the cold, slimy mask on my face and b) it feels quite wasteful, but I don’t see a lot of other masking going on. It doesn’t seem to be de riguer.
I do like a mask, but only occasionally and only in the bath. Because it’s easier to rinse off properly if I’m in the bath and also it gives me something to do. If I have nothing to do, I get out after four minutes due to boredom – fifteen minutes to run the bath, four minutes in it. Pointless. Stick a mask on and I can last ten, especially if I need to shave my legs or examine my thread veins.
Anyway, that was the longest ever intro the quickest ever product roundup: here’s my tried and tested pick of the best exfoliating face masks of the moment. Some a bit nitty gritty, others more smooth and suave, all of them quite fierce, so don’t use if your skin is sensitive or you’re about to go to town with the old retinol…
No7 Laboratories Resurfacing Skin Paste, £18 at Boots here*. (Boots are currently running their 3 for 2 offer – the Cica paste is also very lovely and perfect to apply after the resurfacing paste!)
This one gets extra marks for the use of the word “paste” – isn’t it a great word? I love that this comes in an oil paint tube, it’s very functional and pleasing even if I do lose the cap every time I take it off. This mask has a mixture of AHAs and PHAs – PHAs are a bit like next generation AHAs, slightly more refined and gentle. I get a tingle with this, but it doesn’t feel as though I’ve fallen asleep at midday on a sunlounger on a beach in Crete, in August, wearing only SPF8, so I’d say you’re good to go if your skin is slightly more on the sensitive side. If you’re worried about any of the masks on this page, just vastly reduce the time you’re supposed to leave them on for and gradually increase to the recommended length once you feel comfortable.
Fruitizyme Five Minute Facial, £8.78 at Beauty Pie here*.
Whoosh, this is an excellent one. I’m developing quite a thing for Beauty Pie – just straight-to-the-point skincare that doesn’t seem to have a single dud in the entire (expansive) line-up. The Five Minute Facial blends glycolic acid with fruit enzymes (both of which will brighten and smooth dull skin) and also has scrubby bits, for those who like some manual exfoliation. I don’t, particularly, so I just smooth the mask on and wait for five minutes. No rubbing. No scrubbing. You can do as you please, but note that this is strong. I find the combination of acids and scrubbing too much so you might want to start slowly…
Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser, £32 at SpaceNK here*.
This is called a “daily foaming wash” but it’s not really; it’s a foam – beautifully cloud-like – but it’s not foaming, as in, what you’d expect washing-up liquid to be like if you poured it into a fountain. (Wasn’t me.) It’s also far, far more than a cleanser. In fact, this is probably the most comprehensive and fast-acting face resurfacer on the page – it’s not a mask, granted, but you couldn’t leave it on as a mask. It would quite literally resurface you away. This is for those who like their results quicker than quick – no time to wait for a mask to work, ta ever so. Just smooth it on, massage in for half a minute or so and then rinse. Do not exceed the timings, do not put your arms and legs outside of the vehicle, do not use this and then an acid toner or a peel pad. This IS your acid. It’s just your cleanser and acid in one. Handy. Strong. Bit like a sexy ranch owner wearing ripped jeans and a checked shirt – slightly unshaven, would absolutely have no qualms about taking you in the stables for a sweaty five minutes. That’s this.
Pixi Peel & Polish, £26 from M&S here*.
Crikey, I’m not sure I can regain my composure for this last recommendation! But I’ll try, because Pixi’s Peel & Polish is an excellent option for a quick once-over. It combines lactic acid (the same stuff that’s in the US version of Sunday Riley’s Good Genes, in vast amounts, great for those who can’t use glycolic) with various other peel and polish elements, basically throwing everything at your face, but in a thoughtful way. After this my skin feels facial-smooth, deep-cleansed and incredibly soft and the tingle isn’t too disturbing.
Because I always get asked “which one, if you had to choose?” I’m going to say the following:
No7 for more sensitive skin and beginners, Kate Somerville for the die-hards who want the most fast and furious fix, Beauty Pie for anyone who wants luxury at high-street prices and Pixi for those who don’t get on with glycolic acid. (That’s quite a few of you, it seems.) Hope this helps! All of the above are suitable for pregnancy/breastfeeding and all skin types except for the very sensitive. I would use once or twice a week but not before any other acid peel product and probably not before retinol, truthfully, because it tends to make my face scream.