The solutions to all your woes are in the A8 aisle of Target.
Those minuscule packets of promise hang there motionless, waiting for you. Serene women with gunk on their faces and lemon and cucumber slices make up the sacks’ packaging. All the right words wrap around the plastic: “boost,” “brighten,” “revive.”
“Pick me,” the face masks whisper. “I’ll make it all better.”
People have been smearing themselves with stuff to look prettier for thousands of years. In Ancient Egypt, women would use a mixture of milk and honey as a mask. But in the last few years, the face mask industry has exploded. The industry is expected to grow to be worth $11.37 billion by 2025.
It’s an industry spanning all price points. Mash some avocado in a bowl and wear it and call it a mask. Or shell out $250 for a dollop of La Mer to lift and firm your bougie face.
The companies know all your problems and how to solve them. Want to be an animal for an afternoon? Masque Bar’s Pretty Animalz line lets you transform into a llama, octopus or narwhal. Hate the mess you make cleaning your face? Try the ELF mask with powdered iron in it that you can suck off your face with a magnet.
Why stop at your face? Foot masks will slough off your calluses like a snake molting. Tummy masks come in “moisturized and smoother” and “tighter and firmer” flavors.
There’s even a mask for your ass. Courtesy of YesTo Inc., it's technically a “Booty-ful Paper Mask” that claims to plump and polish your behind through the power of coconut, banana and hibiscus. It’s comprised of two heart-shaped masks, one for each cheek, that say “LOVE” and “ME.” The packet containing them has two curves at the bottom that resemble a derrière. A cartoon woman lies on her stomach across the front of the packaging, wearing only a sports bra, a butt mask and a satisfied smile.
A good reporter does research, so you pick up some Que Bella Professional moisturizing eye masks and a Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating 100% Hydrogel Mask because your skin is Mojave-like on a good day. You’ll save the butt mask for later.
In the privacy of your tiny bathroom that night, you apply the Neutrogena mask, which is bisected horizontally across the face to create a chin section and a cheeks-nose-forehead section. The mask is made from hydrogel, a substance used in medicine to treat dry wounds such as burns and now, apparently, your face. It’s loaded with hyaluronic acid, which slows the loss of moisture from your skin.
You peel the chin part off a plastic sheet and try to orient it to your face without your glasses. You stick it on and feel the nourishing serum enter your skin.
But there’s a problem. The hydrogel’s hydrating goodness makes it extremely slippery, and your chin section is sliding down your face. You try to readjust it with one hand while shaking loose the upper part of the mask with the other. Triumphant, you remove your hand and quickly plop the top section on the rest of your face, making the eye holes match up with your eyes.
Except the chin section is slipping again. And if you let go of the top part, it’ll fall off, too. Shit.
You tilt your head back slightly to slow the mask’s momentum as you rearrange your new jelly-like facial features. Things feel a little more secure now. You audaciously lean over to grab your clothes off the floor. The chin part falls on your right shoulder. Goddamnit.
You manage to stumble your way back to your bedroom sans glasses, the mask sliding halfway off your face. Throwing your clothes on the floor, you get in bed and prop your head up with pillows before fixing it. You’re stuck here for the next 30 minutes.
Maybe this is why masks are considered so relaxing. You’re trapped by them. You can’t do anything else lest the mask slip or drip off. And if you don’t have 20/20 vision, you’re effectively blind unless you want to clean goop off your glasses. All you can do is recline and watch soapmaking videos on your phone. You’re at the mercy of the mask.
Self-care, it seems, is less about encouraging yourself to relax and more about preventing yourself from doing the things that make you stressed.
After half an hour, you’re finally free to remove the floppy mess. Your face does feel a little more hydrated than if you just put your normal moisturizer on. You feel good. Maybe there is something to this. Maybe you should buy these more often. A weekly treat.
Don’t you deserve to feel good about yourself?
By the morning, it’ll all be gone. Your skin will be dry again. Your grades will still suck. Your problems will still exist, bearing down on your mind and body until you’re zapped of energy, and you crawl back to the mask for the temporary relief it provides.
The promise of the face mask is that once you put it on, you will transform into the person the world tells you that you’re supposed to be. Hydrated, not greasy. Matte, not dry. Plump, not fat.
The mask will make you better, but it won’t fix you. Fixing you means you don’t need it anymore. Better keeps you on the leash, makes you come back for more. Because someday, maybe the mask won’t be a mask anymore.