SKINCARE SHEET MASKS: IS THIS PLANET-DESTROYING FAD OVER YET?
How sheet masks affect our skin and environment
“Are sheet masks the new plastic straws?”
Vogue asked this pressing question just last year. Are sheet masks the new plastic straws? Single-use items are slowly being called out and phased out for the greater interest of our planet. The trendy skincare sheet mask is the next single-use product on the block in desperate need of a total eco makeover.
Vogue articles, “Most are made with a blend of synthetic materials (nylon, plastic microfibers, polyester), which—as Beauty Heroes founder Jeannie Jarnot so bluntly and beautifully puts it—“equates to laying saturated molten plastic over your face.” As appealing as that sounds, there’s a downside: These “cannot be composted and must go in the [garbage] bin.”
Skincare sheet masks seem to be everywhere these days. The craze has been the trending fad across Instagram. Users, including celebrities, are sporting their best sheet mask pose; serum-soaked sheets on their face and resembling something straight out of a horror flick.
They have been all the rage for the past few years, taking off in the Asian market and then enthusiastically adopted by Westerners. And the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. “According to Transparency Market Research, the sheet mask market will grow at a CAGR of 8.7% through 2024, expanding to $336.7 million.” (2)
Now, THAT is a lot of sheet masks.
Are sheet Masks where it’s at?
They promise a facial in minutes for a fraction of the cost. Generally speaking, sheet masks cost less than $3. They make claims that address anything from dryness and puffiness to acne and wrinkles. They make great little gifts and stocking stuffers. They look super fun in their colourful packaging. And whose kidding – they make for some hilarious entertainment with GNO selfies! But before sending your bestie your next selfie sesh, you may want to consider what ingredients are lurking in your sheet mask. Most skincare sheet masks contain toxic ingredients that your skin and body is ultimately absorbing. What you are drenching your skin in may surprise and scare you!
If sheet masks really are hormone-disrupting microplastic saturated in toxic chemicals with a 20 minute lifespan and unsustainable packaging destined to be landfill, why are the sales growing at exploding rate?
What is a Skincare Sheet Mask?
Usually a one-size-fits-all, the mask consists of a tissue-thin sheet shaped to fit you face, with holes for eyes, nose, mouth. Sheets are often made from paper, cotton or a synthetic fibre. Doused in a serum or liquid that you leave on your face for 20-30 minutes while it infuses the ingredients into your skin.
In theory, it’s a great idea. The sheets are designed to deliver high concentrations of active ingredients directly to the skin. They provide a barrier between the air and your face to trap the product against your face, so it has no choice but to penetrate the skin.
A Skincare Sheet Mask does not replace the traditional sheet mask
Depending on what sheet mask you use, there might be some short-term benefits but a sheet mask isn’t going to replace your daily serum or professional masks. Professional masks often provide deep exfoliation and quality antiaging benefits.
In most cases, the sheet mask itself is made of synthetic nylon and polyester. They also contain carcinogens, hormone-disrupters, formaldehyde, phthalates, perfumes, preservatives and other toxic chemicals.
Dr Wang Baoxi, a dermatologist from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences’ Plastic Surgery Hospital, indicated that majority of these products contain hormones. He also noted that the more expensive the mask, the more likely they were to contain them.
In 2016, China released an article that reported on finding a banned steroid, glucocorticoid, in sheet mask formulations. The purpose of the steroid was to speed up visible results. With instant results, the user would believe the mask was very effective and continue with regular use. “Through continued use, the skin may become dependent on the steroid, which could lead to allergies, inflammation, pimples and expansion of capillaries once you stop using it.”
Harmful to our Earth
Let’s just say, the non-sustainable packaging needs a makeover and pronto!
Sheet masks are designed to be used once and thrown away. The disposable mask, the attached film and outer packaging are destined to be landfill waste after a life of 20 minutes. Packaging is generally a single pouch, which is also tossed once opened. It usually consists of aluminium and complex number seven plastic. There is a potential risk of chemical seeping into the product itself (then your skin!) and most recycle centres will not accept.
“The waste either ends up on landfill, where the toxic chemicals from it can leak into the soil and produce methane as they break down, contributing to global warming, or small toxic pieces of microplastic make their way into our food chain, the water we drink, the air we breathe.” – Susan Stevens, founder and CEO of Made With Respect.
What about using a sheet mask that is not a synthetic fibre or chemical substance, such as paper or cotton?
Yes, paper is compostable, however the paper is saturated in chemicals and ingredients that are not biodegradable. This could include silicones, a plastic coating on one side of the sheet mask.
Cotton has been dubbed the dirtiest crop and is one of the most unsustainable fibres in the world. Cotton production has been linked to environmental devastation, to blame for drying up the 4th largest lake in the world and for numerous cases of cancer and disease by airborne pesticides in surrounding villages.
“Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land, yet it accounts for 24% of the world’s insecticide market and 11% of sale of global pesticides; or $2.6 billion worth of pesticides making it the most pesticide-intensive crop grown on the planet.” – Organic Authority
Some final food for thought
Okay, okay… no, one mask isn’t going to single-handedly destroy our earth.
However, with the staggering sales of sheet masks, we can and will potentially create $336.7 million worth of waste. That is potentially $336.7 million worth of chemical pesticides to be released into the environment and the air we breathe. And $336.7 million worth of endocrine disrupting chemicals that can lead to devastating health outcomes, including infertility, sex organ abnormalities, birth defects, altered immune system, respiratory problems, early puberty, cancers and other diseases.
So next time you get the temptation to purchase that cutely packaged skincare sheet mask from the impulse aisle, opt for an alternative. Over time, this can make a huge difference. Your knowledge and decisions influence others, creating a ripple effect that over time can be extremely impactful.
Your health, generations to follow, and the planet will thank you for it.
What if you really want to use a skincare sheet mask?
Beauty businesses should be taking responsibility for the continued creation of wasteful single-use items but as consumers, it is up to us to make better choices to protect the environment and public health.
Some companies are starting to create sustainable skincare sheet masks using extraordinary materials that are natural and biodegradable. However, like most beauty products, you will have to do your research first.
A few tips!
- Think about using biodegradeable/compostable sheet masks. Look for masks made from bamboo and packaging made of cardboard.
- Look for sheet masks that are packaged in bulk. Less waste!
- Read the label.
- PEGs (Polyethylene glycols)
- All synthetic perfumes & fragrances
- Look for recycled/recyclable materials. If contains plastic polymers it will not decompose.
- Watch out for Greenwashing! Just because a company advertises that it is natural or compostable doesn’t make it true.
What is Greenwashing? Check it out!
- Avoid DIY sheet masks. Although tempting, please leave to the professionals. You want your products to be developed in a sterile environment. Also, some ingredients can cause adverse reactions when mixed with each other.
Are Sheet Masks the New Plastic Straws? By Jessica Defino. October 15, 2019. VOGUE Magazine.
Banned steroid found in quarter of skin masks checked in south China. By Alice Yan. 2016. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST.
The Surprisingly Scary Ingredient That’s Hiding in Your Sheet Mask. By Lindsey Metrus.
Sheet Mask Sales Will Reach $336.7 Million by 2024. By Global Cosmetic Industry. 2016.
Cotton: The World’s “Dirtiest” Crop. By Laura Lynn Klein. Organic Authority. Updated Oct 2018. Original Jan 2010.