I don’t suffer from problematic skin, but sometimes, when I stay out late being an idiot with my friends, I forget to wash my face. The next morning, I can always measure my intoxication levels by how much contact lens solution I squirted into the case. (If I were ever foolish enough to drive drunk, I recommend the officer skip the breathalyzer and ask me to fill a contact-lens holder instead). My skin has a delayed reaction. If I forget to wash my face before going to sleep, two days later I’ll have a little colony of pimples.
In my hometown is a river with clay banks. Once while young, I sank into the clay up to my chest. I feared my time was up, but my brothers managed to yank me free. After washing off in the river, I couldn’t help but notice how invigorated my skin was. The point of this story: The seeds for my facial-mask enthusiasm were planted long ago.
But I want a good one. I don’t want to waste my time — and I don’t want you to waste your time either. So I took the liberty of trying out some of the Internet’s most sought-after face masks, from Amazon top sellers to the Gwyneth Paltrow-approved. I’ve never been more radiant.
A classic. I thought it best to get this one out of the way first. Within the jar is a bunch of powder that will leap out when you take off the lid, so be careful. I mixed it with water (the instructions called for raw apple cider vinegar, but I only had fresh-baked apple pie vinegar; I used water instead). Despite my masterful wooden spoonsmanship, I couldn’t quite blend it into a “smooth paste.”
I decided to move forward once I achieved “baby diaper contents” consistency. Then I smeared those contents on my face.
The instructions said to avoid the eye area but made no mention of the mouth. Très Neo from The Matrix when the agents plant the bug in his navel. Then, I waited for the “tightening and pulling sensation” to kick in. It didn’t take long. I left this stuff caked on my face for about fifteen minutes and then it was fun to do this:
Five minutes later, the tightening and pulling became excessive and I felt increasing anxiety. I panicked about my skin coming off in chunks, North Korean missile tests, and finding out that Stannis Baratheon is my father and plans to sacrifice me to the Lord of Light.
Also that it would ruin my hairline, which is my most valuable asset. Fortunately, the mud came off after intensive splashing and rubbing with warm water. Unfortunately, I wound up looking like Eric Trump.
I was suddenly consumed by a strong feeling that the world is mine by right.
I give it:
1 thumb up for arts-and-crafts fun
1 thumb up for the emotional roller-coaster
1 thumb up for clean pores
1 thumb back down for how uncertain I was that flushing the excess paste down the toilet was the best disposal method
Total: 2 thumbs up (convenient, as that’s all I’ve got)
This one is for blackhead removal. I usually just use my fingers, but in the interest of science…
So cathartic to clean up my “old waste horny skin.”
The horniest. There was a warning to avoid eyebrows, but no comment on beards. On a hunch, I avoided mine. This was a good move. After twenty minutes it didn’t look any different, but upon poking it I realized that it had solidified into a sort of latex mask, which gave me a great idea for a side gig. I peeled it off, which would have been more satisfying if I had, in fact, applied the “proper amount” (I’d been a bit shy). The parts that I managed to peel off like dead skin after a severe sunburn were covered in miniature blackhead stalagmites.
I give it:
1 thumb up for the superhero disguise vibes
1 thumb up for grade-school nostalgia
1 thumb down for the messiness
1 thumb up for blackhead satisfaction
1 thumb down for unclear instructions
For a total of: 1 thumb up
This one was quite cute and seemed less frightening than the Suction Black Mask oil spill. I resisted the temptation to eat it.
I know they put in the warning to cover themselves legally, but I think a class-action lawsuit could be thrown together based on the resemblance to those miniature ice cream cartons you get for $1.69 at the supermarket. You know what I’m talking about.
I was again instructed to use the “proper amount,” which is like opening IKEA instructions and reading, “Put it together the right way.” I smeared it liberally on my face, this time getting the beard area involved. And yes, I’m calling it a beard, though I am well aware of its patchiness. No one is more aware of its patchiness than me.
Almost immediately after I rubbed it on, it began to tickle and foam like delayed-action shaving cream. It was a pleasant sensation, like being lightly nibbled upon by a school of tiny, benevolent fish.
But then, their appetites whetted by my delicious skin cells, the fish became increasingly ravenous. My face was consumed by rapidly expanding bubbles. I reeled in terror.
I had once again failed to use the “proper amount.” It was like I had children and took them to the beach before falling asleep under the afternoon sun, later awakening to find them standing over me, making drip castles on my face. Before I drowned in a bubble mask and starred in a most peculiar obituary, I stuck my face in the shower and exorcised the bubble demons from my face.
My skin afterward was springy and fresh.
1 thumb up for packaging appeal
1 thumb down for the taste of the first spoonful
1 thumb up for the carnival of sensation
1 thumb down for the alarming escalation of bubbular multiplication
1 thumb up for the pleasant aroma I just couldn’t shake
For a total of: 1 thumb up
Let the record show that I am a man, and not a baby. Though perhaps the two are not so mutually exclusive. This one is a higher-end product, so I was eager to see if there was any noticeable difference between this and the relatively cheaper options I had tried before. There certainly was less of a mess, and no gimmicks or wooden spoon required.
Spackled and ready for the first layer of paint!
I don’t know what else to say, really. It was stress free, I left it on for 15 minutes and washed it off. I felt so virginal and bouncy afterward that I went out to explore the world, and filled it with all of the sunshine bouncing off my baby goddess face.
I give CT three thumbs up for overall ease of use and effect. I had to borrow a friend’s thumb but hey, that’s what friends are for.
You can’t spell Gwyneth Paltrow without “Pal,” and that’s just what she is. A true pal isn’t afraid to drop some harsh truths on you in order to foster growth and self-improvement. And that’s exactly what Gwyn’s Goop does.
This mask is not for the faint of heart. I wasn’t even trying to give a Blue Steel look here; my mouth is puckered in pain. It has natural alpha and beta hydroxy acids. I don’t really know what they are, but they burn like an mf-er.
I washed it off after eight minutes of agony and was alarmed at how red my skin was (the instructions, which I read after the fact, say you should wash it off after three minutes. I support this). It felt like three layers had been burned away. But they say that fire is a purifying element, and when a fire rages through a forest, it inevitably clears the way for fresh, healthy growth.
Two thumbs up for product efficacy, and two more for the reserves of strength I had to find within myself to endure my own stupidity.
For the pain, I applied one of these
Dermal Korea Collagen Essence Full Facial Mask Sheets (they come in packs of 16!)
One thumb up for convenience
One thumb up for variety
One last thumb up for Hannibal Lecter (but don’t get it too close to his mouth).
Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt; photos via Brandon Borror-Chappell.