Unmasked beauty

Wear a mask for as little as 10 minutes and youll uncover brighter, clearer skin that will last for days.
While most of us do the daily two-step of cleansing and moisturizing, we're usually not as vigilant carrying out the other key components of good facial skincare--removing dead skin cells and unclogging pores.

That's where regular use of a mask can round out your skincare regimen by exfoliating, deep cleaning and evening out skin tone, as well as smoothing wrinkles and zapping zits. And using one is not as time-consuming or complicated as you may think. Wear a mask for as little as 10 minutes and you'll uncover brighter, clearer skin that will last for days.

Facemask basics

What kind of mask should I use? The type of mask you should use depends on your skin type:

Oily: Use masks with oil-absorbing clays such as bentonite, French green, Moroccan red and multani mitti or Indian Fullers Earth. They remove excess oil and clean pores to prevent blackheads and blemishes. Masks containing fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C also act as astringents helping to tone and disinfect oily skin. Look for strawberries, apples, carrots or bananas in the ingredients. TRY: Bath by Bettijo Mudder Nature Detoxifying Spa Mud ($48, bathbybettijo.com) and Zia Natural Skincare Apple Refining Mask ($24, zianatural.com).

Dry: Look for moisturizing ingredients such as aloe, avocado, oatmeal, mango and milk. These help diminish fine lines and soothe chapped, sun-worn skin. If you want a detoxifying mask, opt for one containing pink, white or yellow kaolin clay. TRY: Mario Badescu Super Collagen Mask ($18, mariobadescu.com) and Got2b In Your Face Pure Intent Clay Mask ($3.99, drugstores).

Sensitive or combination: Choose masks designed for sensitive skin or for all skin types. For a clay mask, you'll want pink, white or yellow kaolin or rhassoul clay. If your skin is very sensitive, test the mask on a small patch of skin on your arm. Some key ingredients to look for are oatmeal and honey because they're hypoallergenic. And be wary of fruit- and vegetable-based masks if you have food allergies. For combination skin, opt for masks that balance out skin. You may want to apply clay or mud masks to only the oily parts of your face (T-zone, forehead, nose and chin). TRY: Bior Shine Control Clay Mask ($5.99, drugstores), Murad Exfoliating Fruit Enzyme Mask ($30, sephora.com) and Kiss My Face Scrub/Masque ($7, drugstores).

How long do I leave it on?

Spread the mask evenly over your skin, avoiding the eye area and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes to allow ingredients to work. Remove it by splashing your skin with lukewarm water or by rubbing it off with a warm, wet washcloth.

How often should I use a mask?

Unless the product directions say otherwise, use a mask once a week. This will get your skin familiar with the regimen and ingredients. "You want your skin to reap the benefits of continual use," says Dr. Steven Victor, a New York-based dermatologist. By simply observing the cycles of your skin, you'll begin to recognize when it's time for a mask. During the winter months, skin tends to be on the dry side, so a moisturizing mask may be the best choice. In summer when your skin tends to hold more oil, a purifying mud or clay mask may be in order.

Can I use a facemask on my body?

Absolutely. The rest of your body can reap the benefits of a mask treatment, especially your back and chest where breakouts are most likely to occur. Be warned, though, that masks can stain fabric, so when using it on your body, sit on a throwaway towel.

Make your own mask

Facial masks are easy to make with ingredients you probably have on hand. Here are some of beauty expert Shalini Vadhera's favorite homemade recipes from her new book, Passport to Beauty (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006):

Irish Oatmeal

Soothes and brightens irritated skin, especially rosacea or psoriasis. Blend together three tablespoons of milk and a half cup of oatmeal into a thick paste. Leave on for 10 to 15 minutes, or until mask is dry, and wash off with lukewarm water.

Banyan Tree

Lightens and brighten dark spots left from breakouts. Add 1 tablespoon of hot water to one tablespoon of oatmeal and mix well. Then mix in a third of a teaspoon turmeric powder, one teaspoon honey, and a half teaspoon milk powder. Leave on for 10 minutes and wash off with lukewarm water.

Korean Tightening

Helps keep skin firm and tightens pores. Mix two eggs with one mashed, skinless cucumber and enough flour to create a paste. Leave on for five to 10 minutes and wash off with lukewarm water.

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