Sheet masks crept into our lives a few years back and initially, I thought them a selfie-friendly gimmick that wouldn't catch on. That was until I started using them and fell for the instant hydration hit they gave, locking in moisture and making my skin glowier than ever. The single-use nature of sheet masks didn't sit well with me though – why were face wipes banned, but brands were continuing to produce sheet masks, which were just as wasteful? Holland and Barrett obviously agreed, announcing today that single-use sheet masks are now banned in its stores.
"It’s estimated that one million single-use beauty sheet masks are being thrown away across the world every day and as a business that cares about the wellness of people and our planet, we have to take action now to reduce unnecessary waste," says Joanne Cooke, Holland and Barrett's beauty trading director.
With the ban, Holland and Barrett hope to encourage customers to switch to more sustainable alternatives, which I set about looking for. I quickly found that eco-friendly sheet masks aren't as easy to come by as you might expect.
“Sheet masks are always problematic because they have been designed as a single-use item and need to be packed in an outer sleeve that can be difficult to recycle,” says Caroline Jacobs-Graf, founder of A Little Find , a platform for conscious brands.
There are skincare brands making an effort to ensure their sheet masks are more eco though; peat-infused skincare brand Bog Skincare sends its sheet masks with a free-post returns bag to make recycling the packaging easier, while Maya Jama's Mij face masks are free of disposable plastic insert and made of bio-cellulose, a compostable carbon-positive fibre, produced through the fermentation of coconut water. Plus, the boxes are made from FSC card.
Even 111 Skin, famed for its bio-cellulose sheet masks loved by the likes of Victoria Beckham and Miley Cyrus, is making a bid to reduce sheet mask waste with the introduction of liquid masks for a 'multi-use and long-term alternative' to sheet masks. The watery formulas correspond with the brand's sheet masks (if you're a fan of the brand you'll recognise the coloured vessels of the masks match the packaging of the sheet mask sleeves). The Contour Firming Mask , £115, is distinctly similar to the Celestial Black Diamond Lifting and Firming sheet mask, £20, VB has Instagrammed in the past.
If you love the cocooning feel of a sheet mask, another option is to buy reusable silicone sheet masks that you wear on top of your skincare to get that super-charged hydration effect, without the waste element. Nurse Jamie's FaceWrap Skin Perfecting Silicone Mask , £25, is a favourite of ours. It has ear hooks to keep it in place – a great addition single-use sheet masks don't tend to have.
Charlotte Tilbury's Cryo-Recovery Face Mask , £49, is another option. It's reusable and made from flexible silicone making it easy to wash. So much more than a traditional sheet mask, it has cooling metal beads stored in little gel pockets above the brows, along the cheekbone and the jawline, designed to target acupressure points to relieve tension and flush out fluid retention to make you look more sculpted. The brand recommends applying your skincare underneath to drive it deeper.
If you can't bear to part with single-use sheet masks, there are ways to make sure the ones you're buying are less damaging to mother nature.
What makes a sheet mask biodegradable?
Biodegradable masks should be made from natural fibres that aren’t blended with plastic microfibers, says Caroline. Sheet masks also sometimes contain plastic polymers, which break down into microplastics, which we know are responsible for much ocean pollution.
Biodegradable can be a misleading term as technically everything is biodegradable eventually, she says, even if it takes decades. "Check if the mask is compostable which means that it breaks down within a certain timeframe. However, composting only works under certain conditions such as having the necessary temperature to break down.”
Are cotton sheet masks a better option?
Though reusable if you DIY soak them in serum, cotton sheet masks tend to divide opinion. "Cotton is a huge industrial polluter as the production of cotton is incredibly heavy on pesticides and water," says Caroline.
Organic cotton could be the answer though, as Georgia Barnes, head of business development at Soil Association points out: "If you're looking for a sheet mask, we recommend choosing those that use organic cotton. It’s a natural fibre so it doesn’t release hazardous or toxic particles as it breaks down, making it a safer alternative for the environment than non-organic products often contain harsh and environmentally damaging ingredients."
Look for sheet masks in recyclable packaging
As well as the mask itself, look at the packaging it comes in. Check if the sleeve is recyclable. Sheet masks tend to come in tearable plastic packets which might have the 'recyclable' logo on but also may not be widely recycled.
Buy eye masks in bulk
Eye gels are particularly problematic when it comes to packaging. Because they’re so delicate they’re often attached to a little plastic tray to protect them from tearing. Get around this by buying multi-boxes of the under-eye heroes. Pixi’s FortifEYE patches , £22, come in a tub filled with 30 pairs of under-eye gels. Yes, the pot will need to be recycled, but it’s a lot less plastic waste than a tray for each pair. Inc.Redible's Hydrogel Avocado Eye Masks , £17.99, come in a pot of 20 too, as do Patchology's FlashPatch Restoring Night Eye Gels , which come in a pack of 30 for £54.
There's still a long way to go to before sheet masks will be considered 'good' for the environment, but with companies making strides towards recyclable packaging and new biodegradable materials, we're well on the way.
Biodegradable sheet masks
Irish brand Bog Skincare harness the anti-ageing powers of peat in its products to help skin hold onto moisture. All of Bog's products are sustainably sourced and five per cent of every sale is donated to Friends of the Earth, a charity working to protect the natural world. Even better, the brand has teamed up with Teracycle and every order is sent with a free-post returns bag so the packaging can be recycled correctly.
Mij Masks have been flying in and out of stock ever since presenter Maya Jama launched them in December 2020 . Well aware of the number of sheet masks and their packaging that create landfill, Maya worked hard to make hers as sustainable as possible. The face masks are made of bio-cellulose, a compostable carbon-positive fibre, produced through the fermentation of coconut water. The foil pouches are non-recyclable (as with most sheet masks), however the face masks are free of disposable plastic inserts and the boxes are made from FSC card, ethically sourced from responsibly managed forests. They're sent out in non-toxic and home compostable mailer bags from sustainable packing brand Noissue. Plus for every order placed Noissue plants trees in areas of need.
Launched in February 2021, Decree's sheet masks are the first vegan, 100 per cent recyclable sheet masks in the UK. Similarly to Maya Jama's Mij Masks, Decree's sheet masks are made from bio-cellulose from coconut fibre and can be either put in your recycling bin or the compost heap. The outer packaging is recyclable paper so can straight in the recycling bin too. The masks themselves include a bevvy of skin-boosting ingredients including niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and ceramides to work on pigmentation, inflammation and to minimise transepidermal water loss.
These brightening masks are made from biodegradable fibres and should be disposed of with your household recycling – the sleeve is recyclable too. However, Pixi has a recycling point in both the London and LA stores where people can take their used sheets masks and old packaging if you want an excuse to visit the store.
Hemp seed oil soothes and moisturises the skin making this biodegradable sheet mask made from natural fibres a godsend for stressed out, irritated complexions. It’s not attached to any backing and should be put in the compost bin to decompose. The outer sleeve isn’t recyclable but Simple is working on it – the packaging for the biodegradable face wipes from the brand is now recyclable.
This biodegradable mask is made from cellulose fibre derived from renewably sourced wood pulp. It promises bouncier youthful skin in just 15 minutes. It has no plastic backing (tick) and delivers a great amount of serum to refresh your skin. The outer packaging isn't recyclable as yet.
As well as looking pretty magical and revitalising and brightening your skin tone, the Maskologist masks are created using oils and water-soluble glycerin, making them fully biodegradable in minutes. This purple mask is created without the plastic mesh base structure of other hydrogel masks, so is fully dissolvable in water and can even be dropped into your bath afterwards as a body treatment. The mask and cardboard box are both recyclable, the foil packet isn’t currently but the brand is looking into alternatives that are recyclable while also keeping the mask moist.
This two-part mask is made from bio-cellulose, a material first used for wound victims that creates a second-skin seal on the skin - perfect for sheet masks as it saturates the skin. This mask, which treats spots and calms inflammation (I’ve tried it, love it), begins biodegrading as soon as it’s exposed to air and will fully decompose in about two months. The mask is housed in an aluminium sachet which is endlessly recyclable, effectively making it an inexhaustible resource. Nowadays almost all aluminium is second-use aluminium. The mask is attached to a gauze backing which isn’t biodegradable, but 111 Skin is working on repackaging the mask with a bamboo fibre but it is tricky as they don’t want to destabilise the formula of the mask.
To rid yourself of any sheet mask but still harness the powers of 111 Skin's anti-blemish range, try the brand's Microbiome Blemish Mask, £95.
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