Sense and Sensitivity

The best face masks for sensitive skin

Judy Johnson 12 January 2018
Any products in this article have been selected editorially however if you buy something we mention, we may earn commission

1 / 7

The best face masks for sensitive, reactive skin

Masks worry me. Not only in the Halloween clown sense (to quote Carrie Bradshaw, NOTHING is scarier than a clown) but in the beauty arena too. With my sensitive skin , leave-on products are far riskier than those you wash off, but with so many masks being thick of texture and either a suspiciously dark or bright, vibrant colour, who knows what’s going on under there during the supposedly relaxing 10 minutes you leave them on for? In fact, I rarely use them, but after the longest lasting cold I’ve ever had and the harsh weather of January leaving my face looking somewhat raw, I decided the time was nigh for some intensive at-home skin therapy. These are the face masks that gave me far better results than I’d expected, and which I’ll be fearlessly using from now on for brighter, more comfortable skin.

2 / 7

Trilogy Very Gentle Hydra Mask, £24.50

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This was the first mask I tested, and I almost ditched the rest and resolved to write 800 words on how much I adore it instead. Yes, it’s that good. Now perhaps it’s down to my lack of regular mask usage, but I was wowed by the results of just 10 minutes with this. In a small jar (this may be my only criticism - I think I’d rather a tube) this custard-yellow cream doesn’t look all that appealing, but as you spread a thick layer on to your skin the comfort is immediate. It’s rich, creamy, fragrance-free and full of skin-soothing ingredients such as sweet almond oil, antioxidant-rich maqui berry and the brand's new calming complex, SyriCalm®, which helps to reduce inflammation and strengthen the skin’s barrier. I left it on freshly cleansed skin for 12 minutes; it doesn’t so much dry as it does absorb into the skin - you don’t need to fully wash away afterwards, simply wipe off the excess (which feels like a slightly hardened moisturiser that’s been left behind). My skin afterwards felt as good as new; six weeks of a bad cold had left my face a dry, flaky, dull disaster, but on wiping away the mask all signs of dryness had disappeared - I was left with ridiculously smooth skin that I’ve only ever experienced post-facial. My skin looked brighter, softer and simply healthier. This is going to lead my Sunday facial routine from now on.

3 / 7

Immunocologie Vital Clay Mask, £120

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This mask quickly became officially ‘cult’ in summer 2017 when an appearance by the brand’s founder Karen Ballou  on QVC led it to sell out on Cult Beauty within hours - causing a wait list of over 3,000 people. So what’s all the fuss about? First up, the packaging is slick, sleek, and solid, a heavy black jar which suddenly made sense when I saw the eye-watering price tag. I’m not one for expensive products, but in this case it does deserve inclusion; it’s the ultimate mud mask. A thick, green clay (with a base of French green clay, it actually contains four types), it holds skin-nourishing minerals copper, calcium, magnesium and zinc and is designed to draw out impurities, refine pores and brighten up the skin, all the while hydrating it too. On applying the creamy clay, it quickly dries, only without any of that tightening you get with cheap masks. There’s no cracking or discomfort, and although the hardened clay felt a little rough to the touch, when I rinsed it away with warm water my skin felt incredible. I was expecting to feel a little dried out, but instead my skin looked practically luminous as if I’d already applied a cream. Pores did indeed look slightly more ‘airbrushed’ and I’m sure the salicylic acid helped bring down a pesky spot on my chin. Worth every penny - if your budget stretches that far.

4 / 7

Superdrug Simply Pure Leave On Water Mask, £3.99

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If spending the cost of a return flight to Europe seems a bit much for a face mask, fear not, for Superdrug have it covered with their great sensitive range that is refreshingly purse-friendly. This feels more like a lazy girl's serum to me, but either way it gets my vote and will be especially handy for the hot summer months. A clear, jelly-like gel, this water mask from the brilliant budget Simply Pure range  is bizarre but it works - you apply after cleansing like any other mask, leave it for 10 minutes and then massage the excess into the skin. So, bonus points for zero product wastage (it’s also vegan, fragrance-free and cruelty-free) but does it hydrate? It’s packed with humectants including glycerin and allantoin (ingredients which hold onto moisture in your skin), but after the designated 10 minutes the excess left on my skin felt ridiculously sticky; a little off-putting, but once I’d massaged it in my skin felt silky soft and looked it too. Treat it as a big drink for your skin if it’s thirsty - I think oily types will love it too.

5 / 7

DCL Hydrating Treatment Mask, £49

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DCL has been making waves with its results-driven, no-fluff products since it arrived (finally) in the UK in 2017 - we dubbed it the best kept secret in skincare  because the products have serious ‘wow’ factor. This brilliant mask is no exception; it has a gel/serum-like texture, and has a very fresh, natural scent - it’s fragrance-free, I approve - and is quite different to your usual thick face masks in that it’s clear and doesn’t really dry out. I smothered my face in it and enjoyed the slightly cooling effect as the hyaluronic acid , fruit acids, ceramics and amino acids got to work (this brand seriously packs the good stuff in), then 15 minutes later reluctantly rinsed it away. My dry skin felt seriously hydrated, and looked somehow fresher and more dewy than it would after my usual evening skincare routine - and it still looked that way the following morning. Result.

6 / 7

Pai Rosehip Bioregenerate Rapid Radiance Mask, £30

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Obviously, no sensitive skin round-up would be complete without a dose of organic Pai. I use their cleanser religiously, and the rosehip oil is, in my opinion, the best on the market - so it stands to reason that I’d love their rosehip mask, too. The thick buttery formula is a great soother for dry, dull and sensitive skin, especially if you’re redness-prone; glycerin features high in the impressive ingredients list, alongside organic rosehip to heal and regenerate, shea butter to nourish and strawberry leaf to improve skin texture. It feels very indulgent (as a face mask should, really) and when rinsed away with a cloth leaves skin feeling not only soft, but truly soothed - plus it looks visibly brighter. Every sensitivity sufferer should have one.

7 / 7

Eisenberg Melt-in Repairing Mask €110

Available at Urban Retreat or on the Eisenberg Paris website 

I really wish this mask was more budget-friendly, because the temptation to slather it on every day is strong (don’t do that, though - once a week will do just fine). Fragrance-free, colourant-free and paraben-free, this light cream mask contains avocado and sweet almond oil, as well as shea butter and raspberry leaf stem cell extract which has an anti-inflammatory effect. This formula, again, is unlike the heavy-duty masks I recall from my teens that you could paste on with a spatula - it’s more like a silky moisturiser, and is gentle enough to use around the eyes - and as the name suggests, it does feel as though it simply melts into your skin to plump it up. You can rub the excess in after your 15 minutes or swipe it away with a damp cloth - either way, skin looks renewed and feels instantly calmer. It’s rare to find such a luxurious product that's specifically designed for sensitive types; a payday treat I’ll look forward to.