Yes, You Can Leave a Sheet Mask on for Too Long—and 4 Other Masking Mistakes You're Probably Making

·4 min read

We've all been there: You apply a detoxifying clay mask, leave it on for 30 minutes, then find yourself rubbing your skin raw with soap and water for 20 minutes in an attempt to remove the hardened mask. This is just one of the multiple mistakes you may encounter when using a face mask, and if you're not seeing glowing results post-mask Monday, it might be time to figure out what, exactly, you're doing wrong. Whether you're a sheet masker or overnight masker, we've turned to the experts to understand (and avoid) the five most common face mask mistakes many folks make.

Man with a clay mask
Man with a clay mask

Getty Images

You're probably leaving your face mask on for too long.

If you've ever applied a face mask, you've probably noticed the recommended application time on the label—usually somewhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Even though it's tempting to leave it on for longer (or possible to just forget), it's definitely something you want to pay attention to.

Although it depends on which type of mask you're dealing with, all outcomes aren't ideal. While it's relatively safe to over-apply emollients and moisturizers, leaving a hydrating sheet mask on for too long (i.e., until it's dry) can be counterproductive—it actually causes a reversal effect where the sheet reabsorbs the moisture from the skin.

On the other hand, a cleansing mask or an exfoliating mask can have an even more negative effect. "A cleansing mask may have surfactants that strip oil from the skin and over-applying these can lead to irritant dermatitis, where the skin becomes red and burning," says Dan Belkin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "An exfoliating mask will often use actives like glycolic acid, which can continue to get deeper and deeper as it sits on the skin, leading to a peeling response."

If you wash or peel off a mask and notice that the skin is tender, burning, and pink, it may mean you've left it on too long and developed an irritant reaction. "If this happens, wash your face with warm water, stop all other actives until it resolves (e.g., retinol, glycolic acid, vitamin C, etc.), use a soothing ointment like Aquaphor ($14; or Vaseline ($5; liberally, and avoid too much sun exposure," suggests Dr. Belkin. "Hydrocortisone 1% ointment is available over the counter and can soothe the skin as well." If in doubt, or if the condition is worsening despite these steps, talk to your board-certified dermatologist.

You're not cleansing your skin beforehand.

When using a face mask, you want to apply the formula to clean skin so you get the best absorption. "If you have build-up of oil, makeup, sunscreen, or other products on the skin, it forms a barrier to whatever you are applying and makes it less effective," explains Dr. Belkin.

You're using a mask that isn't right for your skin type.

"A sheet mask with hydrating ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid are safer options, but oftentimes they are made with parabens and phthalates, which can irritate the skin," explains Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

According to Dr. Belkin, something like a peel-off mask usually becomes dry and inert, and probably wouldn't harm you to leave on too long. However, "a clay mask could potentially become irritating if left on too long, a cleansing mask is likely to cause irritant contact dermatitis if left on too long, and finally, an exfoliating mask is the most likely to cause either an irritant response or an unexpected peeling reaction," he says. Basically, if you have sensitive skin, avoid more aggressive masks, which may result in irritation.

You're not switching up your masks with the seasons.

Skincare always depends on the season. "In the wintertime, hydrating masks are going to be the most helpful, while in the summer, you may be able to tolerate more masks with actives that have the potential to dry, like charcoal, or irritate, like glycolic acid," says Dr. Belkin.

You're not moisturizing after.

PSA: Face masks don't replace moisturizer. "Most face masks hydrate the skin with water and humectant-type moisturizers that draw water in (e.g., glycerin, hyaluronic acid)," says Dr. Belkin. "To lock in this hydration, you want to apply a moisturizer with some barrier ingredients (e.g., oils, waxes) to prevent evaporation and redrying."