Face masks may often shoulder the burden of living up to self-care's lofty expectations, but if your Sunday Scaries are no match for a bubble bath and sheet mask, perhaps you just need more masks. Enter the "coating method," a new- ish K-beauty facial technique that's like a twist on multi-masking, where you strategically layer up to three differently textured masks, one on top of the other, to benefit from their combined efforts.
A few weeks ago, I visited aesthetician Sofie Pavitt to try out her new Glass Pass facial, which, if you're familiar with the glass-skin trend, you've got a pretty accurate idea of this treatment's intended effect. Pavitt explained to me the philosophy behind Glass Pass, which borrows from the Korean skin-care principle of applying thin layers of product one on top of another. Instead of multi-masking's paint-by-numbers approach of applying different masks to different areas of the face, the coating method calls for applying your chosen masks directly on top of one another like you're frosting a tri-layered cake.
Visiting Pavitt's facial studio has the added benefit of an oxygenating LED machine, which incorporates a glass dome over your face that alternates between misting purified oxygen with strobing LED onto your masked-up face, like a mini nightclub on your head (a very exclusive one). During my treatment, my first layer was a hyaluronic-acid mask, followed by a richer moisturizing mask to double-down on hydration, and then all of that was frosted with a rubber mask to seal it in. All the while, oxygen mist and LED light helped to boost the absorption and hydration. Once out of the dome, my skin was unreal — dewy, plump, flushed, and glassy as hell.
Post-facial, with no complexion makeup.
Pavitt told me she'd learned of this treatment when she was training with a Korean aesthetician from the company that manufactures her oxygen machine. That aesthetician explained to her that it worked particularly well when used in conjunction with "coating" — something Korean facialists were already practicing.
High-tech machinery aside, my immediate thought was, Hmm, I wonder if I could do something like this at home. Pavitt's advice for adopting the coating method outside a spa setting involves a few simple principles. "Each mask serves a different purpose, and this technique could easily be applied using home products along with the same principles," she advised. "For example, you could start with an exfoliating mask and rinse it off to get rid of all the dry skin on top of the surface of the skin for maximum product penetration. Then, add a hyaluronic mask for humectant properties. A moisturizing mask comes next, and finally, a rubber-style sealing mask to lock it all in."
I attempted an at-home version one night when I was feeling ambitious. I exfoliated with one of my favorite peels, Renee Rouleau's Triple Berry Smoothing Peel, rinsed that off, and then patted on a hyaluronic-acid toner and serum — (Isntree's Hyaluronic Acid Toner and The Ordinary's HA+B5 serum, respectively) — for some immediate hydration. I brushed on a generous layer of Belif's Aquabomb Sleeping Mask (yes, I know it's an overnight mask, but it's just the right texture for this experiment). And finally, I topped it with a thick, gelatinous layer of an Esthemax Hydrojelly Rubber Mask. The result was not quite as wow-y as when LED lights and purified oxygen gave me an assist, but my skin was still very much improved with plump-feeling dewiness.
Perhaps my hodgepodge assortment of face masks did not play as nicely together as the professional-grade ones in Pavitt's studio, so I asked cosmetics formulator Stephen Alain Ko if he thought mask-caking in this way would further boost the powers of each mask or cancel them out. He mentioned that the ingredients would have to get down into the skin to actually do anything.
"I think there would be a benefit, but I'm not sure if it'd be worth all the extra masks. The layers might keep the masks wet since you have more water on your face, so that'd help increase water content over the skin," he says. "But that's also a temporary effect." Hmm.
I asked New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist (and K-beauty enthusiast) Dendy Engelman if she had heard of this masking method and she had. According to her, one of the most important things to keep in mind when trying this was to choose your fighters (masks) carefully, warning that over-masking can backfire, resulting in clogged pores and/or irritation.
"Avoid ingredients that are doing double-duty and essentially have the same outcome, which will overwork your skin in the long run," she advises. In other words, don't combine exfoliating masks, even if they have different exfoliating ingredients (such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid). And don't leave any masks on for longer than the time it says on the packaging.
Peach & Lily cofounder and K-beauty expert Alicia Yoon also says that it's not uncommon to layer face masks in Korean facial spas. "Coating typically refers to products that wrap around the skin in a very occlusive manner to truly lock and seal in ingredients," Yoon explains. "More than a trend, it's a concept that comes up in Korean skin care as a way to describe various products that are excellent sealants." For example, there are coating creams, coating oils, and coating masks, and the commonality is that they will lock ingredients into the skin.
"There are lots of permutations of the order of masks, but many typically end with a rubber modeling mask," she says, mentioning that Shangpree's rubber modeling masks are some of the most widely used masks in Korea's top spas.
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Now, see how face masks have evolved within the last 100 years:
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