Behind the Mask
Early in 2014, L’Oréal acquired the Chinese skincare company Magic Holdings for $840 million. Best known for its facial masks, Magic Holdings had just captured an impressive 26 percent share of the sheet mask category in China, and the acquisition shined a light on a quiet transformation that has been occurring the last several years with the way sheet masks are produced, marketed, and perceived. For spa professionals, there are opportunities to incorporate higher-end sheet masks as add-ons to facial services and to retail these masks as at-home maintenance heroes for the ever-growing do-it-yourself (DIY) market.
Sheet Mask Simplicity
Facial sheet masks have long been a staple of Asian cultures and are becoming increasingly popular in beauty regimens everywhere, because sheet masks are extremely convenient to use and one of the quickest ways to restore radiance to dull, tired skin. U.S retailers from Nordstrom to Sephora to Target now offer facial sheet mask lines of varying quality and price points, signaling that “practical luxuries” like masks are well suited for recessionary times.
Practical is an appropriate descriptor for sheet masks, as they truly offer no-mess, no-fuss skincare. Mask fabrics are pre-cut and infused with serums containing skincare actives formulated to treat specific concerns, from replenishing moisture to calming sensitive skin to diminishing dark spots. The spectrum of functions that today’s masks support is wide, but their application remains basic. They are ready to apply right out of the package—no activators or cleanup necessary.
Besides delivering targeted skincare benefits, sheet masks have strong secondary attributes that appeal to time-starved consumers. In general, it takes 20 minutes for sheet masks to transfer ingredients to the epidermis, and this healthy dose of pampering alleviates stress and is a sound wellness practice. Masks also make excellent travel companions, perfect for delivering a beauty boost on a business trip or vacation and are especially handy before life’s red carpet moments.
The fabrics used for sheet masks may vary significantly in quality. The most common and least expensive fabrics are mass manufactured from coarse fibers. More advanced masks are available with superfine fibers produced through biotechnology processes. To appreciate this gap in finished quality, think of textiles. A low-end mask is like a cotton dress, a high-end mask is like a silk dress. Learn about four basic mask types spa guests may soon be asking about:
- Fiber: Fiber masks feature a non-woven fabric with a coarse texture that feels and behaves like paper. They are inexpensive and have a limited capacity to replenish moisture and transfer ingredients. Fiber masks evaporate quickly, and their paper-like texture lacks the contouring to adhere well for more than a few minutes. Basic fiber masks populate drugstores and pharmacies, often retailing in the $2 to $4 range, and are a carryover from the category’s simplistic origins.
- Pulp: One rung higher on the quality and price ladder ($6 to $8) are masks made from pulp materials, such as rayon cellulose. Pulp masks have a finer texture than fiber and better absorption properties, but they are also prone to adherence and moisture loss during application. Like fiber, pulp masks do not permit movement when worn. Gaps between mask fabric and skin surface are common.
- Hydro-Gel: A recent category addition is hydro-gel. The name is derived from its chemical production process, which blends multiple water-soluble polymers to form a fabric with a gel consistency. Hydro-gel facial masks are typically packaged as two-part systems, with top and bottom halves applied separately. The fabric outperforms its fiber and pulp counterparts in adherence and ingredient transference but can be delicate to handle. These masks retail in the $10 range.
- Bio Cellulose: As its name implies, bio cellulose is an all-natural medium (woven by cultured bacteria). The material was developed initially for medical applications, where its capacity to maintain moisture and bind to skin was well suited to heal wounds and treat burns. Cosmetic developers have been drawn to the therapeutic properties of bio cellulose, and today, masks featuring this material are more commonplace. A bio cellulose fabric feels like a cool, moist gel, but its underlying structure is resilient. Bio cellulose masks (starting at $12) permit freedom of movement when worn.
In the past, many spas relied on masks made of basic cotton, a back-bar staple purchased in bulk and applied with a variety of serums. However, today’s higher-end sheet masks offer viable time-saving alternatives on the strength of their more advanced fabrics and ingredients. It is common to find sheet mask formulations featuring premium anti-aging ingredients like Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) and palmitoyl pentapeptide-4, or moisturizing agents like hyaluronic acid and ceramide. These pre-dosed premium sheet masks are ready for application in less than 30 seconds.
Spa professionals looking to expand their sheet mask offerings should take a few prudent steps. First, identify vendors with mask lines that prioritize fabric purity, as clients trust that your product selections have been thoroughly vetted. Second, certify that meaningful profit is achievable. Determine smart price points for introducing these specialty masks as add-ons to facial services, and create value by bundling the service with retail box sets of masks. Third, become evangelists. Encourage clients to use premium treatment masks weekly, not as substitutes for spa services but as smart extensions that optimize results. Interestingly, the path to new revenue is also open to salons. Clients receiving manicures and pedicures are perfect candidates to experience the indulgent pampering and transformative results of a premium sheet mask application.
Spas, salons, and makeup studios around the world report success with incorporating sheet masks into services and offering them at retail. Catriona McMorris, owner of Reveal Makeup and Salon Training Studios (Tullamore, Ireland), says bio cellulose masks have been a godsend when it comes to cosmetics applications. “As makeup artists, we strive for radiant skin,” she says. “The masks steer things in the right direction, supplying fantastic hydration and a gorgeous glow. Makeup glides on smoothly and looks flawless. Spa customers who experience these masks invariably ask about DIY use.”
Sheet masks are also effective in creating a red carpet glow, says Stacy Cox, owner of Pampered People (Los Angeles). “I have prepped my share of actresses for red carpet moments, and I have concocted my share of collagen-mask cocktails,” she says. “Bio cellulose masks simplify set-up and deliver quality results. Clients love them for home use because they deliver instant gratification. Tossing a sheet mask in a travel bag is like carrying insurance for your complexion.”
Additionally, sheet masks are an ideal post-treatment add-on to a more intensive medical spa service, such as a peel or microdermabrasion, as well as a homecare solution following laser and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) procedures. “We’re members of the Society of Plastic Surgical Skin Care Specialists, so adherence to safety and quality trumps all,” says Chotsie Adney, president of Advanced Aesthetics (Little Rock, AR). “I was drawn to the purity profile of bio cellulose and its therapeutic properties. The hydrating and calming effects of the masks definitely assist with the healing and recovery process for medical spa services.”
The changing face of sheet masks deserves a fresh look from today’s spa and medical spa professionals. With their advanced fabrics, premium ingredients, and increasing popularity, these niche treatments offer appealing add-on and retail opportunities.—Lou Martelli