As a beauty editor, I’m guilty of using sheet masks to create ‘aesthetic’ beauty content. That’s how Pinterest teaches you and I fell for the trick. Also, it did work for the views I got on my reel where I appeared ghostly with a white sheet mask on and a cup of coffee. For all of you rushing to check my Instagram for the video, I archived it a long ago. And here’s why!
There’s no doubt that Korean beauty products and practices penetrated the Indian industry and sheet masks became the hot-sellers instantly. Go to any website and the number of offers on sheet masks is too tempting to miss. In addition to that, the idea of spending just a hundred bucks to spend a self-care Sunday is quite achievable for (almost) everyone. However, if the footprint the beauty industry leaves on the planet concerns you (as you must), you must know that sheet masks are just hogwash!
Before I go into details, I must state clearly that sheet masks are a bane to the environment and no fancy vocabulary can change the fact.
A couple of years ago I had a chance to meet Paula Begoun, owner of her eponymous skincare brand Paula’s Choice. I have my bias towards the brand; I researched it and spoke to a few experts to realise that there’s no other brand that does effective single-ingredient products, not even The Ordinary. I believe in what Paula says.
It was during her session when Paula mentioned the sheer wastage that sheet masks cause and all that for being the least effective skincare product. Well, if you think that putting a cotton sheet dipped in serum for 15 minutes effectively works on your skin issues, you’re wrong. Paula strongly suggested eliminating sheet masks from our skincare routine and here’s why it makes sense.
What’s Wrong with Sheet Masks?
Let’s approach it the way we handled the use of face wipes. Sheet masks, like face wipes, are single-use products that are tossed into a bin after 15 minutes of opening the packaging. The claim that these offer plumper skin and brighter complexion in that duration is too good to be true. Even if it’s true, the cost of it is not worth it.
Coming to the packaging, the term biodegradable mentioned isn’t for the plastic covering the sheet mask is housed in. It is usually used for the mask inside which itself isn’t planet-friendly. Therefore, the easy-to-tear plastic cover may stay on the planet for years. A few of these masks come with a plastic film which is to be peeled before use. The film is also made of plastic and is not biodegradable.
If we break down the making of a sheet mask, the details that emerge make matters worse. Before we get to the ingredients, let’s talk about the material. A sheet mask is made of cotton – which is the most common planet offender coming from the beauty and fashion industries. While the brands don’t (and are not required to) mention it on the packaging, the cotton used is often bleached and its production may use pesticides, if not checked and regulated.
Moreover, sheet masks may contain plastic polymers which break down into microplastic that end up in the ocean creating pollution and havoc for marine life. Giving some context here, these microplastic molecules may take up to 1000 years to decompose which is not even close to the sustainability promise these masks tout.
So, What’s the Deal with Sustainable Sheet Masks?
Firstly, the greenwashing here is audacious, and we must discuss it. There’s a difference between biodegradable and compostable and so, products tagged as sustainable may mean they are not fully biodegradable, recyclable or compostable which doesn’t serve the purpose completely. It is because everything will eventually biodegrade, but the duration is unknown.
Also, while the biodegradable claim may stand true for the mask, it might not mean the same for the packaging. Even with composting, though the time frame is robust, it needs specific conditions, like a few materials may decompose in industrial facilities while others may need natural conditions.
While beauty brands are finally starting the conversation around carbon footprints for which the global industry is responsible, there’s still a long way to go. While brands are trying to offer sustainable options for sheet masks, these require a huge tally of resources to be produced only to be used one time for a short duration. Does it still make for a mindful purchase for you?