Are Masking Brushes a Gimmick – or Are They a Game-Changer?

Once found only in professional treatments, these brushes, spatulas and more are now widely available for the average mask-obsessed shopper.

If you do a quick search “face masks” on Sephora.com, you’ll find more than 420 results. There’s no denying it: Skin-care treatments have become an increasingly prevalent part of the beauty industry – and likely, an increasingly important part of many people’s skin-care routines.

With the increasingly ubiquitous presence and popularity of the face mask, not to mention the rise of social media, formulas have gotten fancier and flashier. There are options that create “oxygenating” bubbles, that heat up or cool down, that peel off, that change colors, that rubberize and so on.

But the innovations and Insta-bait one-upmanship happening with face masks right now have also given rise to an even more curious trend: masking tools. These brushes, spatulas, cloths and sponges were once found only in spas for use in professional treatments. Yet recently, they’ve become widely available for the average mask-obsessed shopper, touted as necessary accoutrements for the optimal masking experience.

It’s a trend Danuta Mieloch, esthetician and founder of Rescue Spa, says she’s noticed take off recently. “I think there is a great trend in everyone becoming their own skin expert; there are definitely more tools available to be your own facialist,” she says. Sure, the tools themselves – as well as the notion of really being able to give yourself a spa-quality facial at home – have an understandable appeal. But are they more gimmick or game changer? Ahead, we explore this now-ubiquitous beauty tool category in pursuit of answering that very question.

“I strongly believe that hands are the best tools. There is nothing that will substitute the organic face-hands connection,” says Diana Yerkes, the lead esthetician at Rescue Spa NYC. “The warmth of one’s fingertips melts the product into the skin and allows for comfortable, more controlled application.” If you’re a minimalist and you’re not looking for a reason to clutter up your vanity, no need to rush out and acquire a bunch of new masking tools. But, Yerkes admits, in some cases, “some find spatulas and brushes are more user-friendly.”

One obvious pro to using a brush or spatula to apply a clay, charcoal or dense cream mask formula is that it’s a lot less messy. Not only do you not have to dig your fingers into the tub of product (which can contaminate the formula with bacteria and cause it to expire faster), but you also won’t be left trying to coax out the clay or charcoal that has inevitably lodged beneath your fingernails afterwards. “You definitely need spatulas in order not to contaminate your product. You should never stick your fingers directly into a jar,” says Mieloch. With a spatula or brush, you can easily scoop out the mask, smooth it over skin in a quick, even layer – less product waste! – rinse the tool more quickly than you likely would be able to apply the mask using just your hands.

Spatulas are also useful for mixing and applying modeling masks, which are notoriously messy. “These professional favorites are getting to be quite popular at home; the components of modeling mask are usually a solid and a liquid that one can mix in a bowl and then use the spatula for application purposes,” explains Yerkes. She asserts that this is the one mask formula that benefits most from the use of a tool, while she prefers to stick to hand application for all others.

Not all masking tools are created equal. If you do, in fact, want to try them out, Cara Peloso – an esthetician at CAP Beauty in New York City – suggests using a synthetic-hair fan brush rather than one with animal-based fibers. Aside from being cruelty-free, synthetic fibers are also less likely to harbor bacteria than natural ones, she says.

Other masking tools taking over beauty aisles of late include special cloths designed for removing the treatments gently and swiftly. And in fact, there’s some good rationale behind those, too: Masks that dry down or become stiff or sticky, such as clay-based formulas, can be tricky to remove via simply rinsing, but traditional nubby terrycloth wash cloths can be extremely harsh and overly sensitizing to skin. (See: our explanation of why you may want to avoid this type of physical exfoliation here.)

For those especially prone to inflammation and irritation, using a rough cloth to remove an already exfoliating product may be serious overkill, causing redness and dryness. But gentler muslin or fine-thread types of cloths created specifically for use in skin-care treatments are less likely to exacerbate these types of issues. “I like muslin cloths and advise my clients to use them for at-home treatments,” says Yerkes. “They’re gentler than a wash cloth and more appropriate for sensitive or reactive skin instances.”

The bottom line is that masks have become more interactive, and people have become more motivated to take the time to practice self-care and indulge in a little chill time by giving themselves quality at-home facials. And you know what? There’s really nothing wrong with that. For the most part, it’s a matter of personal preference, and it depends quite a bit on the specifics of your masking routine. So, if you want to add some tools to your at-home facial regime, you go ahead and do that, skin-care master! In the gallery below, we’ve rounded up 12 tools – including spatulas, brushes, sponges and cloths – that’ll help you make the most of your next masking experience.

May Lindstrom Facial Treatment Brush, $30, available here.

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