A beauty sleep that actually works

Feeling stressed and dry? There’s a face mask for that. Need something that doesn’t require you to sit idly for 20 minutes and lets you slip into bed right away? Come meet your new beauty staple: The overnight mask.

You may have seen these jars around under other names, such as sleeping packs, sleeping masks, or leave-on masks — it’s a product that makes your skin feel like its floating in a sensory-deprivation tank made of your favorite serums, and the results show for it too. Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologic surgeon in NYC, aptly describes them as “a supercharged night cream.”

Here’s everything you need to know about sleeping with your skin care on — or rather, how to pull a beauty overnighter.

What does an overnight mask do?

Designed to help ingredients penetrate more deeply as you sleep, an overnight mask works both as a barrier and sealant. A light coating of this product prevents dirt and dust from closing in on your pores and locks in your other active products, letting all the goodness work more effectively without evaporating away.

“It’s designed to last longer on your face, [be] more potent, and deliver strong results over the course of the night, like intense hydration, brightening, and calming,” says Dr. Engelman. Scientifically, there’s also a few reasons as to why an overnight mask works so beautifully.

First, studies have shown that skin cells replicate and reproduce during the night. Wearing an overnight mask is like giving that renewal process a helping hand. “When the body is in a deep, restful sleep, the skin’s metabolism increases and cell turnover and renewal escalates,” Dr. Engelman says, noting that this happens between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Secondly, it locks in moisture by sitting on top of your skin rather than getting immediately absorbed. “While you’re sleeping, the body’s hydration rebalances. Skin is able to recover moisture, while excess water... is processed for removal,” notes Dr. Engelman.

Hydration is an extremely important factor in the aging department, specifically with wrinkle development. As you age, your skin’s hydration levels will drop, meaning older adults may see more benefits with overnight masks than others. But it’s still a great add for anyone’s routine, especially in winter months as temperatures drop and our skin loses moisture.

Dr. Engelman suggests looking for a mask with peptides, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid. These ingredients help “support collagen production, which can smooth fine lines and wrinkles and lock in moisture for eight hours.”

While most overnight masks tend to be formulated on the gentle side, you still want to be careful with this trend as the product stays on your face for a long time. If your skin is super sensitive, ask your dermatologist for a direct recommendation.

How do you use an overnight mask?

Most people use overnight masks once or twice a week, and they’re not as messy as they might sound. You just apply them as you would a regular cream: Scoop a nickel-sized dollop, spread over your face, head to bed, and then wake up and wash off to reveal brighter, smoother skin. While it should be the last step of your night routine, be sure to apply it to clean skin and with clean hands (use a spoon to prevent contamination).

Waiting until about 30 minutes before bedtime will also help it absorb and prevent staining your pillowcase, though you can toss a towel down if you’re worried about things getting messy.

What’s the best overnight mask?

Two cult classics are Laniege’s Sleeping Mask and Glow Recipe’s watermelon mask. Laniege makes a few varieties of nighttime masks, but the Water Sleeping version is a gel product containing a variety of skin-soothing minerals (zinc, manganese, magnesium, sodium, calcium, and potassium) suspended in mineral water. Glow Recipe’s star product, the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, was sold out for months due to all the beauty-blog buzz. Currently back in stock at Sephora, it promises brightening and softening effects with the help of watermelon extract.

For even more hydration, Dr. Engelman recommends applying a hyaluronic acid serum topped with a hydrogel mask. “Hydrogel masks don’t dry up as quickly and therefore can stay longer on your face,” she says. They also “act as an occlusive mechanism to force product penetration.”

The popular Korean brand Dr. Jart is also known for their hydrogel masks, which contain varying active ingredients to target skin concerns such as hyperpigmentation, acne, and dryness.

For intense anti-aging benefits:Dr. Engelman suggests trying Conture Kinetic Revive Restorative Overnight Peel, an overnight peel designed for sensitive skin. It uses vitamins and plant stem cells to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

While an overnight mask may not be a time-turner in a jar (hey, nothing is!), it could prove a worthwhile addition to your skin care repertoire. You may have already starting seeing these jars pop up in their own special section at Sephora, Walgreens, or even on your Facebook ads — so is it just a fad? Unlikely.

This sleeping beauty is charming its way up the skin care ladder as more experts and beauty gurus swear by them — including Dr. Engelman, who recommends them to clients because of their efficacy. And with a history that can be solidly traced back to South Korean skin care (like so many of the other great advancements in the skin care world these days), overnight masks may become one of the most essential skin care investments ever.


Laura Barcella is an author and freelance writer currently based in Brooklyn. She’s written for the New York Times, RollingStone.com, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Week, VanityFair.com, and many more. Find her on Twitter.