Photo: Fernando Milani

Futuristic formulas that lift off with a magnet, gels that fizz and foam, creams that literally warm up your complexion—face masks have evolved from the green goo you smeared on at sleepovers or only ever saw at the spa. Not sure which is best for you? We’ve broken them down by type...

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The superstar of Korean beauty imports is a single-use, thin fabric mask you spread over your face Phantom of the Opera–style. “The sheet, which has been doused in serum, creates an occlusive shield on skin, allowing active ingredients to penetrate deeply without evaporating,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller. For the best results, fellow cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson recommends masks made of biocellulose, which clings to skin to form the tightest seal.

Best for: Discolored, oily, dull, or dry skin (so, almost everyone).

Try: Rituals Moisture Boost Bio-Cellulose Sheet Mask ($15;

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Calling all glow-getters! Exfoliating masks are formulated with potent enzymes or fruit and plant extracts that dissolve the sticky bonds between dulling dead skin cells so you can slough them off easily and gently. Go for one that has enzymes from pumpkin, pomegranate, or the pineapple-derived bromelain—or natural alpha hydroxy acids like apple or grapefruit extract, Wilson says.

Best for: Complexions that have lost their luster.

Try: Tatcha Violet-C Radiance Mask ($68;

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Has your dry skin reached DEFCON levels? Gels are incredibly lightweight but deliver just as much hydration as a rich cream, thanks to their high water content. Your best bet is one that contains a mix of mighty moisturizers like hyaluronic acid and glycerin and soothers such as rose, cucumber, or aloe vera.

Best for: Dry, sensitive types.

Try: Lancôme Absolue Precious Cells Nourishing & Revitalizing Rose Mask ($175;

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You know them. Using refined versions of the natural mineral—look for kaolin or bentonite—clay (or mud) masks draw out dirt and impurities from pores and absorb excess oil from the skin’s surface, says Schueller. Modern formulas often come with bonuses: Chemists are now adding exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids and anti-inflammatories for a deeper yet gentle clean. These masks are even great for those fighting aging and pimples. As clay dries, it tightens the skin (your face will feel shrink-wrapped— embrace it!), temporarily softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles even after it’s washed away.

Best for: Oily or acne-prone skin.

Try: Sephora Collection Blue Clay Mask ($8;

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Turn up the heat with a warming mask. The mineral zeolite, formed from volcanic rocks and ash, or a chemical like magnesium sulfate produces an exothermic (translation: heat-generating) response when applied to wet skin. The increased temperature causes skin to swell and become more pliable, so active ingredients like spot-fighting salicylic acid can penetrate more efficiently, Wilson says. Plus, it feels so cozy on chilly days.

Best for: Treating congested pores, oiliness, or dry skin.

Try: Try: Christie Brinkley Authentic Skincare Thermal Detox Warming Cleansing Mask ($49;

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Sure, these contain anti-agers that can smooth and brighten, plus ingredients to attract and entrap impurities and excess oil. But the real magic? They’re made with iron particles, so when it’s time to take off your mask, you glide a small magnet over your face and the creamy gray formula instantly latches on—no rinsing required. It’s a satisfying home science experiment; just try to avoid the temptation to do it over and over (and over) again.

Best for: Mature skin that’s also a little on the oily side.

Try: Dr. Brandt Skincare Magnetight Age-Defier ($75;

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The ultimate transformers, these two-step treatments (also called modeling masks) start as a powder containing algin, a derivative of brown algae. Mix it with water or an accompanying gel and the formula congeals, morphing into a rubberlike layer. As the mask dries, it creates a seal, driving moisturizing molecules into dehydrated skin. After 15 or 20 minutes, you can revel in peeling it off, revealing softer and plumper skin.

Best for: Death Valley–level dryness.

Try: Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Hydrating Modeling Mask ($46 for four treatments;

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Consider this a souped-up version of your night cream. “These masks contain many of the same active ingredients as your average night moisturizer, but often at the highest concentration,” says Wilson. And because the superrich, no-rinse formulas envelop your skin in a thick layer that lasts all night (no, they won’t grease up your pillow), ingredients can penetrate more deeply.

Best for: Upping skin’s moisture and minimizing fine lines.

Try: Skinfix Calm & Repair Sleeping Mask ($65;

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You get all the fun of rubber masks plus radiance-boosting exfoliation. A lightweight gel-like formula—no mixing required—dries to a translucent film that hydrates and lifts away dead skin cells as you remove it, leaving behind soft-as-a-feather skin. For maximized sloughing, try a treatment with oil-absorbing clay and charcoal, or chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid.

Best for: Skin that needs a moisture or radiance boost.

Try: GlamGlow GravityMud Firming Treatment ($69;

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Who doesn’t love bubbles? When applied to skin, these masks (also called oxygenating) cover your face with carbonated suds. It’s like you’ve dunked your head in a frothy bath. But the delightful fizz—caused by chemicals reacting with oxygen—doesn’t actually do much to pull dirt and impurities out of your pores, warns Wilson. Any clarifying result is more likely caused by cleansing ingredients or add-ons like oil-absorbing kaolin and bentonite or acne-fighting sulfur.

Best for: Oily skin types or urban dwellers who need a good detox.

Try: Clinique Pep-Start Double Bubble Purifying Mask ($24.50;

Next: Check your skin smarts. Here are six things you need to do to get the most out of any mask.