Are sheet masks bad for the environment – and do we have to give them up?

1 November 2019
By Fashion Quarterly

Woman at home spa with sheet mask and cucumbers on her closed eyes
With sales at an all-time high, the Insta beauty favourite is going strong – but may pose a threat to the planet…

Face masks are such a big part of a solo night in that you can barely scroll through your Instagram feed without seeing a new one on trial. But while they are an easy, convenient and affordable route to self care, like wet wipes and plastic straws, sheet masks aren’t as easily disposable as you think – and their effect on the environment is coming under new scrutiny.

Susan Stevens, founder and CEO of Made With Respect, a global platform that promotes sustainable brands, spoke out about the threat they pose. Speaking to Grazia UK, she explains: “they are made to use once and throw out, creating a lot of unnecessary waste; there’s a pouch, the mask and in some cases the mask is wrapped in a plastic sheet, too. Then there are the masks themselves. If a sheet mask is produced using a synthetic material like nylon, it cannot be composted.”

The waste either ends up on landfill, where the toxic chemicals from it can leak into the soil and produce methane as they break down, contributing to global warming, or as Susan explains, “Small toxic pieces of microplastic and their way into our food chain, the water we drink, the air we breathe.”

Yes, sadly for the beauty obsessives among us, ‘single-use plastic’ refers to more than just that extra layer of cellophane over our apples. Though we might sigh sadly each time we scrunch that film into the bin, and vow to swap supermarkets for our local greengrocer, ripping into a plastic wrapper and whacking on a full sheet of serum-laden nylon has so far remained a guilt-free event for many of us. In fact, the face mask market is expected to grow to over $50 billion by 2025, according to Susan, who says this is why she’s warning of the “considerable impact on the environment and the health of our planet”.

What is it then about sheet masks that has such a hold on us? Recent years have seen the likes of Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga and Chrissy Teigen selfie the hell out of them via Instagram. But, while that Hannibal Lecter look never fails to entertain, there’s more substance behind the concept than their like-generating abilities.

These masks are normally comprised of a sheet soaked in a concentrated serum, aimed at hydrating and nourishing. The serum is made watery to allow it to penetrate into the deeper layers of skin, and the function of the sheet is to prevent the evaporation of ingredients before they have had time to work their magic. The results do generally out-perform those of an everyday serum or an old-school tub of face mask, when it comes to hydrating in a short amount of time, which explains a reluctance to do away with them altogether.

There are many biodegradable alternatives in existence – so the best thing to do if you’re looking to keep things sustainable, is do your research.

This article originally appeared on Grazia UK.

Words: Annie Vischer
Photos: Getty Images


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