The Environmental Dangers of Sheet Masks

Nothing says self-care quite like a peaceful night in.

With a glass of wine in hand and your favorite show playing, many women enjoy rounding out a relaxing evening with a face mask. There’s something truly invigorating about lifting the dead toxins from your skin and basking in the joy of makeup-free skin. A good face mask leaves your face feeling clean and refreshed, and for that reason many are willing to invest in the latest products marketed to do just that. Rarely, though, do face mask users consider the impact of such merchandise on the environment.

Sheet masks—thin fabrics treated with serums—are a particular nemesis to the health of our environment. In the past few years, sheet masks have taken the skin care market by storm and grown in popularity thanks to the beauty outlets and social media platforms featuring them. The products come in a range of shapes and sizes, with some covering the entire face while others are specified for spot treatments under the eyes. Nonetheless, the celebrity devotion to sheet masks has spilled over to mainstream consumers, and now these items can be found on the shelves of any drugstore or shopping center.

Like any phenomenon, the increased attention on this cultural craze has led to studies and reviews of its impact on other parts of life. With the EPA reporting that roughly 77.9 million tons of packaging waste is generated annually, it’s obvious that the plastic used in containing sheet masks is contributing to the problem. As opposed to the containers used for items like charcoal or clay masks, sheet masks are often individually wrapped in plastic, creating a great deal of excess.

One specific drawback of sheet masks is, in fact, their intended design as single-use products. While “mud” masks can wash away, sheet masks are often made of 100 percent cotton. While this is good news for composting, many consumers are unsure of whether or not their products can be composted due to serums, and if so, where to take them for disposal if they lack a personal compost. In turn, the masks most often end up in the garbage.

The pouches that hold the facemasks further contain a combination of aluminum and plastic, which cannot typically be recycled in municipal recycling systems. Once again, these items end up in landfills or in the way of wildlife, where they can take hundreds of years to decompose.

Senior resource specialist of food and agriculture at the National Resources Defense Council, Darby Hoover, says that consumers should look for items that reduce the amount of packaging or that are made of recyclable/recycled materials.

“I think a big point to make is what we want from the manufacturers is [for them] to be very transparent on the packaging, about what is included, what the actual ingredients are, whether it can be recycled or composted,” she explains. “It’s very important to not only get that information from the manufacturer but to match it with what your city’s guidelines are for how to responsibly recycle or compost.”

For those that find it difficult to completely give up their use of sheet masks, there are steps that can be taken to reduce your ecological footprint. Purchasing mask packs or items with resealable packaging is one option. Supporting sustainable beauty brands is another important step. Brands like E Nature, RE:P, and Innisfree all engage in some kind of environmentally-conscious production or packaging. TerraCycle also makes it easier for consumers to find an outlet for difficult-to-recycle items.

Becoming a more a more conscious consumer is something we should all strive for in every facet of our lives, and those who participate in the beauty industry have an additional duty to be diligent in our consumption of these items. Adopting sustainable beauty practices is an important path to take in being mindful of our environment, and reducing waste is something we can certainly achieve—one face mask at a time.