Rubber Masks: Korea’s Biggest Skincare Secret, Revealed

Calling it now—these are the new sheet masks.

woman wearing blue face mask

Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images

Growing up in Seoul, about once a week, I used to go see Chung-Seonsaengnim (literal translation: teacher Chung; loose translation: skin-whispering guru Chung), our family facialist (that’s a thing in Korea—and it’s not just for the wealthy). More often than not, Chung-Seonsaengnim would use a “modeling mask;” she would pour an active ingredient she thought I needed that day into a bowl and mix it with a base that would produce a goopy substance.

After that, she would cover every exposed inch of my face—eyes included. The soothing sensation of the goop being gently basted onto my skin and the weight of the mask would lull me into 20 minutes of pure relaxation. While I unwound my mind, the goop would transform into a rubbery texture and rewind my skin. After the whole mask was peeled off in one fell swoop, my skin was left so intensely hydrated, nourished, supple, and downright radiant that I’d wonder where this version of my skin had been all my life. We asked dermatologist Rachel Maiman to share the benefits of rubber masks and why you should try them.

Keep reading to learn all about Korea’s secret to better skin, rubber masks.

Meet the Expert

Rachel Maiman, MD, is a board-eligible dermatologist at Marmur Medical. She specializes in cosmetic, medical, and pediatric dermatology.

What Are Rubber Masks?

When I would see Chung-Seonsaengnim, I would always ask for the “rubber mask.” This is a term I coined (these Korean masks are often marketed as “modeling masks”) and that we use at my K-beauty retailer, Peach and Lily. The classic treatment is used by estheticians around the world on their clients because of the results. In Korea, these modeling masks are ubiquitous among premium spa facials, more so than in other countries, because of the intense hydration this delivers, which is a big deal in Korea.

How Do Rubber Masks Work?

Here’s how it works, in one sentence: The rubber mask forms a non-reverse-osmosis occlusive barrier that causes a one-way forcing of the active ingredient into the skin, as the goop congeals into a single, rubbery sheet conformed to the contours of your face. It’s hard not to see instant and incredible results with this kind of product. "This rubber texture is due to marine algae, which works as a humectant by creating an evaporation-free barrier. This ensures whatever ingredients are contained within the mask are absorbed maximally by the skin," says Maiman.

The most effective rubber masks are high-grade, luxe products used and backed by estheticians. Usually, these won’t be ones that are mixed with water, because the powder can be a (minor) hazard if accidentally inhaled before it fully incorporates, resulting in unwanted irritation.

Masks that mix with water may defeat the purpose of the modeling mask, because they ultimately have a dehydrating effect: As the mask dries, moisture is pulled out of the skin and back into the mask. Therefore, rubber masks that are created by mixing powder with water need to be carefully monitored.

Higher-quality rubber masks that remain moist for up to 72 hours create a barrier to gently force all the active ingredients in the formula into the skin without the risk of drying it out. In Korea, these spa treatments can go for $50 to $100, and a big part of that cost is on the extremely high-end ingredients used to produce results beyond mere satisfaction, so be wary of cheap imitations.

How to Apply Rubber Masks

Application of a rubber mask is a two-step process. "For many of these masks, the active ingredients are actually contained within a serum that is applied to the skin first, allowing the rubber mask to 'lock' them in," says Maiman. As mentioned above, some include the actives in powder form, which must be mixed with water first. Apply the serum to the skin with the included applicator or a similar device that will help you get the goopy liquid evenly distributed. These formulas are usually left on for 10 to 15 minutes, but be sure to read the instructions for the individual mask for best practices.

How Often to Use Rubber Masks

As with most face masks, how often you should use them will depend on your skin's particular needs. "The composition of the mask dictates how frequently it should be used, and thus it is important to do your research on what ingredients are contained within it," notes Maiman. For example, you may use a charcoal mask once per day if you have acne-prone skin. "For those who are more combination, this frequency is likely going to be too drying."

In short, access your skin needs and make sure you understand the ingredients. "Rubber masks for conditions like hyperpigmentation or dullness can contain potentially irritating ingredients, which should be limited to once per week," says Maiman.

How to Find the Best Masks For Your Skin

Rubber face masks will have their active ingredients clearly labeled so you know what you're getting. "As a jumping off point, start by looking at the target audience for the mask in question," says Maiman. "If you're acne-prone, masks marketed as such are likely to contain the ingredients of benefit to you."

She suggests that acne-prone skin types should look for rubber masks containing charcoal, salicylic acid, and/or tea tree oil. Those prone to hyper-pigmentation should use formulas containing vitamin C, and soothing masks usually include hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to fight redness. "If you know you have sensitive skin, avoid masks that contain fragrances, as scents can often aggravate skin. Hydrating masks are your best bet and can be used regularly," adds Maiman.

Shop Our Picks:

Shangpree Gold Premium Modeling Mask $98
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Shangpree is an iconic, A-list-studded spa in Korea that sweeps up awards in Korean national government–hosted facialist competitions (yes, that’s a thing). After four years of research and development, Shangpree finally launched its long-awaited product line, which included—drumroll please—a modeling mask! Take their iconic spa treatment home rubber mask containing nourishing botanicals that firm and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots and hyper-pigmentation. Each pack comes with five masks.

rubber mask
Dr. Jart+ Cryo-Rubber Masks $14
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The Dr. Jart+ line of Cryo-Rubber Masks includes treatments aimed at hydration, hyper-pigmentation, soothing, and firming. It's a two-step system "which involves application of an ampoule of serum, which is then sealed with a humectant-rich algae-based mask," says Maiman. Unlike powder versions, there's no mixing necessary—less mess!

marine algae modeling mask
Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Hydrating Modeling Mask $48
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"The two-step gel and powder formula is based in medical-grade marine algae to lock in ingredients and prevent water loss," says Maiman. Each box comes with four treatments, including a mixing bowl and spatula. "The end result is smoother, more supple skin with improvement in the appearance of fine lines."

Up next, read about the 7 K-beauty masks that will give you glass skin.

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