What the fudge are occlusives and sleeping packs and masks?

The other day I was sitting down to write my review of the Cosrx ultimate nourishing rice overnight spa mask and realized I can't really write the review without explaining what the heck a sleeping mask is. And if I'm talking about sleeping masks I need to chat about occlusives. In the end I decided to dedicate a whole 'nother post to the two (aka this post.)

I've been toying with the idea of starting as series on skincare basics but wasn't sure if I had the proper... credentials for the job. I'm not a dermatologist or aesthetician, just a girl who likes spending way too much time reading about beauty things on the internet. Then again, this is a blog not a dermatology journal so I can publish whatever the fudge I want. I may not be an expert but I have spent a considerable amount of time reading about the topic to have a solid enough understanding to share it with y'all. Plus, I remembered my high school history teacher who used to say if you have knowledge but decide not to share it, you're being selfish.

So here's my first post in my "what the fudge" series! At the moment I think it will focus on explaining skincare basics in an easily approachable manner. The next post in the series will probably be on cleansing balms or micellar waters-- I haven't decided.

I should also note that I'm absolutely open to constructive criticism! If you find something I'm saying to be incorrect or confusing, please feel free to correct me and share your knowledge ๐Ÿ˜„

What are occlusives?
I really wanted to put in a definition (aka one of the things they tell you not to do in your high school writing classes) but alas, does not have a proper definition for skincare occlusives.

Basically occlusives help in preventing water from evaporating from your skin-- fancy people scientists call it transepidermal water loss. If you have a damaged skin barrier or dehydrated skin (like I do) in particular, occlusives can aid in keeping your face nice and plump.

How do they work?
The sciencey explanation for how occlusives work is that they form a hydrophobic layer on top of your skin trapping the moisture in.

The best explanation of occlusives I've seen includes comparing it to plastic wrap you would use on food (in fact people actually use plastic wrap on other parts of their body as occlusive dressing!)

So let's say you've got two balls of dough-- ball A is wrapped in saran wrap and ball B isn't. If you let them sit out on your counter for two hours you'll come back to two different doughs. Thanks to the saran wrap, which worked as an occlusive, the moisture in the ball A was retained so it stayed moist and pliant ๐Ÿ’ฆ. On the other hand, the lack of saran wrap/ an occlusive meant that some of the moisture from ball B evaporated changing its texture to a crumbly mess. (Not to say that your skin will turn into a crumbly mess if you don't use occlusives. Skin isn't quite as predictable as dough.)

What are occlusive agents/ ingredients?
Petrolatum, mineral oil, and dimethicone seem to be the three most universally agreed upon occlusive ingredients. After that, things start to get a little fuzzy. I generally find the information found on the Asian Beauty subreddit trustworthy and according to this post on the sub, some other occlusive agents include fatty alcohols (like cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol), beeswax, lanolin, olive oil, rice bran oil, and shea butter.

What are sleeping masks/ packs?
A sleeping mask or pack (they're the same thing) is a gel or cream that's meant to lock in all the layers (essence, serum, ampoule, emulsion, moisturizer etc.) you applied on your face and prevent moisture loss when you're dead to the world. So a good sleeping mask should include at least one occlusive ingredient pretty high up on the ingredient list.

Some sleeping masks go over and beyond and offer other benefits like brightening, fighting acne, etc.

When in your routine do you use a sleeping mask?
Aaaaall the way at the end. Since they're meant to lock in all your shit, they go after your moisturizer or whatever your last skincare step is. If you have oily or combination skin, you may be able to skip a moisturizer all together and only use a sleeping mask. It all depends on your skin's needs.

Do you need to use a sleeping mask?
Nope! To be honest, I don't think everyone needs to use any particular skincare item. Would it be nice if everyone used a facial cleanser and sunscreen? Sure. But nobody really needs to.

While sleeping masks are awesome at locking all your layers down, they aren't necessary. These days many moisturizers include occlusive agents like dimethicone and fatty alcohols and depending on your skin's needs, that may be enough for you

If you have dry or dehydrated skin sleeping masks still aren't a necessary step, but they are helpful. For instance I personally like using more watery essences and moisturizers and locking it all in with a sleeping pack. If I use a heavier moisturizer my face tends to feel oily and can sometimes even get irritated. By layering watery layers and a sleeping pack, I'm able to properly hydrate and moisturize my face without getting the greasy feeling.

What are some examples of sleeping packs?
The first sleeping pack I ever bought was the Laneige water sleeping mask (also available in this mini kit for $5) and I would say it's one of the most popular options. Other Korean options to try out are the Too Cool for School pumpkin sleeping pack, Dr. Jart water max sleeping mask, and Cosrx ultimate nourishing rice overnight spa mask (PR gift from Mikaela Beauty.)

And since K-beauty has an ever-growing influence on the Western beauty industry, it's no shocker that Western brands are starting to come out with sleeping packs as well. Some of the ones I have in my stash are the Farmacy Beauty sleep tight firming night balm, Algenist splash absolute hydration replenishing sleeping pack (you can get this cute travel size version here), and the Sephora Collection sleeping masks (these come in a variety of flavors!)

Note: I haven't tried everything in my stash yet so I can't comment on all of them ๐Ÿ™ˆ

If you don't have the budget for a dedicated sleeping mask, you can always use plain old Vaseline. It's the OG occlusive (and the best at preventing water loss!) It isn't the most elegant of options because it can easily rub off onto your bedding but it will still get the job done, albeit a bit messily. Also be sure to patch test it first to make sure it doesn't irritate your skin (it irritates mine ๐Ÿ˜“.) Another affordable option is Aquaphor. It won't be as occlusive as Vaseline but it will definitely be more pleasant on your skin.

Sources & Further Reading
If you're interested in learning more, here are the sources I used for this post:
-Here's a blog post by a cosmetic chemist on the chemistry behind transepidermal water loss. She also has a post talking about occlusives.
-This post from The Beauty Brains discusses different types of moisturizers, including occlusives.
-Here's the reddit thread I referenced up above when chatting about occlusives.
-And last but not least here's the site that compared occlusives to saran wrap.

I hope you liked this post and found it helpful! If you have any suggestions or questions, I would love to hear them ๐Ÿ˜Š

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P.s if you didn't know I'm currently doing a giveaway over on Instagram (@sharmtoaster.) Coincidentally, a sleeping mask is one of the prizes ๐Ÿ˜Ž

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