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Why You Should Exfoliate Before You Use a Face Mask

Peel, mask, moisturize—maybe you should make this your new skincare mantra.

Okay, so I've jumped on to a new skincare bandwagon. Happens every week, NBD. This time I got inspired by my aesthetician, Anna, at Concepts Salon & Spa in Toronto. She does my pedis every month, and sometimes manis... and lately brows (!! but I'll talk about those later).

Weirdly, considering this post is all about skincare, she's never given me a facial, because I generally don't bother with them. But no matter! I still think her skincare advice is pretty much spot on.

Last time I was in, I decided to multi-task. I needed a pedicure. And I needed a source for a skincare article that I was working on for FLARE. So yes, I went there—I did an interview while she was clipping my toenails. (Sorry, fact-checkers! The background noise you're hearing on the tape is filing my feet.)

Have I totally grossed you out? No? Then keep reading—because I want to tell you about Anna's whole skincare philosophy. The first step is to...

Do a peel before you apply a face mask

Anna is very big on "masking" (don't you love making it a verb?). But she is adamant that you can't mask without proper exfoliation first. It makes sense when you think about it. How are all the ingredients in the mask going to penetrate if you've got a layer of dead skin cells on the surface blocking them?

So. If you're not a regular daily exfoliator—and you don't necessarily have to be, FYI—at least do it every time you apply a face mask. (Which should be once or twice a week.)

You can use a gentle scrub—Anna's absolute favourite is this Dermalogica one, which I have yet to try:

Or use one of those two-step peeling pad thingies, like this one from Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare:

Apparently when alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids are combined in one formula in low percentages, they're not as irritating as when they're on their own.

And now it's time for step two!

Apply your face mask

Do you mask? I don't mask nearly enough. But I vow to change, damnnit! Anna makes me a believer. She calls masks "food for the skin," and says they're absolutely essential for keeping the skin plump and well-hydrated. Let me give this next point its own line... and a bold and an underline for good measure.

Hydration is KEY.

It's key because you can use all the high-tech anti-aging ingredients in the world, but your skin is still going to look like crap if it's dehydrated. You know all those before and after photos that every skincare company in the world uses to demonstrate the efficacy of their products? Yeah, the befores are all taken sans moisturizer. OF COURSE the cream is going to make the testers' complexions look way better. Dry skin shows more wrinkles! So even just by moisturizing well, you're anti-aging yourself already. Yay!

So like I said, this masking business should happen one or two times a week.

And you should have in your rotation a few different options. Such as a hyaluronic acid-based one, for hydration. My go-to is SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Masque:

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Anna also says you should have a multivitamin mask. Of course, when anyone says that you automatically think of Dermalogica's power mask:

But I also have Masque No. 1 from Yonka and it's equally rich and creamy, if not expressly labelled as "multivitamin."

Both the Dermalogica and the Yonka are fantastic for deep moisturization, repair and just generally giving you that spa glow.

You may also want to consider other masks for your mask wardrobe: clarifying, cloth, clay, calming, etc. (What's with all the c words? I'm not sure.) Here are some of my favourite cloth (sheet) masks.

And now it's time to...

Moisture after your mask

This isn't just for post-masking, it's for every day, twice a day. And there are actually two parts to it.

The first is using a serum. They're only my favourite skincare category. I think of them like little tiny magical potions that I can mix 'n match depending on my skin's needs. Because they're in a liquid—not cream—format, they're able to pack a punch: the molecules are smaller and therefore better able to penetrate into the skin to do their good work.

I don't go a day without my SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF, of course (which is not for moisturizing but warding off free radicals).

Lately I've also been layering on a hyaluronic acid serum, such as Pure + Simple's Collagen Elastin Serum:

After you let your serum sink in (ideally wait 10 minutes), put on a moisturizer. The function of a moisturizer is to hydrate, yes, but it's not going to penetrate anywhere near as much as a serum. It's more to sit on top and protect the skin, along with other functions like controlling shine, balancing your pH, repairing the skin barrier, soothing redness or whatever—depending on what you buy.

Right now, because of the warm weather, I'm using this lightweight gel moisturizer from Boscia:

It's actually black, which is pretty cool in itself (obvi it disappears once you rub it in). And it's just enough to moisturize underneath your sunscreen, which you should most definitely be applying on top after you do all of this.

Oh! And if you REALLY want to supercharge this routine, add in the facial misting that I talked about in this post.

Do you PMM? (It's like GTL, but cooler.)

What masks do you keep in your rotation?

Are you on board with hylauronic acid as, like, the greatest moisturizing ingredient evah?