My skin has been the texture of sadness lately.
Even after visiting the Onsen (natural hot spring) a few times, with all its "silkening water" magic, the skin on my face has reverted back to a dry, dull mess in the past couple weeks.
Plus I have the Cold That Will Not Die.
So as I'm apt to do, I was complaining to some friends of mine here in Yokohama about my wretched mug. One of them, a longtime resident of Japan, with lovely skin to boot, suggested a facial mask.
"Uh, duuuuuh," I snorted. "I've made my own concoctions with food, oils, and ego."
Laughing with her soft, non-flakey face-skin, she asked, "But have you tried a venom mask?"
She suggested that I get myself down to my local mega drugstore and pick up a couple inexpensive masks just to start with. "Don't go crazy. See if you like them. Of course, there are more luxurious [pricey], but for maintenance, the 95 yen ones [about $.81 USD] are great!"
I'm really picky about what goes on my fair visage, but looking at my friend's glowing skin I decided that, just this once, I'd put my trust in a "gimmicky" drugstore facial mask.
I mean I'm in Japan right? The mothership of bizarre beauty products. Who did I think I was not trying something new?
So one night, while buying cat litter (which is what my daily life has basically been reduced to) at the mega drugstore, I stopped by the beauty section and looked for the masks. There was a big display of over a dozen facial masks ranging from various venoms and essences to DIAMOND masks.
I decided to stay focused and go with a snake venom mask, a bee venom mask, and a snail essence mask (for good measure). The DIAMOND mask would have to wait. Each mask was made by a company called Pure Smile and, like my fresh-faced friend said, only cost approximately $.81 USD (unfortunately the masks are a little more costly when ordered online). I was set.
All week long, I've been putting various creature juices on my face. Even as I type these words, the snake venom mask is glued to me.
So for you, dear reader, here is how "Louise's Great Critter Goop Mask Experiment" went down. I'm generally not a beauty writer, so apologies if "critter goop" isn't in the lexicon.
And, okay, wait. Before I get too far into it, let me mention two things.
1. It's not easy to read the directions, indications, ingredients, etc. for a product when you can barely read the language. Almost everything on the packaging for all the masks was Japanese. I relied heavily on Google Translate, some English language websites, and the handful of characters I know. Needless to say, I went at this a little blind.
2. I'll admit that some of the ingredients were not what I personally prefer to use on my skin on a regular basis (methylparaben, for example), but I figured a few times wouldn't hurt. I say this to forewarn the readers out there who know about my DIY, "ingredients I can almost eat" leanings.
Blah blah blah, on with the show.
Mask #1: Pure Smile Bee Venom Essence Mask, for combination skin (order online)
I washed my face and ripped open the mask's package. The directions said to wash your face first (common sense) then apply, and smooth onto your face, leaving it on for 10 to 15 minutes.
The cloth-like mask was very moist (do you hate that word? I LOVE IT). A little slimy but not drippy, and was not easy to position on my face. But I'm not much of a facial mask aficionado, so it might just have been me. But it did smell really good. Lightly fragrant, even refreshing — like fake cucumbers, or how I remember Degree antiperspirant.
As the bee venom mask sat on my face, I noticed that my face started feeling cold and a little tingly. Not stinging, like I expected with you know, BEES, but more like a dull ache. The ache was concentrated especially on the thinner skinned parts of my face. Maybe I'm a weirdo, but I liked it.
Toward the end of my 15 minutes of venom therapy, my temples and forehead felt like I'd dabbed a little Bengay or Icy Hot on them, even a slight "headache-y" feeling.
When my time was up, I took off the mask, rinsed, then groped my face. Are you not supposed to do that?
My face felt slightly smoother, but nothing dramatic. And as the water evaporated, it definitely felt tighter. Too tight. Looking in the mirror, I didn't see much of a difference. Maybe an improvement in some of my skin's roughness, but nothing special.
However, I tend to have dry skin, and this mask was for combination skin and "tightening."
My face did continue to feel cold and a bit tingly after I removed the mask, and parts of my face looked a bit red and splotchy. Apparently, according to some reviews I'd read, that is normal. It disappeared within 10 minutes.
VERDICT: I wouldn't use it again, didn't really do anything special, but no harm no foul. Not the right mask for me.
Mask #2: Pure Smile Snail Essence Mask, for dry/sensitive skin (order online)
Giving myself a break from the venom, I decided to try the snail essence mask next.
Like before, I washed my face, patted it dry, and ripped open the mask packet. This one was decidedly more slimy, goopier, and a little more fragrant. Did they make it more fragrant to cover the snail smell? What do snails smell like?
Smoothing the mask down over my nose, around my lips and eyes, and across my forehead, I couldn't help but notice that this mask was also a bit stickier than the bee venom one. I guess that makes sense. While I couldn't get the surface of the mask all the way smoothed down, it "stuck" to my face better.
As the minutes ticked by, I realized my face was not tingling at all but was instead feeling very, very cold. While it was windy and chilly outside, I conducted all my "masking" toasty in front of my space heater. So I don't think it was the weather — it was the mask.
Instead of feeling like I'd dabbed Icy Hot my face, it felt like I'd slathered it all over. Snail powers?
When the 15 minutes were up, I peeled off the mask, washed my face, and commenced groping and inspecting. Not bad.
My face felt more even, and not at all inflamed, splotchy, or tight. The dull patches on my cheeks were even a little brighter. And do my eyes deceive me? Are the little lines around my eyes a tad softer? Damn it, I felt pretty!
VERDICT: I'd use this mask again. It was soothing, gentle, and right for my dry, sensitive skin. I did see a difference.
I spent the past few days wandering around Yokohama in the wind and cold, so my face was rough, dry, and up for a challenge. All the "snail powers" of the earlier mask had been undone, so the snake venom mask had its work cut out for it. I do believe it rose to the challenge.
I took it off earlier while writing this post, and I can't stop touching my face. I'm like, REALLY pretty now.
So here's how the snake venom mask went down.
Washed my face, patted dry, ripped open package. Carefully pulled out the mask. I don't know if this is a "cloth mask" thing, but the masks seemed quite delicate. They made my kindergarten fingers nervous.
Anyway, I put the mask on my face and smoothed it down. Like the other masks, it was moist and slimy, but not as sticky or goopy as the snail mask. The snake venom mask also had a stronger scent — not unpleasant, just more of that sweet, sweet antiperspirant-cucumber smell.
I didn't really "feel" much with the snake venom mask until the last few minutes. That's when I started to feel a gentle stinging sensation across my cheeks and forehead. Vaguely like that pinprick feeling I remember from getting an allergy test with needles when I was five. I kind of liked it then, I kind of like it now.
After 15 minutes, I begrudgingly took off the mask and rinsed my face. Even as I splashed warm water on my face, I knew something was different. My face felt "plumped" and silky.
Looking in the mirror, I was surprised to see a difference, too. Most of my skin's dullness was gone, and instead my face looked bright, smooth, and even a bit glowing. No splotches, no blotches, only a couple minutes of residual stinging-in-a-good-way.
When I pawed at my face, I was delighted to find that my skin felt soft and . . . bouncy? Am I making this up?
VERDICT: If you try only one of these "Critter Goop" masks, go for the snake venom — especially those of you with mummy skin, like me. This was definitely the most moisturizing. I'd for sure slap it on before a special occasion.
So there you have it. None of the effects of these masks were terribly long-lasting, but for a quick fix or a regularly scheduled skin pick-me-up, they're not so bad. Plus, if you're ever in Japan and want to stock up, you can't go wrong with the price.
Maybe next time I should save up for a live snail facial.