Masks are always a fun treat and sometimes a great treatment. The Masque Bar by Look Beauty Brightening Sheet Mask ($9.99, target.com) is supposed to be a brightening mask — i.e. one that helps even out skin tone and lessens hyperpigmentation — without the use of hydroquinone.
While this mask has it’s benefits and does some mild evening out, it won’t have the same effect as superstar hydroquinone. It contains licorice, which inhibits tyrosinase. But its main ingredients are mainly alpha-hydroxy acids, which may or may not inhibit tyrosinase, but definitely promote cell turnover. However, because these are often plant extracts and not, say, glycolic or lactic acid, they aren’t as potent as other products might be.
Overall, this mask has beneficial ingredients that could serve as a great refresher, but don’t expect it to do the same serious work as products with more scientifically-proven and effective ingredients.
Bilberry Extract: Does it Lighten Skin like Bearberry?
Bilberry, or vaccinium myrtillus, extract comes from shrubs that sprout edible indigo berries that look similar to blueberries. While it’s been used to treat skin conditions, there’s relatively little evidence to support it (Medline Plus). This berry appeared in a 2003 patent filed by Avon Products, Inc., claiming that a composition including this can be used for skin lightening; however, their formulation’s main berry is bearberry. Bearberry contains arbutin in its leaves, which is a derivative of well-known skin lightening agent hydroquinone (Journal of Investigative Dermatology). Reports vary on whether arbutin can be found in bilberry leaves (Biochemical Systematics and Ecology).
While it doesn’t contain arbutin (or at least hasn’t been proven to), bilberry extract is an alpha-hydroxy acid. In certain concentrations with other extract, bilberry can help promote cell turnover and cell renewal (International Journal of Cosmetic Science).
It also contains high levels of phenolic compounds, notably: hydroxycinnamic acids, flavenols, catchins, and proanthocyanidins (Journal of Chemical Ecology). While they don’t have quite as much antioxidant activity as blueberry skins, bilberries do have strong antiradical activitiy (Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica).
Sugar Cane Extract: An Alpha-Hydroxy Acid
Sugar cane is considered an alpha-hydroxy acid, and is, in fact, what glycolic acid is derived from. In fact, glycolic acid can makeup between 75-80% of sugar cane’s acidity (Archive of Microbiology). But that doesn’t mean sugar cane extract is as potent as glycolic acid. It’s not nearly as well studied, and isn’t considered as potent.
This extract has other benefits, however. A 2008 study in Food Chemistry found that sugar cane juice was a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger. The study also discovered that it might have some DNA protective effects against radiation-induced damage.
Licorice Extract: Skin Lightening
Licorice root extract contains glabridin, which is most likely the component that makes licorice extract similar to hydroquinone in its tyrosinase-interfering properties (Pigment Cell Research). It does this without the mediation of DNA sythesis.
Citrus Fruit Extract: The Good and the Bad
Citrus fruit extract, essentially lemon extract’s inclusion effects how you should use it. On the one hand, citrus oils work to exfoliate the skin and reduce tyrosinase, which helps to even out skin tone (Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin). This, along with orange extract, is a powerful vitamin-C delivering antioxidant as well.
But here’s the bad. Citrus oils can be photo-sensitizing, meaning they make your skin more sensitive to the sun, particularly when oxidized (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology). They can also be irritating, causing contact dermatitis in some people (Contact Dermatitis).
The reason it might dictate how you use the mask is that products that thin the skin or sensitize it to the sun are best to use at night. So, this is better as a nighttime treatment than a morning wakeup or an afternoon pick-me-up.
Masque Bar by Look Beauty Brightening Sheet Mask is probably a nice refresher, but if you need serious treatment, this isn’t the mask for you. The extracts are forms of alpha-hydroxy acid, but not the more powerfully and well-researched ones, such as glycolic and lactic acid. The licorice extract does inhibit tyrosinase, but nothing in this mask will compare to more serious hyperpigmentation treatments. While this mask might be luxurious and give your skin a bit of a boost, it’s not going to do the heavy-lifting of more serious cosmetic preparations for brightening.