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Splash Masks: South Korea’s Latest Beauty Import

Masks have a new form factor — concentrated, liquid splash masks that touch skin for seconds — and it's about to hit the U.S. market.

Masks have a new form factor — and it’s gearing up to hit the U.S. market.

Splash masks are liquid face masks designed to reduce treatment time to seconds. And like BB Creams, whitening products and most recently, antipollution skin care, the trend hails from South Korea.

The liquid-based formulas — which have a much quicker application process than their sheet mask counterparts that have dominated the category for the past few years — are intended to touch the skin for just 15 to 30 seconds. Designed for use in the shower, users are supposed to pat the treatment all over their faces and then rinse or pat their faces with water.

Masks as a category have experienced meaningful growth as of late. Just ask Fabrizio Freda, chief executive officer of The Estée Lauder Cos., who said in the company’s earnings call in May that face masks are among the most successful subcategories within skin care.

“There are different forms, and within each form there are different benefits, so mask forms and mask benefits are going to be the base of pretty intense innovation in the years to come,” Freda said, pointing to the success of the company’s Origins and Estée Lauder sheet masks. Lauder’s two-part Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery Power Foil Mask, which came out earlier this year, contains hyaluronic acid, the brand’s advanced night repair serum and the patented ChronoluxCB.

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The latest iteration of the masks phenomenon is the newly named splash masks. While many other masks target the more mature customer (in other words, those over age 40), the splash masks sub-category is less about targeting an age demographic and more about time. They are designed for those looking to cut the time of their beauty routine, while still reaping the benefits of a highly concentrated treatment that can be done at home. The latter remains the allure of the mask trend, which according to NPD, did almost $120 million in sales in 2015.

Take the Blithe Patting Splash Mask, billed as a treatment that condenses a 20-minute facial ritual into a 15-second one. It’s made from lactic acid and botanical extracts and is inspired by the centuries-old tradition of women in Korean bathhouses splashing botanical and rice-infused water on their faces.

The $48 masks, which hit in April and will be available in Sephora stores later this year, come in three different treatments: Rejuvinating Purple Berry with antioxidant-rich berries to brighten skin; Energizing Citrus & Honey with citrus fruit extracts to give skin a glow, and Soothing & Healing Green Tea, a tea tree leaf oil-infused formula that soothes irritated skin.

While not sold Stateside yet, other Korean brands like Benenet, Rere and SoNatural have introduced splash masks as well, hoping to appeal to busy consumers in a rush.

Algenist launched its own version of a splash mask last month, the Splash Absolute Hydration Replenishing Emulsion. Although consumers don’t wash off the $54 treatment after patting on, an algalyte complex — formulated from red microalgae polysaccharide and electrolytes — works with alguronic acid to mimic the effects of a mask to increase hydration and plump skin.

Andy Cho, ceo of Blithe, called these treatments the next generation in masking.

“Customers are more demanding than ever and results and convenience are nonnegotiables,” she said. And because of the short time the product touches the face, patting and splashing help with quick absorption.

Some are skeptical of a splash mask’s ability to deliver results because of the short contact time it has with one’s skin, but the formulas aren’t designed to compete with intensive treatments. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist based in New York, likened them to “boosters for your skin.”

Even though sheet masks, biocellulose masks and other traditional leave-on masks have more time to exert their effects and will give a greater immediate improvement, Zeichner said consumers shouldn’t rule out splash masks.

“While they have concentrated ingredients like traditional masks, their extremely short skin contact time dilutes the effect so they can be used on a regular basis, giving a mini-skin treatment,” Zeichner said, calling the brightening and exfoliating effects a “great maintenance-type treatment” between traditional masks, peels or laser treatments.

The short contact time with skin is being used to its advantage. This is what allows regular use without problems and gradual improvements over time.

According to Christine Chang and Sarah Lee, cofounders of Glow Recipe, a consultancy firm and e-commerce site dedicated to the incubation of Korean beauty brands, consumers are already biting in Korea, and it’s just a matter of time before the trend hits the U.S.

“It’s a compressed trend, versus sheet masks which were popular for over a decade in Korea before coming to the U.S. The U.S. customer is really experiencing the forefront of the trend at the same time it’s really picking up in Korea,” Chang said.

The concept of splash masks is more familiar to the Korean woman from a cultural perspective, she clarified, but the rise of digital and social sharing has helped the treatments gain popularity almost concurrently in both regions.

The name and concept had to be reworked a little before Sephora launched Blithe this spring, Chang explained. The term “splash mask” isn’t actually used in Korea, as Blithe called its original product “Patting Water Pack.”

“This didn’t translate in the U.S. We worked with them to create a name and concept that could be more global, [which is] a big part of what we do for our brand partners that we bring over to the U.S.,” she said.