There's nothing nicer at this time of year than a pre-spring clean. This is the month for turning over new leaves, attempting to stick to resolutions and striving to live more cleanly.
A good clearing of the complexion will give that new-year, new-you look you desire, without too much effort. We put masks to the test that claim to clarify, refine and refresh jaded winter skin. So, even if the resolutions to drink less, eat better and exercise more have already fallen by the wayside, you needn't look like they have.
Of all our favourite brightening masks for this dullest of months, four contain skin-friendly acids of one kind or another. These acids are good for gently sloughing away dead skin, working on easing the harshness of lines and wrinkles and eliminating pigmentation.
In other words, these brightening masks are the enemy of all the characteristics of an ageing complexion. This makes them your friend -- but take care to use them as instructed, not to overuse at home and always follow their use with a sunscreen.
Guinot Newhite Instant Brightening Mask, €76.75, salons and spas nationwide, Lo-Call (0818) 719-303
This box contains seven cloth masks, each of which is soaked in a solution that includes ingredients such as stablised vitamin C, glycolic acid and melanoxyl, which promise to smooth the complexion and to lighten pigmentation. "My skin was clearer and my usual winter ruddiness was banished," said a panellist. "And I loved that the cloth forces you to lie down for 10 minutes, otherwise it will fall off your face."
Best Fruity Refresher
Elizabeth Arden Visible Difference Peel and Reveal Revitalising Mask, €33, Elizabeth Arden counters nationwide
This gloopy, pink, berry-smelling product is a peel-off mask containing both alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids. The latter are oil- rather than water-soluble, which makes them good for ungluing the sebum that can build up and block open pores. This mask also has grapeseed extract, which is full of antioxidants. "I love a peel-off mask," a panellist said. "They are so satisfying. The skin this one pulls off to reveal is definitely softened and super-clean."
Best Smoothing Scrubber
Estee Lauder Idealist Dual-Action Refinishing Treatment, €50.50, Estee Lauder counters nationwide
For those who need a bit of scrub from a product that promises smoothness, this mask offers the best of both worlds. Massaged into damp skin, it contains small beads that have a scrubbing action; you then leave it on for five minutes so the mask's salicylic acids
can do a bit of dead-cell devouring. "A bit of scrub, a bit of mask -- you really feel you're getting a serious skin workout," a panellist said. "And the result is a pleasing, new-skin feeling."
Best Pore Perfection
SkinCeuticals Clarifying Clay Masque, €52.50, for stockists nationwide, see www.skinceuticals.co.uk
This brand, which focuses on cutting-edge anti-ageing ingredients, puts a blend of hydroxy acids into this clay-based mask. This means it contains water-soluble alpha-hydroxy acids, which melt the gluey binding between dead and live skin cells and eat away the former, and beta-hydroxy acids, which are oil-soluble and great for clearing pores. "This is a great double-jobber," said a panellist, "because it sorts the ageing awfulness and that lingering, blocked-pores awfulness."
Best Radiant Regime
NeoStrata Glycolic Treatment Peel, €50.49, pharmacies nationwide
This box contains four sachet-sealed pads, soaked in two gently exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acids -- glycolic and citric -- which promise to give you a salon-peel effect at home. You use the pads weekly, leaving the solution on your skin for no more than 30 minutes the first week, building up to a maximum of three hours by week four, if you so desire. The effect is increasingly even, smooth skin that appears super-clean. Face wash and moisturiser samples are included. "You must follow the instructions," said a panellist, "because this is strong stuff. The upside of which is, of course, that it gets results."