Karuna Face Masks

Philip Cosores

At a recent event for Fab Fit Fun’s winter box (more on that collection of abundance later), I initially skipped the lashes, blowouts and cheese board stations to head straight for the sheet masks. As a woman who was sentient, stressed, and salaried during the Peak Sheet Mask era (approx 2017-2018), I’ve worn my fair share of serum-infused cloth, but this was my first encounter with Karuna face masks, an LA-based brand founded by Linda Wang. Linda was at the event herself, performing mini facials and telling stories about the pre-social media days, before sheet masks were a viral component of every #hotgirl’s self-care routine.

Wang founded her company way back in July 2009, launching it as the first official face mask brand in the US (though the practice has long been a part of skincare routines in Asia) and naming her line Karuna, after the Sanskrit word for compassion. Introduced to face masks by her mother — who lives in Taiwan, and where Wang lived until she was ten — she connected with the concept because of a childhood experience with eczema. The memory of a doctor wrapping her damaged skin in plastic wrap to keep an ointment from evaporating sold her on the potency of masks, and she quickly began researching ingredients and began to develop her own version of the inexpensive masks that were everywhere in Taiwan.

Working as a fashion buyer for a decade before shifting to life as an entrepreneur, Linda already had a handle on how trends function in beauty spaces, and worked over the years to get Karuna into high-end retailers like Fred Segal and Bliss, and later, when the K-Beauty wave hit around 2013/2014, into major outlets like Sephora and Ulta — not too shabby for an independent, female-founded company. Now, Karuna has a sister brand in Avatara, which launched in 2017 for those shopping at a slightly lower price point, with $3 masks to Karuna’s $8 standard.

But when it comes to what you put on your face, sometimes the extra $5 goes a long way. Karuna’s masks are paraben-free, made of completely biodegradable and natural materials like wood pulp fibers and Japanese sheer cotton. According to the brand, natural fibers retain more moisture than synthetic fibers do. Across seven different mask types, each one also contains a specially formulated “Beauty Complex” that includes six ingredients: Chinese Licorice, Aloe Vera, Chamomile, Hyaluronic Acid, Peptides, and Vitamin B. They come with a plastic layer holding the serum in, and with enough extra to spread on your neck and decolletage. One thing I love about these masks is they actually suction to your face for a really snug fit, not falling off or loose like some masks, but be careful applying them because they’re also thinner and can rip easily.

For my money, the best way to try Karuna is to get the Face For All seven-pack collection that includes all different mask styles — even the Renewal Eye mask — for $42. That breaks down to $6 a mask, saving you $2 on each, or a dollar less than the four-pack for $28. Here are the mask types: age-defying, anti-oxidant, exfoliating, hydrating, clarifying, brightening and the aforementioned renewal eye mask, that just goes under eye. At the event, I tried the eye mask because it was holiday party season, I was very hungover, and working my way toward another one. I definitely saw it reduce puffiness and my trademark dark circles that night, courtesy of a red algae ingredient, and I’ve since tried a couple of the other styles because the full collection is included in the Fab Fit Fun winter box.

I’m turning thirty-two in a couple months, so thinking about aging has just recently become a front-row-center concern. After trying the age-defying mask I thought my skin looked dewier and lifted. This mask includes wild yam and elderberry extracts which sound like exotic and decadent things to be using to make my skin plump and renewed, like a Thanksgiving for my face. Wang often emphasizes how sheet masks use ingredients that are common in Asia, but not frequently used in the rest of the world, and how beneficial these rarer elements are for the skin.

Karuna recommends doing a sheet mask every week as part of a skincare routine, but it was the holidays and I was being lazy, so I’ve only tried two other types. The brightening mask is supposed to help reduce the appearance of redness and age spots via grapefruit seed extract and salicylic acid, so I tried that next. Don’t use this one if you have sensitive skin, but mine is tough so this was the exact right amount of acid to help battle wintry dullness. Finally, their exfoliating mask also uses salicylic acid along with citric acid and pineapple enzymes to slough off dead skin and neutralize oil. My skin tends to be oily, even when everyone else’s is dry, so this was probably my favorite because it definitely reduced my shine factor.

Karuna does make a couple other mask styles not included in the Face For All set, one called Revivify with coconut water that includes an eye and cheek mask style or a full face one, and a mud sheet mask (in two parts) with Moroccan lava mud (!) and aloe. Additionally, Karuna has branched out into other skincare products and lines, even if the sheet masks are still their flagship product. Bringing a box set like the Face For All kit on a bachelorette weekend or girls trip seems like an instant hit, and given the results of the ones I’ve used, I’m excited to try the rest. 

The other major appeal of buying masks from Wang instead of another mass-produced company is Karuna’s emphasis on giving back. Karuna regularly donates to charities and nonprofits and partners with local organizations like Beauty Bus Foundation and Causebox to bring beauty back into the lives of those suffering from terminal illnesses, support ethically made products, and otherwise focus on the community. That’s what ties Karuna’s Sanskrit translation back into the company’s mindset, treating others with compassion and spreading it whenever possible, even through something as simple and seemingly frivolous as a sheet mask.

Shop Karuna here.

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