In need of some pandemic pampering? Do what we did and cover yourself in clay

By God, face masks have changed since the days of lemon and whipped-up egg white

People are wearing a lot of different face masks right now, but as a pandemic treat can I suggest a different kind of face mask – the gunky old-fashioned kind that screams pampering night and where’re the cucumber eye coins?

Sometimes called a sheet mask, this is the stuff that you slather over your face and let harden as it supposedly delivers mineral goodness to the skin, or at least scares the living daylights out of the pores so they behave.

One arrived to our house this week in a “care package” from a friend – a silver pouch of powder from a French institute with vaguely medical branding that suggested it should be applied in soothing, sterile surroundings by someone in a white coat.

There are lots of premade formulas out there to lighten, brighten and tighten the face; if you have one of those handy, don't forget to use every little bit of the packaging – a life hack from Victoria Beckham, who uses the extra bits of gauze in the pack to plaster the stuff on her neck, or so she says.


The self-isolating daughters got things ready: plopping the powder into a cereal bowl, adding water and rinsing the pastry brush – sorry, applicator, because who’s not double-jobbing these days? Then they anointed each other and me with a cold paste that turned polar white and hardened very fast. Our eyes and mouths looked terrifying. We skipped the changing-into-bathrobe step, which was a pity, as the stuff got all over my Zoom-worthy work shirt.

Trapped in clay, there was nothing to do but sit still for 20 minutes as they took selfies and I bored them about beauty routines from the dark ages before Mac and Charlotte Tilbury. "Can you believe we used to do this with just egg white?" I said, giving them unasked-for flashbacks to a time when staying in to clean out blackheads and wash hair was a very real thing (and also the default excuse for turning down a date). No silver pouches from Amazon but exfoliating strips from the chemist, steam from a pudding bowl to loosen things, and the whipped-up egg white that, by God, tightened the skin to a fresh apple shine. Vinegar in the hair, cut lemon rubbed on freckles, and a chiffon scarf standing by to test the shaved legs.

I might as well have been talking from the tomb, as usual, but once the clay was rubbed off with hot facecloths our faces did have a bit of glow to them, and we'd taken an hour of our lives back from Netflix.

Give them another week and they might start raiding the fridge, where there is no end of things to slather on: Kendall Jenner swears by yogurt facials; added poppy seed will wash away the most stubborn build-ups (and possibly a whole layer of skin). Elle says that honey tackles spot-causing bacteria, lemon juice can help you go blond (in very hot sun, but sure it's going to be warm weekend); take some overnight oats, add activated charcoal (great for trapped wind, too) and there's a hero product right there. Your face will be radiant and you will get used to the smell. Now just cover it with a real face mask and off you go.