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Oscar Mayer is selling a ‘bologna’ facial mask. We tried it out.

Oscar Mayer introduced a hydrogel face mask made to look like a slice of its signature bologna. Reporters at The Post test it out and share their experiences. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)
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In a move that has prompted surprise, confusion and perhaps even a little revulsion, Oscar Mayer recently branched out from its vast selection of packaged deli meats and wieners with its new product: a hydrating facial mask inspired by b-o-l-o-g-n-a.

The fleshy pink mask has the moist appearance of sliced sandwich meat and is sealed in the company’s classic red-and-yellow packaging. Labeling on the package makes it clear, however, that the product is not food. It’s a sheet mask designed to evoke the childhood memory of biting eye and mouth holes into a slice of luncheon meat and then wearing it on your face.

Nostalgia factor and clever marketing aside, the hydrogel masks are genuine skin-care products and shouldn’t be evaluated at, well, face value. So several of my colleagues and I tried them, and I spoke with some skin-care experts who were game to discuss the relative merits of a bologna-inspired face mask. Here are the answers to your most urgent questions.

Why is a meat company dabbling in skin care?


Bologna-like sheet masks are just the latest example of head-scratching product crossovers launched by major food brands — think Quarter Pounder-scented candles from McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Crocs collaboration and Panera’s “Swim Soup” swimwear, just to name a few. Oscar Mayer’s $4.99 masks have attracted similar viral attention, sparking a flood of media coverage and selling out within 24 hours of becoming available on Amazon this month. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“Oscar Mayer as a brand has a legacy of sparking unexpected smiles and injecting levity into serious moments and we felt that in this case, beauty and self-care was a very ripe territory for the brand to ultimately have some fun with and to playfully subvert,” said Megan Lang, Oscar Mayer’s associate marketing director. She added that the bologna masks are part of a larger marketing campaign to “modernize and contemporize” the brand.

Oscar Mayer partnered with Seoul Mamas, a Korean beauty and skin-care company based in the United States, to create the “hydrating and restoring hydrogel mask” that promises moisturizing and soothing effects.

“But most importantly,” Lang said of the product, “it helps us recapture that childhood joy.”

What do these masks look and smell like?

While the masks bear an uncanny resemblance to DIY bologna masks, complete with scalloped edges around the eye and mouth openings to give them a freshly bitten look, they don’t contain actual sandwich meat. They also don’t smell anything like bologna, which is either a huge relief or a major letdown depending on how authentic you’re hoping the experience will be. Instead, they have a subtle floral scent.

What are the masks made of?

The masks are made of hydrogel, which mimics the texture of bologna better than a standard, paperlike sheet mask. The first two ingredients are water and glycerin, which dermatologists say is a promising sign because the product is supposed to be hydrating.

Water, of course, provides hydration, and glycerin, a common ingredient in moisturizers and lotions, helps to draw moisture into the skin. “When you look at the actual ingredients, you can see why there are clinical benefits and they have the same benefits that you would see with any hydrating face mask,” Los Angeles-based dermatologist Ivy Lee said.

While also a more suitable stand-in for bologna, hydrogel serves a functional purpose here: Its gelatinous barrier also helps retain moisture.

“It’s like putting Saran Wrap on your skin versus a piece of paper,” said Debra Jaliman, author of “Skin Rules” and a dermatologist in New York. “It increases the occlusive quality on your skin, so it increases the penetration” of ingredients.

The mask has “witch hazel botanical and seaweed-derived ingredients” as well as collagen to “lock in moisture and promote skin elasticity.”

Witch hazel has some anti-inflammatory properties, which aligns with the mask’s promise to help soothe skin, according to experts. But the collagen is “just a buzzword,” Jaliman said.

Lee agreed. “I don’t think there’s actually any benefit to having topical applications of collagen,” she said. “It just can’t penetrate the skin barrier.” When reached for comment, Seoul Mamas didn’t respond to a question about the use of collagen in the mask.

Still, the dermatologists concur that the masks, which are advertised as “suitable for all skin types, but especially for those who used to make masks out of their bologna as kids,” probably pose little risk.

“Looking at just the ingredients, I think this should be really well tolerated,” Lee said. (As with any unfamiliar skin-care product, dermatologists advised people with sensitive skin or certain skin conditions to exercise caution.) “If you’ve got an intact skin barrier, you should be absolutely fine.”

One caveat, however. Despite being inspired by childhood creativity, the masks are not intended for use by children, Seoul Mamas said in a written statement.

How does the mask look and feel when it’s on?

True to inspiration, the pieces of the mask — one for the top half of your face and the other for the bottom — could easily be mistaken for slices of bologna if they weren’t missing the scent of processed meat.

The mask is cool to the touch but much slimier than real bologna. This might hamper its ability to stick to your face for the recommended 10 to 20 minutes, as occurred with some of our testers, in which case it comes to resemble melting flesh.

Then, there’s the matter of how it looks if you succeed in applying it properly. If you’re envisioning the scene from “The Office” where Dwight Schrute wears a crash test dummy’s face as a mask à la Hannibal Lecter, you’re not far off. That wasn’t on purpose, Oscar Mayer’s Lang said.

“It’s been an unintended, but funny, I think, consequence of how the mask looks to some when you put it on,” she said. “It really adds to the levity and the humor of this whole activation, but I will say that was not by design.”

Halloween aesthetic aside, the overall experience of wearing the mask and its immediate effects should feel familiar to anyone who has used a hydrating sheet mask.

Afterward, the skin should “feel a little bit softer and smoother to the touch,” said Diane Berson, an associate professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. She added, “It’s more of an instant gratification, look good, feel good product and that’s what most masks are.”

And for people who have fond memories of bologna, the masks may offer an additional benefit, Berson said: a taste of sentimentality.

“This was a brilliant idea because it’s sort of that ‘everything that’s old is new again,’ and nostalgia is so big right now,” she said. “When I saw this, I thought, ‘Wow, how cool. When I used to go to school I loved my bologna sandwiches on white bread.’ ”