The facts: Charcoal peel-off masks are the latest skincare trend. If you’re active on social media, you’re sure to have come across videos of users applying the thick, black paste onto their faces, waiting for the product to dry, and then peeling the mask off. As the mask dries and hardens, it traps impurities like blackheads, whiteheads, dead skin and oil plugs, all of which get pulled from the skin when the mask is ripped off. The result: skin that looks polished, clean and pore-less and feels super-soft and smooth.
It’s growing in popularity as the new, go-to solution for all your skin woes. Simply apply the mask to your face, wait for it to harden, then peel it off for 100% smoother, more radiant skin. But the realities of this product are actually closer to 10% healthy skin, 45% skin damage, and 45% pain and suffering. That’s not a good ratio at all!
THE BENEFITS OF CHARCOAL
Even though charcoal face masks might not be the best solution to your skin problems, the main ingredient—charcoal—does have some benefits. First, though, we need to make it clear that the charcoal in question isn’t the stuff you put in your barbecue grill. The charcoal used for skin care is what’s known as activated charcoal. It just means it has been treated to increase its absorbency. And activated charcoal isn’t anything new—it’s been around for years. In fact, it got its start in the emergency room as a treatment for accidental poisonings and overdoses. In this case, the charcoal absorbs the foreign substance before it has a chance to enter the bloodstream.
Activated charcoal can be used in a similar way just by spreading it on your skin. The charcoal first draws bacteria, toxins, chemicals, dirt, oil, and other micro-particles to the surface of the skin. It then absorbs those foreign substances and carries them away when you rinse the charcoal off your face.
Unlike other masks, with charcoal face masks, you don’t wash them off, you rip them off. And despite the lofty claims these masks make (which we’ll discuss next), what happens when you peel off a charcoal face mask is less than desirable.
THE PROMISES THAT CHARCOAL FACE MASKS MAKE
Like the pore strips that came before them, charcoal face masks promise to:
- Cleanse pores
- Absorb oil
- Remove blackheads and dirt
- Leave your skin cleaner, healthier, and smoother
Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying that these claims are false. Face masks absorb oil, dirt, and toxins and cleanse pores because of the presence of activated charcoal. The face masks also remove blackheads and exfoliate your skin thanks to the active ingredients in them.
But the problem is not what the charcoal mask does, but the way it does it. Simply put, the process REALLY hurts. Most masks even say this right on the bottle. But products and practices that cause pain on the skin of your face, neck, and chest are not good. Pain means that something is wrong and here’s what actually happens.
WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON WHEN YOU PEEL OFF A CHARCOAL FACE MASK
As discussed, the charcoal face mask does absorb oil and remove dead skin cells. But it does this in an extremely aggressive way that can actually damage your skin. First, the mask removes all the natural oils that sit on the surface of your skin. And we mean ALL the natural oils. “That’s great!” you say. Wrong! Those oils act as a barrier that protects your skin from dust, bacteria, dirt, UV rays—anything from the outside that can harm your skin. When you rip off that charcoal mask, you’re exposing your skin to all kinds of nasty stuff in the air around you.
And that’s not the worst of it. When the mask dries, it adheres to everything on your face. And we mean EVERYTHING. Sure it gets the dirt, but it also gets the hair, the top layer of skin (the stratum corneum), and even sebaceous filaments (often mistaken as blackheads). Just to reinforce the point, sebaceous filaments, like the natural oils, are there to protect your skin from harmful bacteria floating around in your environment. So, when you rip off a charcoal face mask, you are essentially ripping off your top layer of skin and everything that is there to protect the deeper layers. Ouch!
So, let’s say you’ve recently used a black peel-off mask and are now deeply concerned over all the havoc you may have wreaked upon your skin. What do you do now? The good news is that you haven’t ruined your skin forevermore. Within 30 days, the skin will replace the oils and sebaceous filaments you’ve ripped out with your mask, so the damage will heal.
We recommends using a gentle cleanser while you wait for the skin to recover, and applying a hydrating, antioxidant-rich serum to help the repair process along. Make sure to use a sunscreen, too, as the damage may make your skin more sensitive and vulnerable to damage.
Oh, and stop bloody using those black peel-off masks. They’re a terrible idea.