Can the overuse of charcoal peel-off masks damage your skin?

The short answer: Yes

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.

There’s no denying the effectiveness of this cult product. What more proof do you need of its purifying properties than seeing the gunk from your own pores embedded in the mask when you rip it off your skin?

With such impressive – and oddly satisfying – results, it’s no wonder fans of the mask tend to use the product more often than is necessary.

But overuse can harm your skin more than it helps.

“The mask sticks to not just the blackheads and whiteheads, but also the skin and hair on the face,” says Dr Low Chai Ling, medical director of The Sloane Clinic in Singapore.

“When the mask is removed, it strips off the outermost layer of skin and oils that protect the skin from the environment.

charcoal peel

It feels very satisfying seeing the blackheads and whiteheads on the peel, but be careful not to overuse.

“At the same time, the mask pulls out the small, fine hairs on the face, causing significant pain not unlike that of waxing. If you’ve ever waxed your delicate facial skin, you may have experienced redness, irritation, rashes and sensitivity. The charcoal peel-off mask can cause the same problems, especially if used often.”

Our skin has a natural protective barrier, known as the lipid barrier, which minimises moisture loss and is essential to the health and strength of the skin. Low says that, when we disrupt this lipid barrier through traumatising actions such as the too-frequent use of peel-off masks, our skin becomes more sensitive and vulnerable to irritation.

So, while you may cleanse your pores, you’re doing it at the expense of your overall skin health.

“The removal of blackheads, whiteheads and oil plugs is definitely a huge draw of this charcoal peel-off mask, which explains the product’s phenomenal popularity,” Low says.

“However, it’s the invisible damage to the skin that causes most concern. What you don’t see being removed are the skin’s protective oils, which are essential for the healthy function of the skin.”

Also making the rounds on social media are recipes for home-made charcoal peel-off masks that use activated charcoal powder and superglue.

Low warns of the dangers of using such a concoction on your skin.

“Superglue contains cyanoacrylate, which hardens very quickly,” she points out.

“When you rip off the home-made charcoal mask, you may experience skin burn and run the risk of seriously damaging your skin.”

Don’t DIY

If you like the idea of using a charcoal peel-off mask on your face, definitely avoid the home-made versions that use superglue.

Instead, use one from a reputable skincare brand and be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, although Low advises you to use the product no more than once a fortnight.

If you have sensitive or dry skin or suffer from skin conditions like eczema, you should avoid such products altogether.

Rebalance your skin after using a mask

Low says that after using the mask, you should apply a moisturiser to rebalance your skin’s moisture levels.

“While you want your skin to be clean and free of blackheads and whiteheads, not soothing or hydrating it after will only dry it out, leaving your skin vulnerable to environmental stressors and accelerating the effects of ageing.” – South China Morning Post/Sasha Gonzales