Experts weigh in: Is the DIY blackhead mask bad for your skin?
Blackheads. Who likes them? And while we're on the topic, who likes whiteheads as well? If you're in the habit of using nose strips — which have been a trend in Asia for decades — the DIY charcoal masks that have been cropping up on YouTube were probably not a big surprise to you. Yet the homemade concoction, consisting mainly of activated charcoal and craft glue like Elmer's, certainly got us at Buro raising our eyebrows.
Sure it may be highly satisfying ripping off all that gunk off your face and actually being able to see the results. But what are the ill effects? Is it bad or even dangerous to apply glue on your face? Can it cause irritation and even a reaction in super sensitive skin? Buro showed the videos to two experts: Dr Eileen Tan, dermatologist at the Eileen Tan Skin, Laser and Hair Transplant Clinic, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital as well as makeup artist Larry Yeo, who also has a specialist diploma in cosmetic science, to weigh in on the topic.
SHOULD I BE PUTTING GLUE ON MY FACE AS A MASK?
In short, no. Says Yeo, "I disagree with using the glue, because depending on how much is used and also on how easily a person's skin can get irritated, this might put their skin at risk. This DIY mask has bonding strength, as it adheres upon the skin — you are using physical force to rip blackheads off the skin, which in turn also rips skin away." Adds Dr Tan, "Glue often causes skin irritation and contact dermatitis. I would not recommend applying glue, even though it is stated as non-toxic." So no to the glue then.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER INGREDIENTS?
In general, charcoal is not problematic for the skin. Dr Tan says," Charcoal powder is made up of insert particles and generally does not cause problems." Adds Yeo, "The activated charcoal is great in adsorbing (Note: I don't mean absorbing). Adsorption involves the adhesion of molecules from the surrounding area to a surface. This creates a film of attracted molecules to the activated carbon." However Yeo takes issue to other ingredients that are sometimes added. "Normally these 'gurus' will also suggest using tea tree oil in the same DIY mask. Tea tree oil is irritating to skin due to its volatile fragrance, so you are kind of doing double whammy damage to the skin." Yikes!
WHAT ABOUT OFF-THE-COUNTER PORE STRIPS?
Yeo is adamant that pore strips — which basically work on the same mechanical action — is not good for the skin. He says,"I hate using pore strips because it acts in the same way as described above. Yes you see the blackheads being pulled out, but you will also notice the flakes of skin on it which means there is damage already done to the topical portion of the skin." Dr Tan also says that pore strips may not be safe for some skin types, "Pore strips stick to the skin and try to remove the blackheads and sebum via gentle mechanical means. It is generally safe though not very effective. In individuals with sensitive skin, it may not be a good idea as there is skin irritation, redness and peeling on the area of contact. Some users leave the pore strips on for too long, and this can cause skin redness and peeling," she says.
SO WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD?
The experts conclude that there are better ways to remove blackheads without the damage. Yeo suggest a lower risk option: "Just add a good amount of activated charcoal into aloe vera gel and spread onto the face for 10-20 mins, and rinse off with normal tap water." He also prefers other options."I'd rather be using a BHA-based product, like Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution every other night to slough off dead skin cells and clear the pores. I also like going for Magic Drop Therapy at Nu.Reflections which is microdermabrasion — gentle, experienced physical extraction for stubborn blackheads — as well as other treatments to calm the skin down."
Dr Tan meanwhile suggests either a pharmacological or treatment approach. She says, "Keratolytic agents loosen the dead skin cells and help to get rid of comedones such as blackheads. Over the counter keratolytic agents include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid. Presciption drugs include Differin and Tretinoin. You will need to see a doctor or dermatologist for these prescribed drugs." As for treatments, she suggests in-office procedures like laser peels or chemical peels that can get rid of comedones and minimise pores. So there you have it. While it might seem like a fun, effective and easy option, these at-home masks are not recommended.