The dangers of peel off masks

Dr Zara Kassam, PhD

Peel off masks claim to unblock pores and leave your skin looking radiant, but in reality they can cause some serious skin problems. Dr Zara Kassam PhD explains.

Social media is awash these days with the latest beauty obsession – the peel off face mask. There are adverts everywhere documenting the intense process of peel off masks that show the pores being unblocked as it’s ripped off the skin. And while the promise of  smooth, blemish free skin is hard to pass up, we seem to be blissfully unaware of just how bad some of these masks could be for our skin.

The popularity of these products kicked off with beauty bloggers recommending recipes including glue – yes, glue which contains ingredients such as sulfuric acid and phosphoric acid – to create a strong, peel-off effect.

And while it may be incredibly satisfying to peel something off your face and watch the dirt removed in the process,these mask don’t work in the way you think they do: they may take the top off your layer of the blackhead but don’t remove the pus that’s sitting at the base of it.

This is a far cry from the claim of unblocking pores, and according to Harley Street consultant dermatologist, Dr Penelope Tympanidis, these mask actually cause blocked pores – not prevent them. And the flow on effect from that is acne.

“The problem with these masks is clogged pores. They promise that they’ll unblock pores but they actually cause acne related problems.  This is very common; we see it all the time”, she says.


Our pores contain oil – this helps to keep the skin hydrated, balanced and healthy. When we remove this oil on the surface layer our skin goes to work to replace it swiftly. It does this by producing a little more oil than you really need to try and compensate. This can then lead, ironically, to increased oiliness. As the oils build up and combine with the dead skin cells the pores become blocked and pimples appear.

“These types of masks offer a quick fix, but there is no such thing and acne, [and] unlike dermatitis [acne] can really take a long time to clear,” says Dr Tympanidis, founder of Dermaperfect on Harley Street.


A risk of allergic dermatitis

And if acne weren’t enough, these peel off masks can contain ingredients that can irritate the skin or cause allergic reaction such as dermatitis.

“The number one danger of using a peel off mask is contact dermatitis from the chemicals and ingredients in them. People’s skin can become red and itchy and in some extreme cases they can weep and the skin can even peel off. It can take more than a week to heal, and if it happens you’ll need to see a dermatologist,” said Dr Tympanidis.

She recommends avoiding such products completely if you suffer from known allergies, or have eczema or acne. And it’s important that if you have experienced dermatitis from these products that you visit your doctor or skin care specialist who can diagnose it properly and suggest a good treatment plan.



And, if you believe your skin needs a good peel to get rid of acne or blackheads, Dr Tympanidis recommends that you see a professional.

“See a dermatologist for a more sophisticated, bespoke chemical peel that is suited to your skin type or skin concern,” she says.

Good skin requires daily love – and, unfortunately there are no quick fixes when it comes to skin health. A good daily regime including an exfoliating cleanser with a salicylic acid and moisturising with an oil free moisturiser can help get acne and blackheads under control.

(Harley Street Emporium recommendations: Dr Nick Lowe’s  acclenz Purify and Renew Foaming Cleanser and the acclenz Oil Control Day Cream )

In the end, it’s worth asking yourself why the vast majority of top skincare brands don’t make peel off masks – wash off- yes, peel off – no, possibly because they could potentially be damaging to them and you.

So it’s worth being diligent about checking ingredients that don’t work well with your skin, and be wary of buying online and through third-party websites like Facebook or Instagram. Make sure the sites are reputable and are official stockist for a brand that is legally available for sale and passed by EU regulations. If it’s coming from outside the EU – beware, as it may not have passed the EU’s safety requirements.


Still feel like a mask? Why not try some natural home made remedies instead. Here are two – one for moisturising and the other for gentle exfoliation.  Let us know how they work for you.

  • Moisturising mask:

Mix one tablespoon of raw honey* or Manuka honey and 1/2 a ripe mashed avocado.

Apply to your face and let sit for 15-20 minutes.

Use a warm washcloth to wipe off.


  • Exfoliating mask:

Mix one tablespoon of raw honey* or Manuka honey, 1 tablespoon of uncooked oatmeal (blend to a powder rather than use whole oats for a finer, gentler exfoliation). Apply to face and let sit for 15-20 minutes.

Use a warm washcloth to wipe off. Oatmeal has the added benefit of calming red and inflamed skin.

*If you are allergic to honey you could swap it for natural yoghurt.