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Ark. doctors warn of charcoal face mask dangers

Doctors and skin experts are telling beauty junkies, and those looking for a quick fix for their acne problems, to steer clear of charcoal face masks.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- It's the newest beauty trend: charcoal face masks. But doctors and skin experts are telling beauty junkies, and those looking for a quick fix for their acne problems, to steer clear, warning that these products could cause permanent damage to your skin.

All over social media, you'll see videos of people peeling black masks off their faces to get rid of black heads, and essentially screaming like a banshee. And while these videos are pretty hilarious to watch, one Central Arkansas doctor warns that anything good for your skin shouldn't hurt that bad.

"None of the things we do here are that painful. Even our strongest peels are not painful," said Dr. Anne Trussell of Sei Bella Med Spa.

Dr. Trussell said it's not just the pain that's the problem.

"Permanently enlarged pores. You can get scarring. People of darker ethnicities; black patients, Asians, Hispanics, they can actually get permanent hypo pigmentation," she said.

18-year-old Sierra Dunn of Austin bought a charcoal peel-off mask after seeing videos on social media touting the results.

"I have black heads on my nose for sure. I just wanted to try something to get rid of those, because nothing really seems to work," Dunn said.

Dunn paid less than $10 for the product including shipping on Amazon through a third party seller, whose site also includes everything from belly button rings, to wall decor, to pill box cases. When it arrived, she couldn't read the label, which was written in Chinese.

"I didn't really think anything of it because it says charcoal so it should be what it is," she said.

Dr. Trussell said unlike drug store or clinical brands, products purchased online, particularly from another country, don't face regulations like American brands.

"You just really don't know what you're getting. It's not just that it may not work, or it may not be as strong or what's in there is not what it says is in there, you could do yourself some damage," Dr. Trussell said.

Damage is what Sierra Dunn said she got after using a peel.

"I peeled it off and my face was beet red. I just thought it was something that was supposed to happen. Cause it was a peel and it was taking all of your skin off,” Dunn said. “A few days later, my face was still red and there were welts all over. I had to go to the doctor and they gave me steroid cream to put on it and said I got a chemical burn."

Little Rock hair dresser, Kristin Caraway had a similar experience with a charcoal peel she bought online.

"The first time I ever used it, it was awful. I put it on like they said; clean face, dry face. I left it on for the amount of time, took my bubble bath. In fact, I was facetiming my mom in the bath when I had it on, trying to show her how I was using this new cool product I heard so much about,” she said. “When the time came to peel the product off, I put my phone on the side of the bathtub, and I started to pull. It wasn't coming off. I was literally just like pulling my skin out."

She decided to bite the bullet and peel.

"I just decided to treat it like a wax strip and just rip. No. It hurt even worse. After it was all said and done, I just decided to put water on my face, get a hot rag, put it on there, let it soak, and eventually was able to just like wipe it away slowly," Caraway said.

Dr. Trussell said Caraway's approach is best. If you feel something may be wrong, listen to your body. Only, Caraway probably should have bailed sooner.

"I had just like red patches for days on my cheeks, in my T-Zone, where I really had it on there the most. Trying to get all of the nasty yucky stuff off," Caraway said.

With that sort of reaction, what's the appeal of a peel?


"A good peel that is tailored to your skin can help pore size, it can help dark spots, sun damage, malasma from hormones, fine lines and wrinkles. Those are all good reasons to get peels," Dr. Trussell said.

Dr. Trussell said if you think you're going to need a peel, the best thing to do is go see a licensed esthetician or a doctor and find out what products are good for your skin and which ones aren't. Definitely take whatever you've bought in to an esthetician or a dermatologist or other skin care professional. Have them look at the ingredients and tell you if there's anything in there you shouldn't put on your skin. Don't buy something off the internet that you don't know anything about or can't read the language.

THV11 reached out to the Attorney General’s office to see if anyone there is investigating what is in these peels. They told THV11 that would be more so a question for the FDA and FTC. THV11 reached out to both those federal agencies and also amazon to see if any of those parties are investigating claims but haven't heard back.