I Tried A Charcoal Peel-Off Mask—Here’s What My Skin Had To Say

From pimple-popping to drag queen transformations, there’s something inexplicably satisfying about watching the Internet’s unusual assortment of viral beauty videos. But none ignites my fascination—and horror—more than a charcoal peel-off face mask trial. (If you haven’t witnessed YouTuber Tiffany’s disastrous peel-off experience, stop reading this and go watch it now.)

Painful mishaps aside, these black goo-like masks promise to reveal smoother, blackhead-free skin. The charcoal found in peel-off masks is activated charcoal, which has been heated to a very high temperature to make it more porous. The idea is that the pores produced during the process help the activated charcoal absorb extra bacteria and other molecules from your skin. “In a peel-off mask, charcoal can draw out bacteria and dirt from the skin to the surface, so it can then be washed off,” explains Gary Goldenberg, M.D., of Goldenberg Dermatology.

Related: 5 Health And Beauty Uses For Activated Charcoal

I’ve been genetically gifted (*sarcasm*) with an acne- and oil-ridden complexion—and though my acne was much worse during my teen years, I continue to deal with lingering purple-y blue scars, bulging cystic time-of-the-month pimples, and random whiteheads that pop up for no reason at all. And though my current skin-care routine includes a cocktail of creams, toners, and moisturizers, I don’t really do much to remove impurities—I just try to cover and moisturize them. So the notion of quite literally ripping them from my face certainly appealed. Curious (and slightly afraid), I decided to try the trend out for myself and see if it benefited my complexion.

Application #1: My Mask Doesn’t Look (Or Feel) Right

On morning one, I stood at my bathroom mirror before work with a bottle of BioMiracle’s Detoxifying Charcoal Peel-Off Mask in hand, ready to make the pore-purification magic happen. The bottle promised ‘a visibly clearer, smoother, more clarified complexion.’ Yes, please.

I’m a total baby when it comes to pain, so as excited as I was to detox my face, I couldn’t help but think back to the cringe-worthy YouTube videos of painful peel-offs I’d seen. As I started to spread the mask across my freshly-washed face, my heart rate kicked up a bit. With the piercing screams of beauty vloggers ringing in my ears, I continued to cover my face with the thinnest possible layer of the mask.

The directions on the bottle said to apply an ‘even and thin, but opaque’ layer of mask, and as the mask dried I learned that ‘opaque’ was the key word there. Because I applied such a thin layer, the mask just crumbled off in pieces and had no discernible effect on my skin, other than leaving behind a few black specks that I had to rinse off. Fail.

Application #2: This is Surprisingly…Cathartic?

As instructed by the bottle’s directions, I waited a few days to use the mask again—even though I was pretty sure my first attempt didn’t count as an actual application. This time, I made a point to smear myself a nice opaque layer of mask despite my lingering nerves.

As the mask dried, I could tell it was appropriately thick this time; it felt tighter and tighter over my skin—especially when I tried to move my mouth or crinkle my forehead. After 30 minutes (during which I guzzled wine), my phone alarm alerted me it was time to remove the mask. I trudged to the bathroom, took a deep, deep breath, said a prayer, and began to peel away at the edges. This time it came off in (mostly) a single sheet.

The removal process was surprisingly cathartic—somewhere between the sensation of peeling off dried glue (you did that in school, too, right?) and ripping off a Band-Aid. I did experience some minor pain at first—something I attributed to extra hair around the outside of my face—but I could practically feel the mask stripping my pores of blackheads and oil, and it was so, so satisfying.

I analyzed my freshly-peeled complexion in the mirror, noticing a newfound smoothness as I ran my fingers across my oil-free face. Ahhhh. The little redness I noticed faded quickly, but my blackheads still persisted. (The mask also ripped off a whitehead I had, which was bleeding a little bit, so I made note to avoid putting the goop over any sensitive-looking pimples the next time around.)

The Next Few Applications: Instantly Gratifying Complexion Fixes

By the time I reached my third, fourth and fifth applications—about five, nine, and 14 days into my trial—I had perfected proper mask application and consistency. With each application, my confidence grew, and I applied an increasingly thick layer. The thicker the layer, the more painful the peel-off—but I found myself almost enjoying the pain.

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The results continued in a fairly predictable pattern: I’d remove the mask to find a smooth and grease-free complexion. Any redness would subside in the next hour or so.

The Final Verdict

Like most of the buzzy beauty products I’ve tried out, the charcoal peel-off mask seemed to be more of a short-term magician than a long-term miracle-worker. That being said, though, I will absolutely use this mask again—probably the night (or a few hours) before an event, so my skin will be fresh and shine-free when it counts.

Want to test a charcoal peel-off mask for yourself? Try BioMiracle’s Detoxifying Charcoal Peel-Off Mask.