Are Those Weird Peel-Off Face Masks Safe?

Are Those Weird Peel-Off Face Masks Safe?
Photo: Imaxtree

Our definition of the perfect Friday night features a couch, a bottle of wine, and a whole slew of Pinterest funfetti pancake recipes you’ll never actually cook. Of course, that inevitably spirals into pinning 15 lamps to make with mason jars, impossible-to-find shoes from three seasons ago, burpee challenges, and naturally, questionable beauty hacks.

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Just like everyone else who’s ever fallen down a Pinterest beauty rabbit hole, we’re drawn by the temptation of making our morning routines faster, our winged liner more flawless, our wallets fatter with all the money we’ll save on DIY products. Exhibit A: those DIY peel-off masks and homemade pore strips that flaunt the gunky forests of blackheads pulled out of woebegone pores with nothing more than a little old-fashioned Elmer’s school glue. It’s the kind of thing that appeals to our lazier nature, while our logical side gives it major side-eye. But what’s the real deal?

First off, a little primer on glue—specifically polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue, the kind called for in most at-home peel-off mask recipes: PVA shows up all over the place, including on your vanity as a binder and in everything from hair products to mascara as a fixative. So that means it’s safe to use on your face, right? Well, sort of. “The Cosmetic Ingredient Review board has looked at all the data and has ruled that PVA is safe in cosmetics,”says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller. “So if you’re buying a cosmetic grade of PVA and making your own mask, then you should be fine.” Now for the bad news. “If you’re buying a household product, there’s no way to know if it’s gone through the same extensive safety testing,” says Schueller. While the bottle may say nontoxic (which, in this case, specifically refers to ingestion, so your kindergarten self could mistakenly snack on it without keeling over), that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain ingredients that could be irritating to your skin or clog your pores.

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That’s dermatologist Dr. Annie Chiu’s concern with these sticky hacks. “The glue is to give that ‘peel-off’ effect, but acrylates can actually cause allergic contact dermatitis, which can lead to itching, redness, and sometimes even blisters on the face,” says Chiu. Considering that Schueller refers to the glue-based formula as “sort of a weaker version of a pore strip,” we’re going to go ahead and say it’s worth it to shell out for our drugstore favorites and save the glue for the craft drawer.