Cosmetic face masks that pamper – without toxic chemicals

We could all use a little pampering these days – and cosmetic face masks are a great idea. But some are made with chemicals that might harm you.

Face masks are a relaxing way for people of all ages to pamper. Set up your most soothing playlist, put on the mask, and call it a great night at home.

They’re not just for “mature” skin, because tweens and teens are obsessed with them. The masks marketed to this age group often come in packs of multiples and sport fun, sparkly graphics. Some masks are even targeted to children, with names that include the words “kid size.”

If included in a birthday party goody bag or as an “activity” at a slumber party – or given as a small holiday present – face masks are nearly guaranteed to be a hit.

And no wonder: Dermatologists say they work. By creating a barrier between the skin and the surrounding air, they promote absorption into the skin, providing immediate impact.

For facial mask users of all ages, though, there’s a potential down side to that efficacy – exposure to toxic chemicals from the mask’s ingredients.

With a younger child, tween or teen who wants to try a face mask, it’s important to be careful with the product you choose. Young people are particularly vulnerable to exposure to toxic chemicals, because their bodies are still developing.

And they may be especially sensitive to exposure to endocrine disruptors because of the role they play in development, especially at a time when their use of personal care products is going up.

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What’s in a mask

Masks often include “fragrance,” a term on the ingredient list that may be a mystery concoction that can be made from thousands of ingredients that may lead to respiratory and skin irritation.

One culprit is retinyl palmitate or retinol, which can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it should be used in limited amounts at night and avoided in daytime products. Another is parabens like propylparaben, which disrupts the endocrine system.

Face masks may also contain artificial colorings such as FD&C Blue No. 1 or FD&C Yellow No. 6. Synthetic colorants are usually produced from fossil fuels, so they may contain harmful impurities, like toxic heavy metals and carcinogens. Federal regulations set limits on some of these impurities, but some impurities are not covered by federal required testing.

EWG's Quick Tips for Choosing Safer Personal Care Products

Finding safer options

Your best bet is to consult our EWG VERIFIED® program for masks that are free from EWG’s chemicals of concern and meet our strictest standards for our health.

If your tween or teen requests a mask, ask them what product they’d like to get, then check to see whether it’s in our Skin Deep® database. If it is, and it scores a 1 or 2 or has the EWG VERIFIED mark, it’s a great option. Otherwise, you may want to keep browsing for alternatives.

If your local store doesn’t carry mask options with fewer toxic chemicals in them, use resources like Skin Deep to identify products or brands that may be available through online retailers or a store that may be able to ship healthier personal care products directly to you. If you are out shopping and need quick access to find out if a product may have health concerns, use our Healthy Living app to scan product barcodes on the go.

And remember some natural products can irritate the skin. If you’re uncertain about any ingredients, test them first on a small patch on your arm or wrist before using it on your face.

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