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Prudent Use of Peeling Pad Products and Check Ingredients, Concentration and Contact Time to Avoid Skin Damage Urging Improvement of the Labelling to Include pH Value and Increasing Product Information Transparency

  • 2023.11.15

Regardless of gender, the pursuit of beauty is universal, and the appearance of acne, enlarged pores, dull skin and fine lines may prompt people to look for ways to improve skin conditions. In recent years, various types of peeling pad products have emerged, claiming to help alleviate all these skin problems. The Consumer Council has examined the labelled ingredients, concentration, and user instructions, etc. of 28 peeling or toning pads available in the market. It was found that 2 models of rinse-off products were labelled with relatively high concentrations of active ingredient, which might not be suitable for self-application by general consumers. The user instructions of the models also varied largely, including the use method, application, frequency and duration of application, etc. Misusing the products, such as blindly pursuing a product with a high concentration of active ingredient(s), using too often or extending contact time of the product on skin, may bring harm instead of benefits to the skin, resulting in hyperpigmentation or even scarring. Consumers are advised to find out if the product is suitable for their skin type and needs, and read the instructions carefully before application to ensure the safe use of the product. The study also found that some models did not clearly label important information such as detailed ingredients, pH value, manufacture or expiration date, and material of the pads, etc., and the user instructions of certain models might cause misunderstanding easily. The Council urges manufacturers to improve the labelling of user instructions and increase the transparency of product information.

The 28 models of peeling pads in this survey were pre-soaked with essences and were ready for use upon opening. 24 models did not require rinsing after application, among which 21 could be used by simply wiping the face with the peeling pads and letting the skin absorb the essence naturally, while 3 models were 2-step peeling kits that required using in sequential order without rinsing. The remaining 4 models were rinse-off products. Although the use methods of the models were vastly different, there was no significant difference in the appearance between the rinse-off and non-rinse models, so consumers should be careful to avoid misuse. In terms of price, the models ranged from $47 to $490 per package, and the cost per pad or kit ranged from about $0.9 to $36, which had a difference of around 40 times.

2 Models Labelled with Relatively High Concentrations of Glycolic Acid

May Not Be Suitable for Self-application

There were 4 common types of peeling ingredients among the models, including the traditional alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) and lipo-hydroxy acids (LHAs). Among them, PHAs and LHAs are relatively new exfoliating ingredients, which are milder and suitable for those with allergic skin.

17 models were labelled with AHAs, commonly with glycolic acid, lactic acid and malic acid, etc. Among them, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular size with high rate of skin penetration, which is more effective in exfoliating but also relatively more irritating to the skin; whereas lactic acid and malic acid have moisturising properties and are less irritating than glycolic acid.

According to the recommendations by the US Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), glycolic acid, lactic acid and their compounds in cosmetic products are safe for home-use at concentrations equal to or less than 10% (with pH value equal to or over 3.5), whereas the Mainland’s Safety and Technical Standards for Cosmetics stipulates that the maximum allowable concentration of AHAs and their compounds is 6% (with pH value also equal to or over 3.5). However, the study found that the labelled concentration of glycolic acid in 2 models originated from the US were 10% and 20% respectively, which reached or exceeded the limit recommended by the CIR  for home-use products, and also exceeded the limit stipulated by the Mainland, thus posing potential risks to consumers for self-application. The Council has already forwarded the information to the Customs and Excise Department for study and follow-up action.

In addition, the pH value of AHAs-containing products is another important factor affecting the level of skin irritation. The lower the pH value, the higher the chance of skin irritation, though it may have a higher degree of exfoliation. It was found that only a small number of models, either on the packaging or on their official website, stated the concentration(s) of active ingredient(s) or the pH value of the product. In view of the fact that the concentration of AHAs in cosmetic products is regulated or recommended with designated pH requirement by various regions, the Council urges manufacturers to label or state relevant important information appropriately.

Diverse Methods of Use

Consumers Should Read Instructions Carefully

Many consumers may think that the ways of applying most peeling pads are similar, but the study found that they varied greatly among the models; even the rinse-off and non-rinse models, which have different ways of application, did not have significant differences in appearance. Consumers are advised to read labels and instructions carefully before using the products to avoid skin damage due to misuse. Meanwhile, the user instructions labelled on packaging of some models were unsatisfactory, with 3 only listing the use methods in Chinese or English on their official websites but not on their packaging, while user instructions of some models could be easily misunderstood, thus increasing the risk of misuse. 5 models labelled the batch numbers only without indications of manufacture date, shelf-life or expiration date, causing a higher chance of using products that either have been produced for a long time and hence reducing efficacy, or may even be expired. The Council urges relevant suppliers to make improvements.

The study also found that the frequency of use, duration of application or leave-on time before rinsing, and whether the product needs rinsing varied greatly among the models. Over 80% (24) of them stated that the peeling pads could be used daily, among which 10 suggested using it once a day, 9 stated that it could be used twice a day, and the most frequent ones stated that they could be used 1 to 3 times a day.

Besides, 13 models stated that they could be used as facial masks. The suggested application times varied significantly among 11 models, ranging from a minimum of 1 minute to a maximum of 10 minutes, while 5 models stated that they were not suitable for application as facial masks. Among the 4 rinse-off models, 2 suggested leaving the essence on the face for 2-3 minutes and 20 minutes respectively, with 1 even stated that after 3 weeks of application, users could consider leaving it on for the whole night depending on the tolerance level of their skin, while the remaining 2 models did not specify the leave-on time before rinsing.

Manufacturers Urged to Use More Environmentally Friendly Materials for Peeling Pads

Peeling pads are thrown away after use, and many environmentally conscious consumers pay attention to the composition of materials in the pads. The study found that only a small proportion of models had specified the material of the pads on their webpages, while some claimed that the pads were made of pure cotton or biodegradable materials. On the other hand, some models had a mixture of rayon and polyester fibres or a certain proportion of PET plastic materials, which are relatively less environmentally friendly. Consumers should note that whether the pads can be decomposed effectively depends on the conditions of the environment, such as the humidity and pH value. The Council suggests that manufacturers should consider using more environmentally friendly materials for peeling pads, and labelling the material of the pads on packaging so that consumers can make informed choices. If consumers wish to switch to toner and cotton pads, they should note that some cotton pads are made with multiple layers or are thicker, requiring more toner to dampen the entire pad. Peeling pads or cotton pads made of pure cotton are relatively more environmentally friendly choices.

Do Not Exfoliate Obsessively

Allergy Sufferers Should Be Extra Careful

When using peeling pads, do not blindly pursue products with a high concentration of active ingredients or extend the product’s contact time on skin; otherwise, it may backfire and lead to skin damage, or even hyperpigmentation or scarring. In addition, if multiple peeling products are used at the same time, it may increase the chance of causing adverse skin reactions. On the contrary, if a single exfoliator with a simpler formulation is used, it is easier to identify the source of the adverse reaction. First-time users are advised to choose a product with a lower concentration and not to use it too often. For those who are prone to skin allergies, products with PHAs or LHAs as active ingredients are less irritating, but even though these ingredients are relatively milder, consumers should pay close attention to skin condition after each use to prevent effects of over-exfoliation such as redness, dryness, tightness, flaky skin or even inflammation.

Consumers should pay heed to these tips when purchasing and using peeling products to avoid adverse skin reactions:

  • Remember to follow user instructions when using peeling products, pay attention to the frequency of use and contact time, and be gentle when applying the pad on skin to avoid skin irritation due to excessive rubbing;
  • Some ingredients may cause eye irritation or damage. Avoid the areas around the eyes and be extra careful when using the products near the eyes (e.g. nose and forehead, etc.);
  • After using peeling products, consumers should ensure that the skin is moisturised and sun-protected on a daily basis, and should not undergo any UV procedures;
  • People using skincare products with retinoid or benzoyl peroxide, or are allergic to aspirin, should consult a healthcare professional before purchasing peeling products to avoid adverse reactions;
  • If the skin had prior experience of adverse reaction to chemical exfoliating ingredients, it is recommended to try the product on a small area first and stop using and seek medical advice immediately if there is persistent stinging or severe irritation.


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