Several Chinese face mask companies have been left red in the face after state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) exposed high levels of toxins in their beauty-enhancing products.
A CCTV investigation aired Sunday revealed that 21 face mask products sold online, involving 17 manufacturers, caused various skin problems among users. Many consumers complained of reactions ranging from irritated skin and acne to severe swelling after using the products. The CCTV investigation was in response to a June announcement from China’s food and drug regulator that highlighted the health risks associated with some of the market’s substandard face masks.
With glitzy ads and celebrity endorsements, facial masks — especially sheet masks — have become a quintessential skincare product for many beauty-conscious Chinese consumers. With its disposable and easy-to-use merchandise, the face mask market in China was worth $2.7 billion in 2016 and dominated the global market, according to research from the retail think tank, Coresight Research.
However, growing consumer demand has resulted in several companies profiting off of cheap and substandard products, especially online. Xixiyulu, a problematic brand singled out in the CCTV report, contained bacteria levels 84 times more than the legal standard. At time of reporting, the company’s face masks were no longer visible on online retail platforms, such as Tmall.
Li Yangjie, deputy director at the cosmetics department of Guangdong Institute for Food and Drug Control, told CCTV that some face mask manufacturers illegally add glucocorticoids — steroids that can cause serious reactions if used over a prolonged time period. Its use in cosmetics is banned in China, but in July, the department discovered that 33 of the 137 facial mask brands sold online contained high levels of glucocorticoids.
Nevertheless, Xixiyulu has stood by its product quality, adding that consumers’ reactions could be due to plant extracts or pollen used in the face masks. “Our products are all very mild,” a company customer service representative told CCTV. “It all depends on how sensitive someone’s skin is.”
Online, however, many Xixiyulu face mask users told a different story. “A bunch of small pimples popped up: Think twice before using it!” warned a user under the company’s online Tmall shop, the screenshots of which were posted on CCTV’s video. “It was fine at first,” said another user, sharing the first time they used Xixiyulu’s product. “But the second time I used it, I had bumps on my face the following day. It’s disfigured me!”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Customers try on face masks at a shopping center in Wuhan, Hubei province, March 6, 2016. Cheng Guo/VCG)