Clean and Clear Deep Action Peel Off Mask Activated Charcoal

Clean & Clear

Deep Action Peel Off Mask with Activated Charcoal

0.35 fl. oz. for $ 2.99
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Brand Overview

Clean & Clear’s Deep Action Peel Off Mask claims to be one-stop-shopping for those looking to control oil, but it’s likely to make oily skin worse.

This dark gray mask’s gel texture is easy to spread across skin. You’re instructed to let it dry for 20 minutes, then peel it off, using a soft washcloth to rub off any excess (but you’re not supposed to actually rinse it off per the brand’s instructions). It works exactly as advertised in that regard, but that’s where the positives end…

Ingredient-wise, the only “deep” thing about this formula is how deeply problematic it winds up being. There’s a high amount of three different types of bad alcohols: drying alcohol denatured and alcohol, plus polyvinyl alcohol (the lesser offender). Equally troubling, they’ve included irritating fragrance. Over time, irritation from these offending ingredients triggers more oil production in skin, leading to increase shininess and clogged pores (see More Info for details).

Another issue is this product’s exfoliating claims. While it contains the AHA exfoliant glycolic acid, beta hydroxy acid (aka salicylic acid) is more effective at controlling oil because it penetrates down into pores. Further, this mask’s pH of 5.27 is above what’s considered optimal (between 3 and 4) to exfoliate.

What of the activated charcoal that’s the star ingredient? Charcoal has absorbent properties, but there’s so little of it here that its benefit is negligible. In fact, the dark color this mask has doesn’t come from the charcoal, it’s from the colorant Black 2. Now that’s misleading!

Give this mask a pass and select one of the far better options you’ll find on our list of best face masks.

  • Easy to peel off.
  • Contains a high amount of drying alcohols.
  • Includes fragrance, which can aggravate skin.
  • Glycolic acid is at a pH that is above what’s optimal to exfoliate.
  • There’s barely any of the advertised activated charcoal in this formula.
  • Likely to make oily skin worse.

More Info:

Alcohol-Based Skincare Products: Research makes it clear that alcohol, as a main ingredient in any skincare product, especially one you use frequently and repeatedly, is a problem.

When we express concern about the presence of alcohol in skincare or makeup products, we’re referring to denatured ethanol, which most often is listed as SD alcohol, alcohol denat., denatured alcohol, or (less often) isopropyl alcohol.

When you see these types of alcohol listed among the first six ingredients on an ingredient label, without question the product will irritate and cause other problems for skin. There’s no way around it—these volatile alcohols are simply bad for all skin types.

The reason they’re included in products is because they provide a quick-drying finish, immediately degrease skin, and feel weightless, so it’s easy to see their appeal, especially for those with oily skin. If only those short-term benefits didn’t lead to negative long-term outcomes!

Using products that contain these alcohols will cause dryness, erosion of skin’s protective barrier, and a strain on how skin replenishes, renews, and rejuvenates itself. Alcohol just weakens everything about skin.

The irony of using alcohol-based products to control oily skin is that the damage from the alcohol can actually lead to an increase in breakouts and enlarged pores. As we said, the alcohol does have an immediate de-greasing effect on skin, but it causes irritation, which eventually will counteract the de-greasing effect and make your oily skin look even more shiny.

There are people who challenge us on the information we’ve presented about alcohol’s effects. They often base their argument on a study in the British Journal of Dermatology (July 2007, pages 74–81) that concluded “alcohol-based hand rubs cause less irritation than hand washing….” But, the only thing this study showed was that alcohol was not as irritating as an even more irritating hand wash, which contained sodium lauryl sulfate. So, the study is actually just telling you that one irritant, sodium lauryl sulfate, is worse than another irritant, alcohol.

Not all alcohols are bad. For example, there are fatty alcohols, which are absolutely non-irritating and can be beneficial for skin. Examples that you’ll see on ingredient labels include cetyl alcoholstearyl alcohol, and cetearyl alcohol, all of which are good ingredients for skin. It’s important to differentiate between these skin-friendly alcohols and the problematic alcohols.

References for this information:
Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77–80
Aging, March 2012, pages 166–175
Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, November 2008, pages 1–16
Dermato-Endocrinology, January 2011, pages 41–49
Experimental Dermatology, June 2008, pages 542–551
Clinical Dermatology, September-October 2004, pages 360–366
Alcohol Journal, April 2002, pages 179–190

Jar Packaging: No
Tested on animals: Yes

Peel away pore-clogging dirt, oil, and impurities in one step with Clean & Clear Deep Action Peel Off Mask with Activated Charcoal. This exfoliating facial mask clings to dirt and oil as it transforms from a liquid to a semi-solid, and then easily peels off to reveal cleansed skin. This single-use face mask that contains activated charcoal is oil-free and non-comedogenic, which means it won't clog pores.

Water, Polyvinyl Alcohol, Alcohol Denat., Glycerin, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Polyvinyl Acetate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Cellulose Gum, Fragrance, Xanthan Gum, Alcohol, PVP, Disodium EDTA, Lactic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Butylene Glycol, Charcoal Powder, Black 2.

Clean & Clear At-A-Glance

Strengths: Inexpensive; an excellent 10% benzoyl peroxide product; some very good cleansers.

Weaknesses: The majority of products contain irritating fragrant extracts, alcohol, menthol, menthyl lactate, or other problematic ingredients; below-average moisturizers; poor options for those struggling with breakouts or blackheads (at least if your goal is assembling a helpful skin-care routine using only Clean & Clear's products).

The name of this Johnson & Johnson-owned brand clearly communicates what it attempts to provide, and may seem to be a beacon of hope for consumers struggling with acne. The products are heavily marketed toward teens, with commercials and print ads featuring attractive young models with nary a blemish in sight, presumably because these fresh-faced teens adhere to a routine consisting of these attractively packaged products.

Although there are some great, inexpensive cleansers available, blemishes have nothing to do with how clean your skin is; the two issues are completely unrelated. The other failing is that unlike sister company Neutrogena (also owned by J&J), almost all of Clean & Clear's anti-acne products contain irritating ingredients that won't improve skin problems and end up making matters worse. Even a couple of the pH-correct BHA options are marred by troublesome ingredients that only make blemished skin more inflamed and impede the healing process. Moreover, the issue of sun protection is inadequately addressed, with the only option failing to provide sun protection without added irritants. What kind of message is that for teens trying to put together an effective skin-care routine? Clean skin is attainable from these products, but the company's road to "beautifully clear" skin has too many speed bumps to make this a one-stop destination for the blemish-prone.

For more information about Clean & Clear, call (877) 754-6411 or visit

About the Experts

The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.

Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.

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