As 11-year-old Chaley was getting ready for school, she applied a new facial mask, Yes To Grapefruit Vitamin C Glow-Boosting Unicorn Paper Mask. But something felt wrong. After three minutes, her skin began burning and she lifted the mask to peek at it. Her face was bright red. Panicked, she tore it off and showed her mom.
“I thought it was an allergic reaction, but then I realized it looked like it was a little more than allergic reaction. It looked like some burns,” mom Leisa Covelli of Maitland, Florida, told TODAY. “The burn reaction was an outline of the whole mask. It was crazy, like you can see where she pressed on it into her face.”
Covelli had Chaley wash her face and in an hour some of the redness dissipated. Covelli plans to return the mask and shared her experience on Yes To’s Facebook page. The company voluntarily recalled the mask on January 3, but Covelli had not heard about it.
“It was a very quiet recall,” she said. “I was surprised there wasn't a bigger mention."
Yes To did not respond to TODAY’s request for comment but shared a statement on its Facebook page:
In light of reports that our Grapefruit Vitamin C Glow-Boosting Unicorn Paper Mask has resulted in skin irritation for some consumers, Yes To has decided to remove this particular product from store shelves while we investigate.
At Yes To, the safety and satisfaction of our customers are our main concerns. We value you and apologize to anyone who was affected in this way, especially over the holiday season.
Other customers complained on social media about the mask, including Chelsea Anders. She told Iowa’s Eyewitness News 7 that it made her stepdaughter’s face "welted with red, swollen, itchy, raised abrasions.”
Stacy Slater’s daughter, Addison, used the mask a few days ago. The 11-year-old recently became interested in skin care and has used several masks without problem. Like Chaley, it only took three minutes before Addison felt pain.
“She’s like, ‘My face is a little itchy and it tingles,’” Slater of Tampa, Florida, told TODAY. “She said it felt like it was burning and stinging and at this point she was crying.”
They removed the mask and she washed her face. Slater gave her Benadryl and smoothed hydrocortisone on her skin.
“It really looked like a chemical burn,” Slater said. “She was in pain probably for an hour afterwards.”
Dermatologists say that reaction could be one of two different things either allergic contact dermatitis or irritant reaction dermatitis. But because it happens so quickly, the experts suspect it’s an irritant reaction.
“They can look very similar,” Dr. Apple Bodemer, an associate professor of dermatology at The School of Medicine and Public Health at University of Wisconsin-Madison, told TODAY. “With an irritant reaction that can happen to anybody who puts the product on their skin.”
Vitamin C is often used as an anti-aging compound in facial products.
“Vitamin C could be damaging to younger skin,” Dr. Adam Friedman, the interim chair of the dermatology department at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said. “It's about the concentration of ingredients. So anything could be toxic depending on how much you have in there, which, of course, we don't know.”
Some companies list unidentified ingredients as "fragrance," which may also be caustic to skin.
“Anytime you see that word fragrance or fragrance mix on any sort of product, you have no idea what's in it,” Bodemer said. “Some of the things that are included as fragrances actually have other activities like preservative activity or they may have coloring in them.”
Some people commented on social media that perhaps the problem stemmed from children under 18 using the mask. That's not the issue, experts said, because, after the toddler years, skin becomes less sensitive.
“Infants have skin that’s very absorbent,” Bodemer said. “We start to see skin barrier similar to an adult kind of around the age of 5.”
In addition, numerous adults complained of burns.
“I’ve used tons of their face masks and have never had a problem until today,” a woman shared on Facebook. “My face felt like it was on fire.”
What’s more, the marketing of the product confused many.
“It had a unicorn on it,” Slater said. “It is deceptive, I guess, that it's not for children.”
If a face mask causes skin irritation
Dermatologists recommend washing the face with mild soap before applying a thin layer of 1% hydrocortisone.
“You want to turn off the inflammatory response to that injury by using over-the-counter hydrocortisone,” Friedman said.
Both Slater and Covelli say that their daughters are now afraid to use any skin products. Chaley gave her mom all her cosmetics to return.
"It makes me sad because she is a preteen and this stuff is supposed to be a fun girly thing to do," Covelli said.