Lashes in the Lush


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Asian Pore Obsession
& Activated Charcoal,
The Beauty Ingredient Of The Moment

In Asian skincare, an entire segment of ‘pore care’ exists that cleans and unclogs pores from dirt and/or visibly reduces the size of pores. I must say that neither I have been especially aware of my own pores or their size, nor did I devote any time to my pores specifically in my beauty routine. Asians however seem to have a pore-fixation and as invisible pores are the beauty norm, I recently became pore-conscious out of curiosity to this specific skincare segment.

Pore tightening packs, pore cleaning gels, pore-minimizers and even so called “pore-killers” are incredibly popular in Asia and every self-respecting Asian skincare brand has some products devoted to pores, if not an entire product line. An answer to the question why Asian women (and men just as much, it appears) are so obsessed with pores isn’t easily found. It’s presumably part of a much larger obsession, that is the persistently deep-rooted obsession with flawless skin and –as a result- the abundant use of skincare products and treatments in general.

Within the pore care segment, activated charcoal is the star ingredient. Activated charcoal, carbon that's been treated to increase its absorbency, isn't something new. It has been used in hospital emergency rooms for years to treat pharmaceutical drugs overdoses such as from acetaminophen or aspirin, opium, cocaine and morphine, but also poisoning from toxins in pesticides and from mercury, lead and other chemicals.  Activated charcoal works by chemically binding to toxins in the stomach and absorbing them before the bloodstream can – it adsorb thousands of times its own mass in harmful substances.

The theory behind including activated charcoal in beauty products is similar: It'll act like a magnet to attract and absorb dirt and oil. "When dirt and oil in your pores come in contact with the carbon, they stick to it and then get washed away when you rinse," explains cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson in an article about charcoal in skincare on

Within the charcoal pore care segment, face masks are by far the most popular product type.

When used in a face mask, activated charcoal binds to and helps pull the dirt out of your pores, making them less visible as it’s the oil and dirt that makes pores appear bigger. Although in general sheet masks are the favourite type of face masks in Asia, pore cleaning charcoal face masks are especially popular as a peel-off mask. Asian beauty bloggers reviewing these types of masks victoriously showcase the blackheads they reaped by including pictures in their review in which these impurities can be seen sticking to the mask after it has been peeled off their face. Although it demonstrates that the mask effectively clears pore, I still find it a bit gross...

I’ve tested two different products: the best-selling My Scheming’s “Blackhead Removal Activated Carbon Mask Set” and Timeless Truth’s “TT Timeless Control Clarifying Black Charcoal Mask”.

Product 1: My Scheming - Blackhead Removal Activated Carbon Mask Set

My Scheming’s Blackhead Removal Activated Carbon Mask Set is a 3-step kit to remove stubborn blackheads, whiteheads, acne and sebum while tightening pores. The kit consists of 3 products to soften, cleanse and heal, key product being the "black activated bamboo charcoal mask" that promises to unforgivingly extract the dirt that cloggs our pores in one subtracting peel-off movement.

Many reviews of this kit - mainly by Asian beauty bloggers - can be found on the world wide web. These bloggers typically showcase 'before' pictures by means of a close-up of their by blackhead afflicted noses, and loathsome 'after' pictures proudly demonstrating the catch of the day, i.e. rows of blackheads that were extracted from the pores, now triumphantly sticking to the remains of the black peel-off mask instead.

The pack of this Taiwanese product is hilarious; crying blackheads facing their exodus, alongside a certain Ella of a Taiwanese girl band called S.H.E that is gracing the cover. 

The pack contains the following:

Solution No 1: "Deep Pore Sebum Softener" 20ml
This little bottle contains a very liquid, runny lotion that feels a bit greasy and that is supposed to 'open' pores before using the mask (I've read many times that pores do not actually open and close, but alas). It penetrates pores deeply to quickly dissolve accumulated sebum, dirt and dead skin, and to promote normal skin metabolism and tone skin.

Solution No 2: "Blackhead Removal Activated Carbon Mask"60ml
The key product, in a 60ml tube: natural active bamboo charcoal is supposed to provide "superior absorption capability" and helps to control sebum secretion for more translucent, glowing skin. Also rich in minerals. The texture of the product feels very thick, but not unpleasant.

Solution No 3: Skin "Clarifying Pore Treatment Essence" 20ml
Deeply moisturizes and hydrates skin while minimizing pores. Restores skin elasticity for more supple, radiant and healthier skin

How does it work?

I decided to follow the Asian Beauty Bloggers' approach, by first of all delighting you a with a 'before' picture so you can see the actual existence of my pores and blackheads (so sorry):

I followed the instructions on the pack: after cleaning my face, I pressed a hot towel on my nose for 1-2 minutes to open up my pores. I then applied Solution No. 1 and gently massaged the substance onto my (quite prominent - a family trait) nose for 8 minutes - which I found seriously long - after which I wiped it off with a cotton pad soaked in water.

I then richly applied Solution No. 2 a.k.a. The Mask (it should form an opaque layer) on my nose and a part of my forehead, and waited for 20 minutes as described on the pack.

I decided to apply the product on my forehead as well, as some blackheads are present there too...

...and here is a close up

However, it wasn't dry yet (it's dry and ready to peel-off when you can feel it tightening on skin and the sides become loose) after 20 minutes, so I waited 10 more minutes before I peeled-off the layer from top to bottom. According to the instructions, "you’ll see white spots and fine hair on the mask". As a final step, I patted Solution No. 3 onto my nose, which I should had done for another 8 minutes (!) yet 3 minutes seemed more than enough to me.

The Result: Blackhead Havoc?

Don't be fooled, most of the white dots are actually fine hairs

- Grainy chunks of blackhead? Hmmm nope, not so much. A few modest white dots, if you look really (REALLY) close. Either the mask doesn't work or I appear to have an immaculate, blackhead free-nose. Or a combination of both.
- Hairs? Yes. Lots. Never knew I had so much hair on my nose, but although this wasn't really the purpose of the mask, at least now they are gone.

As my nose doesn't notably look any different from the 'before' picture above, I spare you from another picture of the pores on my nose.

Would I use this mask again? Nope. I found it quite an intensive and time-consuming procedure with little result, apart from the fine hairs that apparantly grow on top of my nose. I guess I am too lazy for three step kits and too impatient to let the mask dry properly.

My Scheming - Blackhead Removal Activated Carbon Mask Set, 20ml + 60ml + 20ml
Price: SGD 18,90
Available at Sasa cosmetic stores (find stores here)
Outside of Asia, available through

Product 2: Timeless Truth - Timeless Control Clarifying Black Charcoal Mask

This clarifying mask “purifies pores and removes excess sebum without irritation”. It is a sheet mask, as opposed to most charcoal masks that are peel-off masks. According to the product description, the naturally purifying Activated Charcoal Mask helps impurities without over-drying and boosts the metabolism of the skin for faster essence absorption. The mask is good for blemishes, large pores and oily skin, and leaves skin visibly well-balanced for a clearer, healthier-looking complexion.

Although the sheet mask itself is very black, the liquid is more or less transparent. I used the product as described in the directions: Cleanse the face, open the sachet and take out the mask; adjust mask to adhere entirely over the face positioning openings for eyes and mouth (the mouth opening is quite large actually). Press the mask lightly with both hands until it adheres completely. Remove mask after 15-20 minutes.

Picture: The Black Mask, horror movie worthy

Hereafter I went wrong; apparently I should have gently massaged the remaining essence into my skin, but I wiped it off with a cotton pad instead. What happened was rather shocking though. I religiously cleanse my face thoroughly twice a day, as my skin can get oily in the T-zone and because I’m a heavy makeup user (I even use a pre-cleanser when I’ve been wearing my all-night humidity-proof ‘going out’ makeup, which consists of many carefully fixated layers of makeup and setting products).

After wiping the remaining liquid from the mask off my face, I was horrified by the look of the cotton pad that I had used: so much dirt came off, much more than I’m used to wipe off when I use a cotton pad with some toner to get rid of the last makeup residual. Apparantly. quite some leftover makeup and/or other dirt was hidden somewhere deep in my pores, which I was able to wipe off after I used this mask.

Picture: Shocked by the amount of dirt that came off my face after using the mask

Would I use this mask again? YES! Because of its demonstrated extreme cleansing results, I will definitely use this product again for some extra cleansing on top of what I thought was already an effective and vigorous cleansing routine.

Timeless Truth - TT Timeless Control Clarifying Black Charcoal Mask, 30ml
Price: SGD 3,60
Available at a.o. Guardian (find stores here)


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