stantiated? Then how about a patented one? The substrate
combines some natural vegetable fiber with chitosan, a ver-
satile biopolymer already seen in medical applications. In ad-
dition to acting as a carrier, a substrate containing chitosan
can possess bacteria-inhibiting properties while absorbing re-
sidual chemicals. The final product comes in the form of two
separate packages for sheet and essence, which are to be com-
bined upon application. This is to overcome the formulating
difficulties and minimize the amount of the preservatives used
by the manufacturer.
Apart from nonwovens’ dominance, biomaterials are on the
rise as well, particularly for the products with niche positions.
Facial Masks in China, Losing Face Now?
Chinese media have been widely reporting the use of controversial and
even unsafe ingredients like topical hormones and preservatives in some
facial masks in recent years. The misuse of these ingredients has led the
Chinese Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) to ramp up efforts to better regulate this quickly growing market as consumers have also become
more aware of these ingredients.
In fact, when facial masks are mentioned nowadays, three keywords
immediately jump into Chinese consumers’ minds thanks to massive media coverage—topical steroids (addictive hormones or skin opium in the
mainstream media’s terms), fluorescent brightening/whitening agents and
The issue of topical steroids first gained public attention in 2014 when
Chinese state media CCTV (China Central Television) reported that a young
woman suffered a serious allergic reaction after using some facial masks
bought on WeChat. The subsequent investigation found that many of the
facial masks available on the social platform used low-end ingredients/
materials, and some of the products even reportedly contained 6000 times
the level of topical steroids permitted by domestic law.
Topical corticosteroid, especially fluocinolone, has caught particular attention since then. It’s already known that the excessive use of the steroid
could cause serious side effects such as subsequent dependence/addic-tion. When it comes to skin applications, such steroids are only allowed to
be prescribed by doctors to treat inflammation such as eczema and allergies and its use cosmetics have never been legally allowed.
With media reports increasingly highlighting slack supervision of this issue, government officials began to take actions on this matter in 2015.
A series of inspections have been conducted and subsequent warnings
have been issued by CFDA ever since. In its official announcements, the
agency reveals that those facial masks disqualified upon inspection all
have been found illegally adding banned topical corticosteroids, and warns
that such products could cause serious skin problems including pigmenta-tion/melasma and atrophy. After issuing its first guideline on a standard
method for identifying fluocinolone illegally added into facial masks in May
(No.88.2016), CFDA widened its screening range for topical steroids in
November’s inspection, announcing that 50 batches of the facial masks
were disqualified as containing synthetic glucocorticoids including Beta-methasone (No.140.2016).
At the end of last year, the inspection has even gone beyond facial masks
and topical steroids. In its latest notice issued in December (No.170.2016),
the agency announced that 60 out of 4332 batches of anti-pigmentation
cosmetic products were found containing banned substances, mainly topi-
cal corticosteroids and mercury. And facial masks still make up quite a pro-
portion ( 12 out of 60) of the unqualified products, and some of them are
even from the well-known local brands.
Other potential concerns ahead?
Along with topical steroids, fluorescent brighteners (or fluorescent whitening agents) and preservatives have also caused great concern among
facial mask users in China, due largely to massive media attention to their
possible carcinogenicity years ago. As a result, such claims as ‘
fluores-cent-brightener-free’ and ‘preservative-free’ have become prevalent.
The public panic over fluorescent brighteners started in 2014 after a
media report, which claimed that any personal care product emitting blue
light under some UV lamp must contain the toxic agent, and this problem
was prevalent among facial masks. Although it pushed a new wave of
‘free of’ trends and boosted the sales of so-called fluorescent brightener
detectors, no actions have been taken by the authority, apart from an announcement that any addition of the agent into cosmetics is illegal unless
approved by CFDA beforehand.
Another concern in facial masks is the use of preservatives. The dispute
over these ingredients was provoked by some expert assertion circulated
widely online in 2014, which likened facial masks to a cultural medium for
bacteria. While there is some consensus among industrial experts and der-
matologists that proper use of preservatives are necessary against product
contamination, ordinary consumers are still in favor of products claiming
Therefore, ‘preservative-free’ is increasingly becoming a point of dif-
ferentiation for facial mask manufacturers. Perhaps the most high-profile
example is BeiHao, a local OEM/ODM manufacturer. Its latest launch, 001
sheet masks, made the headlines by claiming not only to be free of preser-
vative and synthetic chemicals but also guaranteeing a two-year shelf life.
While CFDA is now stepping up its inspection efforts on facial masks,
with microbiological safety being monitored very closely, brands find it is
increasingly hard to keep a balancing act between their claims and quality. Just as the latest official inspection revealed that, some facial masks,
including those from well-known brands, were found unqualified as exceeding the regulatory limit of CFU (colony forming units) which indicates