Charcoal for Skin: Is it Really Beneficial or is it Just a Fad?

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From charcoal toothpaste to charcoal health drinks, there’s no ignoring the charcoal trend that has recently taken the beauty world by storm. So, it’s hardly surprising that the ingredient can now be found in so many skincare products too. It’s nothing new – people have been using charcoal for various health and cosmetic purposes for centuries now, but what does science have to say about this? Are there really any benefits to using charcoal on your skin, or is it all just a cleverly marketed fad? It’s time to find out…

What is Charcoal?

Charcoal powder on wooden spoon

Charcoal is a fine black powder that’s created when carbon-based materials are burned. However, the charcoal used in skincare isn’t quite the same as this – it has been treated with high heat in a specific way that allows for adsorption characteristics. This basically frees up its molecules and maximizes its surface area, meaning that it’s then capable of absorbing a large number of toxins. This is where the name “activated charcoal”, or “activated carbon”, comes from.

Not only is activated charcoal loved by the beauty industry, but the medical sector heavily relies on it too. Oral activated charcoal is used to remove toxins from the body, enabling it to help with everything from excessive gas to kidney function. In fact, combining activated charcoal with a low protein diet can really help with renal disease [1]. It can also be used to treat an acute overdose, as well as for absorbing bile salts, which promotes liver health.

The Skin Benefits of Activated Charcoal

While there’s plenty of science out there confirming how charcoal can help with medicine, there isn’t quite as much available when it comes to its skin care uses. In fact, much of the information out there is simply anecdotal evidence, but this doesn’t mean that it should be dismissed. Let’s take a look at some of the main benefits of activated charcoal for skin:

Detoxifies the Skin

The fact that activated charcoal is able to effectively absorb and remove toxins from the body is no secret [2]. These highly absorbent qualities translate to the skin too when the ingredient is used topically. Think of it like a magnet – it attracts dirt, bacteria, excess oil, toxins, and other unwanted micro particles. When you wash away the charcoal, all of those substances are washed away too, leaving you with smaller pores and a clearer complexion.

Gently Exfoliates Dead Skin Cells

Since charcoal naturally has quite a grainy texture, it provides a gentle exfoliation to the skin. Although a powder, activated charcoal works in a similar way to other physical exfoliants, sloughing off dead skin cells to reveal the fresh and healthy cells beneath. However, since charcoal powder is so fine, it’s much gentler than other abrasive exfoliants, meaning that it can be used to exfoliate sensitive skin too.

Woman after doing body exfoliation

Helps to Treat Acne

The way in which charcoal cleanses the skin and exfoliates the pores already goes a long way towards helping to treat acne. However, with charcoal also having antibacterial properties [3], experts believe that it could help to reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Unfortunately, unlike with many of the other antibacterial agents used in acne products, there isn’t enough research out there to officially back this claim up. That said, a large number of people have experienced success with using charcoal to treat and prevent breakouts.

Soothes Eczema and Sensitive Skin

Not only does charcoal have antibacterial properties, but it’s also an antifungal. Additionally, it’s very gentle, making it a great ingredient for soothing eczema and sensitivities. However, again, more research into this is needed.

Can Treat Insect Bites

One of the benefits of activated charcoal that many aren’t aware of is its ability to treat insect bites. It has been used throughout history as an antidote for bites, thanks to how it neutralizes insect venom in the skin. As a result, this soothes irritation and itching.

How to Add Activated Charcoal to Your Skin Care Routine

You’ll find numerous products out there that have been formulated with activated charcoal, and this is often the easiest way to get started with the ingredient. Whether it may be a coconut charcoal mask or a bamboo charcoal cleanser, there’s plenty to choose from. However, for those of you who like to customize your skincare, a homemade charcoal mask might be more suitable.

Woman getting charcoal facial treatment

Homemade Activated Charcoal Masks

Making your own charcoal mask not only gives you full control over all of the ingredients used, but it also means that you can adapt a basic recipe to suit your skin type. Whether you have oily skin or dry skin, here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • 1 tsp of activated charcoal powder (buy this from somewhere credible – activated charcoal is an unregulated ingredient that doesn’t require FDA approval, meaning that there are several sub-standard powders out there)
  • 1 tsp of bentonite clay (or other similar clay materials)
  • 1/2 tsp of raw honey
  • 2 tsp of water
  • Optional ingredients: Aloe vera gel, lemon extract, green tea powder, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils

All you need to do is mix all of the ingredients together until they form a paste. Make sure that your skin has been freshly cleansed and then apply the mask evenly over your face. Wait about 15 minutes to let the mask dry before using warm water to rinse it off. Pat your face dry and then follow up with your favorite face cream.

If this sounds like too much work, you could always just purchase a charcoal mask. However, avoid masks that contain harsh chemicals – your skin doesn’t need to be dealing with these! Instead, look for face mask formulas that include hydrating ingredients and plenty of antioxidants.

Does Activated Charcoal Have Any Side Effects?

Although generally considered to be a gentle and safe ingredient for all skin types, activated charcoal still has the potential to irritate sensitive skin. If you’ve never used activated charcoal on your skin before, perform a patch test on a small area of skin on your arm first. Wait a few hours to see if your skin reacts. If it doesn’t, then go ahead and apply it to your face.

Allergic reactions are rare when activated charcoal is used topically – these are more commonly seen with oral supplements.

Black charcoal mask on a woman's face

FAQs

Is charcoal good for skin whitening?

Although not technically a skin whitening ingredient, the way in which activated charcoal clears the pores can help to brighten skin tone and reduce the severity of blemishes. That said, it should still be combined with other skin lightening treatments for best results.

Why is charcoal bad for your skin?

Those with dry skin may find that charcoal strips away too much of their natural oils, leaving their skin parched and flaky. This can be countered by ensuring that you keep your skin hydrated and moisturized whenever you use activated charcoal.

Is charcoal good for your face?

Yes, activated charcoal offers a number of benefits when used on the face.

Conclusion

With more and more people turning towards natural skincare ingredients whenever possible, it comes as no surprise that activated charcoal has been in the spotlight. It’s able to remove impurities, clear the pores, and soothe the skin. Although science may still be playing catch-up in terms of carrying out the necessary studies to confirm all of this, there’s still enough research, along with anecdotal evidence, to make this an ingredient worth trying.

References

[1] https://www.sjkdt.org/article.asp?issn=1319-2442;year=2010;volume=21;issue=1;spage=102;epage=104;aulast=Musso
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25455049
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6104356/

About The Author

Chanel Meekins

The co-founder and CEO of Pierre Michel Beauty, Chanel Meekins brings 20 years of experience in skincare and digital media to the table. She puts her knowledge to good use by overseeing the Pierre Michel Beauty blog, ensuring that every review and recommendation published meets the brand’s high standards, resulting in advice that people can truly depend on.

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