activated charcoal skincare

What’s the Deal With Charcoal Skincare?

Skincare and health products featuring charcoal are really nothing new. Egyptian records as early as 1,500 B.C. showed that they were using activated charcoal to absorb unpleasant odors from putrefying wounds, and the Ancient Hindus and Phoenicians discovered reportedly used it to purify their water in 400 B.C.

That said, the past few years have breathed new life into this age-old ingredient, and charcoal - especially activated charcoal - is now especially prevalent in beauty aisles around the world.

Here’s what you should know.

What Is Activated Charcoal?

activated charcoal detoxifying skincare ingredient

Activated charcoal, as you may have guessed, is not the same as charcoal that you get off the grill or the bonfire. It’s specially made by heating up charcoal-based materials – like wood, peat, bamboo, coconut shells, or sawdust – to super-high temperatures. This “activation” process:

  • Strips the charcoal of previously absorbed molecules and frees up the bonding sites (more on that later)
  • Reduces the size of the pores in the molecules and makes more holes, thereby increasing the overall surface area. In fact, it increases it so much that one teaspoon of activated charcoal has more surface area than an entire football field!
  • Slightly charges the molecules in the charcoal

Say what?

What you really need to know is that this super-heating process - and the resulting porous, charged structure of the charcoal - is what gives activated charcoal it’s unparalleled ability to bind to micro-particles like dust, chemicals, toxins, and bacteria so that you can expel them from your body.

In other words, it’s what gives it it’s toxin-eliminating superpowers.

And it really works.

Activated charcoal has plenty of serious and important medical uses around the world. Many traditional medicine practitioners use activated charcoal powder to treat skin infections, and emergency rooms even use it to treat patients who have suffered from drug overdoses, poisoning, or venomous bites.

How Does it Work On the Skin?

charcoal face mask skincare

If it can help with an overdose or a snake bite, imagine what it can do for a blackhead or for some odor-causing bacteria!

Well, we think quite a lot.

Now, there’s no scientific data to prove that this works - but the experiential evidence is nothing to sneeze at.

Overall, activated charcoal-rich skincare products are shown to act as a magnet to attract and absorb dirt and oil on the skin. The idea here is that all that gunk sticks to the charcoal and you can simply wash it away. Plus, it won’t irritate or overdry the skin like other harsh products.

The Final Verdict

It seems to work, and it definitely won’t hurt.

That said, there is some evidence that activated charcoal goops - masks, cleansers, etc. - aren’t quite as effective as pure, powdered activated charcoal. And it makes sense: they’re mixed in with other ingredients, and they mostly sit on the surface of the skin (unlike the ultra-fine powder, which can likely penetrate a little deeper).

That said, these products are likely to be at least somewhat effective, they’re not too expensive, and they certainly won’t do any harm - so you might as well give them a try.