As a beauty editor, I’ve seen my fair share of strange ingredients touted as miracle workers. Snail extract that promises brighter skin, mushrooms that boost collagen—the list goes on. While some of these ingredients are merely marketing tools, a few of them work (and work really well) like activated charcoal. It might not be as effective at whitening teeth as we had hoped, but when it comes to removing toxins, dirt, and oil from the skin—charcoal is boss.
“In medicine in general, [activated charcoal] has been around for a while. It’s traditionally been used to remove toxins [from the body],” says Dr. Sajel Shah, a New York City based dermatologist. Activated charcoal is often used after someone has experience alcohol poisoning, for example, to rid the body of toxins in the stomach, and is also used on bug bites to remove poison. When it comes to skincare, activated charcoal works through a process called adsorption. Adsorption is the process of atoms moving from a solid or liquid to a solid or liquid surface. So, what exactly does that mean? “Charcoal works as a magnet for these toxins,” says Shah.
Drugstore and department store shelves are suddenly brimming over with activated charcoal based products, from pore strips to cleansers. Shah recommends charcoal products for people that have oily or acne prone skin. Those with sensitive skin should be careful when using the products, as they can be more drying. “The best way it works is as a mask,” says Shah. “There is a sense that the longer you leave it on, the better it works.” We took it upon ourselves to sort through and test out the available options. Here’s our guide to the five you should try now.
Don’t let the instant tingling sensation throw you off—this mask packs serious power. Formulated with activated charcoal, a blend of AHA and BHA acids, and K17-Clay this mask helps to de-clog pores and repair damaged skin. Leave it on for up to 20 minutes as a mask or use it as a spot treatment.
This treatment clears and minimizes pores using charcoal and micro-crystal exfoliants. Once you wash away the black foam you’ll be left with smooth skin and clear pores.
A combination of activated charcoal and White China clay work together to absorb toxins and oil and leave skin feeling clean and refreshed.
Mud, charcoal, and seaweed join forces to hydrate and detoxify skin in this nutrient rich mask. Use it 2-3 times per week and your skin will thank you.
Boscia Pore Purifying Black Strips ($28 for 12)
Whether you want to admit it or not, there are few things more satisfying than peeling off a pore strip. Add activated charcoal and silica powder to the game and you’ll get some extra oomph when it comes to de-clogging.