Thanks to its ability to remove impurities, activated charcoal is sneaking into way more than your grill: It’s making a name for itself as an “it” ingredient in the beauty world. We’re here to shed light on why (and how) everyone is racing to add a little black magic to their beauty routine.
What is Activated Charcoal
By definition, activated charcoal is charcoal (the byproduct of carbon-containing material like wood, coconut shells, or peat) that has been treated to so it's more porous than regular charcoal. Because of its negative electric charge and porous nature, activated charcoal can attract and trap toxins in our bodies before they’re absorbed. In fact, charcoal has been used as an Ayurvedic treatment for gut issues like poisoning for centuries. The science behind adding activated charcoal to beauty products is similar.
“Using charcoal for the skin is based on the idea that if it can remove toxins from your GI tract, it can do the same for your complexion. It acts as a magnet for oils, dead skin cells, and debris from environmental exposure,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah, MD, FAAD. The ingredient can absorb over a thousand times its own mass in harmful substances, so it’s essentially an all-natural way to draw impurities like dirt and chemicals from skin and hair.
Why we need to De-clog our skin
Our skin is exposed to so much pollution in day-to-day life, from smog to cigarette smoke and even cosmetic products. “Congested skin can cause accelerated aging, enlarged pores, redness, irritation, breakouts, and make us look dull, ruddy, and uneven,” says Debbi Burnes, natural skincare expert and CEO of Sumbody. The good news is that with a proper cleansing routine, we can reverse and prevent this downward spiral. “Our skin’s power of absorption is both a blessing and a curse. It allows for toxins and pollution to enter our system, while also giving us the power to nourish and enrich it with healthy ingredients, such as activated charcoal.” Not to mention the fact that we’re living in the days of ‘less is more’ beauty—and the best way to work a no-makeup look is to start with a soft, clear complexion.
What to be mindful of
Make sure that you’re properly hydrating when using activated charcoal masks or cleansers. “It can be drying so people with more sensitive and dry skin should use it carefully. I find this ingredient is best for oilier skin types,” says Dr. Shah. And according to Burnes, not all charcoal is created equal. She recommends looking for products that contain coconut hull or bamboo charcoal, as their evenly porous composition is most effective at purifying skin. Wood and peat-based activated charcoals, on the other hand, tend to have larger micropores that aren't as effective.
Charcoal helps zap zits, banish blackheads, shrink pores, and leave skin with a radiant, well-rested glow. Here are some of our favorite purifying activated charcoal products for when it’s time for a well-deserved detox.
Boscia Charcoal Makeup Melter Cleansing Oil-Balm
If you accidentally fall asleep with your makeup on (it happens), let this balm be your morning lifeline. Boscia uses two types of charcoal—activated bamboo and Japanese binchotan white charcoal powder—to deeply cleanse and provide long-lasting hydration. One wash and you’ll forget you slept with a face full of foundation. $27,
Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask
Think of this as the cure-all for dull, dry-looking skin: You literally peel the dirt and oil off your face, leaving bright, smooth cheeks and a glowing T-zone behind. A purifying mask is a must-have for those living in cities, where skin is constantly confronted with air pollution. $26, origins.com
Herbivore Bamboo Charcoal Detoxifying Soap Bar
Though using black soap may seem a bit counterintuitive, we highly recommend this gentle bamboo charcoal soap from Herbivore. Not only does it cleanse, but it also acts as a rejuvenating exfoliant for your entire body and uses bergamot essential oils to balance skin’s oil production. $12, sephora.com
Dr. Jart+ Pore Minimalist Charcoal Face Masks
These sheet masks use Korean charcoal, arginine, and spearmint extract to banish blemishes and clarify pores. The cooling sensation you’ll feel when wearing one is so refreshing you’ll want to leave it on longer than the suggested 15 – 20 minutes. $30 for five, sephora.com
Drybar On the Rocks Clarifying Charcoal Shampoo
Hair needs detoxing, too! Drybar’s black-as-midnight clarifying shampoo will wash away product buildup from your hair and scalp, leaving locks shiny and replenished. The ginger, mint, and sandalwood scent is equally refreshing. $26, thedrybar.com
Sumbody Pore Purger Charcoal Cleanser
Look to this cleanser to reboot your glow after a late night of heavy food or drinking. It promises to reduce inflammation and redness, two major offenders during a dreaded ���morning after.’ $35, sumbody.com
Julep Charcoal Konjac Sponge
Made from the root of the konjac plant, this sponge will gently remove makeup, dead skin cells, and impurities in pores. Just rinse with warm water and massage face in a circular motion. Dull skin no more. $12,