What's The Deal With Charcoal In Beauty Products and Skincare?

Posted On Jul 12, 2017 By Rachel Weingarten

What's The Deal With Charcoal In Beauty Products and Skincare?

You've probably noticed a proliferation of beauty products infused with charcoal, most especially in skincare and toothpastes. In case you're wondering, the activated charcoal that makes its way into the newest crop of beauty products has nothing to do with the tablets grandpa used to take to soothe his upset stomach. Most skin treatments are made with activated charcoal, for maximum degunking benefits.

Why charcoal? New York Dermatologic Surgeon and RealSelf Contributor Dr. Sejal Shah explains that "Charcoal draws out oil and debris from your skin and also exfoliates, so think of it like a deep detoxifying cleanse for the skin."

How does it work? Dr. Shah says "Charcoal works by a process called adsorption (not to be confused with absorption), an electrical attraction that causes substances to stick together, so basically it acts like a magnet for dirt, oil and other impurities on the skin. When oil and debris in your pores and on your skin come into contact with charcoal they stick to it and get washed away when you rinse." But beware, since charcoal based products "can be very drying so they tend to be best for people with combination or oily skin."

Meanwhile, if you're trying to figure out which product might work best for you, Dr. Shah likes masks over cleansers because "the process by which charcoals works (adsorption-an electrical attraction that causes substances to stick together so it basically acts like a magnet for dirt, oil and other impurities) depends on physical contact so it needs to sit on the skin to be effective."

Head to toe: Dentist and RealSelf Contributor Victoria Veytsman says "There are some purifying qualities to activated charcoal and it has been used for ages for medicinal purposes to help trap toxins. More recently it has been used to lift stains off teeth. While there is some anecdotal evidence that it may help brighten teeth, there is no scientific evidence." Dr. Veytsman doesn't recommend using charcoal as a primary way to whiten teeth "and would use it cautiously and in moderation due to its abrasive quality and potential to damage enamel and gums."

But the charcoal-y goodness isn't limited to T-zone or teeth, Wake Foot Sanctuary in Asheville, North Carolina offers a charcoal-based soap in its proprietary apothecary line. Melissa Long, owner of Wake Foot Sanctuary, says charcoal is particularly great for removing oils and residue. She says the spa originally created the soap for local gardeners (gardening is huge in Asheville) who wanted something with a little more gusto to remove all the grime of the daily "dirty" work. Long says charcoal soap is especially beneficial in the summer because skin is typically oilier in the warmer months. Add to that constant SPF and bug spray application throughout the day and a goopy product buildup. Charcoal soap is great for removing all that and leaving you with clean but also moisturized skin since it doesn’t strip away the moisture.

How often can you use charcoal in your skincare routine? Dr. Shah says it really depends on your skin type and the product you are using. "Of the charcoal containing products, I like charcoal containing masks the most because adsorption depends on physical contact so charcoal needs to sit on the skin to be effective. Usually I recommend using a mask 1-2 times per week, if your skin is extremely oily you may be able to use it more often. If you are using a cleanser you may be able to use it every other day to daily, depending on your skin type."

Curious and ready to take the charcoal plunge? Well, skip the Elmer's glue inspired peel off masks on Instagram, as intriguing as the premise is of making a DIY version, you should probably stick to the tried and true. Dr. Shah recommends Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask or Boscia Charcoal Makeup Melter.

A couple of notable new charcoal products include:

  • Labo Basic Black Charcoal Gel: This highly effective gel helps minimize the appearance of blemishes and helps control the excessive secretion of sebum, making your skin supple and relieving greasiness. Activated charcoal absorbs sebum and keeps your skin smooth and dry.
  • Oars + Alps Solid Face Wash jumps on the athleisure trend with a solid face wash with charcoal that's created just for men. Great for travel or the gym back. It's also all-natural, paraben and gluten free, and the activated charcoal absorbs up to 200 times its weight in impurities. It also exfoliates and buffs away dead skin. Products are never tested on animals.
  • Curaprox Black Is White Tough Whitening Toothpaste is an activated charcoal-based teeth whitener is a unique, 100% natural and gentle toothpaste. Unlike regular toothpastes, this one is black and safely whitens teeth by effectively absorbing dirt and discoloration particles (buh-bye coffee, tea and wine stains!).

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