One of the trendiest natural ingredients in skincare today is a nitty-gritty, dark black powder called activated charcoal.
Some love it, some doubt it, and some refuse to put anything the color of ink near their skin...which is understandable! But people have been using activated charcoal for health and beauty purposes for thousands of years, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.
If you are invested in skin health, you’ve likely already seen this substance advertised in soaps, cleansers, toothpaste, and even deodorant. So what’s the deal with activated charcoal, and how can it benefit your skin?
What is Activated Charcoal?
As the name tells us, activated charcoal is charcoal that has been activated. It gets activated by exposing it to high heat which makes it have a purer structure with more surface area. This means the activated charcoal becomes a porous substance that's able to absorb toxins.
One of the reasons activated charcoal is so popular in skincare products today is because of its absorption abilities. This jet-black powder has the power to bind to small, pesky materials that get under our pores and cause dirt and chemical buildup.
Because it's made of natural materials like coconut shells, plant fibers, wood, and coal, it's a safe ingredient to use on the skin. It's so safe that some medical services use it to help detox patients in the hospital.
You can find activated charcoal in some ingestible products like foods, drinks, and toothpaste. So, regular use of charcoal in your store-bought or Do-It-Yourself skincare routines is totally safe.
Wellness Uses of Activated Charcoal
Before people started experimenting with it on their skin, believe it or not, they were ingesting activated charcoal. Although there is still a lack of evidence on how exactly charcoal can benefit our bodies internally, centuries ago people started drinking the stuff to treat food poisoning.
Now it’s a growing fad to use it as part of occasional detox supplements. You can find it on shelves in health food stores today (activated charcoal lemonade and detox juices being among the most popular).
Natural Medical Treatments in Hospitals
Nowadays, activated charcoal is part of some treatments that medical professionals throughout the world use to purge or detox poison overdose patients. It binds to the toxins in the stomach and prevents them from seeping into the blood or nervous system.
Obviously, don’t try this at home for any food poisoning or hangover remedies. See a doctor for medical emergencies. Best to keep your charcoal relationship on the skincare shelf and not in any homemade lab.
Even though poison detox is one extreme example of activated charcoal being used effectively in the wellness world, there are many more powerful but subtle reasons it continues to be sought out.
Mild Detox for the Body
Emergency poison situations aren’t the only reason people turn to activated charcoal for its detox purposes. Some claim ingesting small amounts of activated charcoal can help detox the body from junk food and day-to-day toxins.
We aren’t giving any advice here, and there are still no sure studies that prove its usefulness in any cleanse. But many people do experiment with activated charcoal and continue to rave about its benefits for their desire to feel better.
It Can Be Antibacterial and Antifungal
Since it’s so porous and absorbent, activated charcoal has also been seen to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Several products aimed to relieve foot fungus, body odor (shoutout to all the new activated charcoal deodorant brands you’re seeing at Target), and acne.
Gentle Toxin and Plaque Absorption for Mouth Hygiene
Its powers to cling onto and remove toxins and chemicals are also growing in popularity for dental products. Many folks have turned to activated charcoal as part of their regular dental care regime.
Whether it be brushing the teeth with activated charcoal followed by a natural toothpaste, or the ever-elusive “oil pulling” combined with activated charcoal, some claim it can cleanse and whiten teeth over time.
Why Use Activated Charcoal in Skin Care?
If this ingredient can help release poisons from the body, combat foot fungus, and help whiten teeth, what can it do for our skin topically? The answer is similar and not so surprising. The most powerful of its many skin benefits is that it absorbs the nasties we don’t want in our skin. The following are the top 5 skin benefits of activated charcoal.
1. Removes Impurities
Activated charcoal is the key ingredient to turn to when you want a deeper cleanse that removes deeper impurities from your face. If you love to use a lot of different skin or makeup products, over time some microparticles can get clogged in your pores and cause blemishes like pimples, blackheads, or overall dirt buildup.
Using an activated charcoal cleanser or face scrub is a great way to fight off the negative effects of these impurities under your skin. It’s safe to use regularly. But if you tend to have dry or sensitive skin, use a scrub as a weekly deep cleansing. People with oily skin will benefit more from a regular or daily charcoal face wash.
2. Cleanse Excess Oil
Oily skin types often say they love activated charcoal because of its awesome ability to absorb excess oil. While a regular face wash might clean the surface of oily skin, activated charcoal reaches deep into the pores and soaks up extra oil.
The absorbing power comes from the large surface area inside the activated charcoal. When you look at it under a microscope, activated charcoal particles look like little sponges. Going into the skin via a face wash or facial scrub, the charcoal powder works its magic specifically in your pores.
3. Decrease Blackheads
As you can guess, cleaner pores mean fewer blackheads. Blackheads are pores or small hair follicles that have been clogged with buildup from dirt, products, or natural oil our bodies produce, called sebum.
Anyone who has struggled with blackheads knows how annoying it is to constantly try cleaning or stripping them from the face. Once they’re clear, they seem to just build up again, making the facial complexion look way more rough or muddied than we’d like.
Activated charcoal skincare products help deep clean the buildup that causes blackheads. And even though many charcoal products help remove such buildup, it also works as a preventative substance to keep the blackheads from forming before they get worse.
4. Soothe Acne-Prone Skin
Some activated charcoal face products even help soothe acne. Everyone gets acne from time to time, but we know some skin types are more prone to regular acne than others. It can feel like a struggle when trying to find a solution or relief.
Acne is inflammation of the pores, often caused by a buildup of bacteria, dead skin cells, or irritants. You can’t always control acne. It’s important to keep your face cleansed and free of any excess bacteria that might cause an acne flare-up.
Remember how we said activated charcoal is known widely for its antibacterial benefits? This is one reason it can help keep acne-prone skin in its best condition. Using an activated charcoal face cleanser helps fight negative reactions to bacteria and oils in the pores of the skin, both soothing existing acne and preventing more of it from forming in the future.
5. Skin Exfoliation
Who doesn’t love the feeling of a freshly exfoliated face at the beginning of one’s skincare routine? Let us tell you that the feeling is worthwhile especially when using a scrub that contains all the above benefits of activated charcoal.
When exfoliating the face, activated charcoal helps deepen the cleansing process. Instead of stripping the top layer of the skin with harsh chemicals or textures, a gentle activated charcoal scrub can remove the deepest debris from pores while absorbing the tiny molecules most other exfoliating scrubs leave behind.
Plus, it’s pretty cool to use a scrub that is so dark in color you can fully see which spots are getting cleaned. All to rinse it off revealing a super shiny face ready for more skin love.
The visible skin benefits of activated charcoal are:
- Exfoliation without stripping the face of natural oil
- Deeply cleansing to pores
- Soothing for acne
- Removes blackheads
- Relieves skin impurities
- Detoxifying and purifying
- Shrinks pores
- Tightens the skin
- Antibacterial and antifungal
- Can help treat insect bites
Best Ways to Use Activated Charcoal in Skincare
There is no right or wrong way to start using activated charcoal in your skincare lineup. The main thing you want to make sure of is to find a product with quality, natural ingredients that will help your skin and not cause more harm. Every day our skin fights to keep itself healthy and regenerating.
Damage from UV rays from the sun, subtle toxins in everyday pollution, or chemicals from the food or beverages we consume all eventually affect the health of the skin. We believe this is why a healthy lifestyle and proper skin care are so important! Here are some ways you can add activated charcoal skin and beauty products to your life.
As we mentioned before, cleansers with activated charcoal pack a powerful punch for any skincare resolutions. Depending on your skin type, there is likely a type of cleanser that can help you reach optimal cleansing.
For dry skin, use an activated charcoal cleanser that also has moisturizing ingredients like aloe or jojoba oil. For oily skin, use one that is geared towards preventing breakouts or excess oil buildup.
Online there are tons of recipes and guides on how to make your own activated charcoal skincare concoctions. While the DIY trends are always a fun experiment to try, it can be hard to get the right measurements when making it yourself. For best results aim for a natural product that has been crafted specifically for your skin type or the type of skin help you’re looking for.
Other products that contain activated charcoal like deodorant and foot cream can’t hurt to try, either. It may take some trial and error to discover which products work well for you, but once you see the benefits of activated charcoal in skincare items you might want to dabble with it in other areas of the body, which is great!
Even hair care products now use activated charcoal. If it can clean your face it can clean a dirty scalp, you bet! Some shampoos, conditioners, and hair masks contain activated charcoal to soak up excess product, dirt, or pollution that coats the hair. It’s a must-try.
Charcoal Face Scrubs
Face scrubs are every person’s best friend for getting that smooth, deep clean feel we all love. Using a charcoal face scrub could very well change the game for your skin if you need that extra help.
LilyAna Naturals’ Anti-Aging Charcoal Face Scrub is a fan favorite. It exfoliates the skin with activated charcoal while nourishing with natural plant oils of lavender (soothing and calming) and tea tree essential oil (antibacterial and antifungal). It helps the skin get cleaned and buffed so it can better absorb serums, face moisturizer, and continue to fight breakouts.
Charcoal Face Masks
A charcoal mask is a fun and deeply effective practice to add to your self-love toolkit. Masks are usually made with natural clay ingredients that help soak up dead skin cells and impurities you don’t want sitting on your face.
Face masks aren’t for everyday use but rather for one to three times per week, generally. Adding activated charcoal powder to a facial mask makes it that much more effective when it comes to detox and rejuvenation.
How Often Should You Use Charcoal Skincare Products?
Depending on the type of skincare product you are using, it’s considered safe to use on a regular basis. But try to limit the number of times you use harsher ingredients. For example, face scrubs should only be used several times per week, whereas you can easily use a gentle cleanser for your daily makeup removal and face washing needs.
Other products like charcoal face masks that contain clay are recommended to be used even less often, about once or twice a week. If you have dry skin, using something like a clay charcoal mask would only be needed once every one or two weeks.
Is Activated Charcoal Safe for Any Skin Type?
Most facial care products that contain activated charcoal are safe to use for dry, oily, and combination skin. Know your skin type? Read about how charcoal might be able to help you.
Activated Charcoal for Dry Skin
Remember, drier skin requires fewer cleansing products and more moisturizing ones. Because dry skin lacks adequate moisture production, it can go longer without being deeply cleaned. Exfoliation is still important for dry skin, it just needs to be less often.
You don’t want to strip oils from your face if the thing you need is more of it! Look for activated charcoal products that have nourishing ingredients like olive oil, hyaluronic acid, or vitamin C.
Charcoal Products for Combination Skin
People with combination skin have oily skin areas usually in their T-zone, and dry skin areas on other parts of their face, like their cheeks and hairline. Activated charcoal can help keep the T-zone free of excess oils and dirt while purifying the rest of the face to properly receive the moisture it needs so badly. If you have combination skin, it might feel frustrating. But remember that this is a common skin type among women.
Oily Skin: Activated Charcoal for the Win
Those with oily skin can often see the best benefits from activated charcoal skincare. Because it’s so absorbent and cleansing, people with oily skin likely benefit the most from using products with activated charcoal ingredients. Oily skin babes can also use these types of products more often because their skin won’t be as sensitive to regular cleansing.
Where to Start for Activated Charcoal Skin Benefits
No matter what skin type you have, you better believe you can start seeing the benefits of activated charcoal. If you don’t know where to start, we recommend looking for charcoal face scrubs or masks with clean ingredients and that require infrequent use. Talk to your skincare professional if you have questions or concerns about activated charcoal.