There’s been a lot of buzz about activated charcoal, an ingredient cropping up in face masks, anti-acne cleansers, and even dental care products. With any trendy ingredient, it’s important to find out a little more about how it actually works—and whether it’s worth all the hype—before diving in and spending your money on a new product.
Here, we discuss how activated charcoal works as a beauty treatment, share some activated charcoal products that are worth your investment, and highlight those that are best avoided.
Source: Free People Blog
What is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is made from peat, coal, coconut, or wood that has been heated with a gas, a process that makes the charcoal more porous and highly absorbent. In fact, activated charcoal can bind to harmful substances thousands of times larger than its mass.
Although the pitch-black ingredient seems like just the latest trend, activated charcoal has been around for a while. It’s a staple in hospital emergency rooms where it’s used to treat alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses. It works by attaching to toxins in the stomach (a process called adsorption), preventing them from entering the bloodstream.
When it comes to skincare, activated charcoal, in theory, works in a similar way: It likely acts like a magnet that binds to dirt, bacteria, and oil. Cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson explains, “When dirt and oil in your pores come in contact with the carbon, they stick to it and then get washed away when you rinse.”
Should you try activated charcoal products?
Unfortunately, use of activated charcoal in skincare is quite new, and therefore, research on its effectiveness is lacking. The good news is that activated charcoal isn’t absorbed or metabolized by the body, and the inert substance won’t aggravate skin allergies. Worst case scenario: it doesn’t do anything, but it won’t likely make things worse.
Given how effective activated charcoal is at adsorbing toxins, it may be worth a try if you’re plagued with breakouts. If you’re feeling adventurousness and want to give activated charcoal a chance, be sure to look for products that couple activated charcoal with known acne-fighting ingredients (like salicylic acid, bentonite clay, or tea tree oil).
Activated charcoal products to try:
Designed with blemish-prone skin in mind, this gentle soap bar is also formulated with tea tree oil and bergamot to help prevent and treat breakouts. Bacne, be gone!
Formulated with tea tree oil to fight acne, aloe to soothe skin, and maple and bilberry extract to remove dead skin cells for a smoother complexion, this award-winning activated charcoal cleanser is gentle enough for daily use.
This serum-infused mask contains beneficial bacteria (probiotics) to help balance skin and combat breakouts without over drying.
Combining charcoal with spearmint and arginine, this refreshing, easy-to-use sheet mask helps remove excess sebum for clearer skin and tightened appearance of pores.
Formulated with activated charcoal and white China clay, this deep-cleaning mask helps rid skin of environmental toxins for a clearer, brighter complexion.
This 96% natural pore-cleaning mask is infused with aloe, watermelon, tomato, and ginger, which deliver a boost of antioxidants to skin. Meanwhile, activated charcoal promotes blemish-free skin.
Sensitive skin can use charcoal thanks to this bar from BeautyCounter. Made with antioxidant-rich, organic green tea and hydrating organic coconut oil, the gentle formula can be used daily on your face and body without drying out skin.
Activated charcoal products to skip:
Activated charcoal products designed for internal use should always be taken under medical supervision. Although they’re often marketed as “detoxifying,” these products may do more damage than good with adverse effects ranging from vomiting to decreased nutrient absorption. Hospitals administering activated charcoal to patients are precise with their dosage and are able to carefully monitor the patient. It’s much harder to achieve this kind of precision with a DIY effort.
Activated charcoal juice. You may have seen murky, black drinks cropping up at your local juice bar. These activated charcoal-laden juices, lemonades, and smoothies are created under the premise that drinking activated charcoal will work like it does in the hospital–to quite literally detoxify us.
While activated charcoal will bind to toxins in the stomach, these concoctions are best taken under the supervision of a nutritionist or medical professional. Naturopathic physician Judy Fulop explains that activated charcoal taken internally can be too effective. Its adsorption abilities don’t discriminate, meaning that charcoal juice may also bind to important medications you’re taking and to the nutrients in the juice, rendering both unusable for the body.
Activated charcoal pills. Capsules packed with activated charcoal are widely available both online and in pharmacies. Like all activated charcoal products designed for internal use, these should be taken under the supervision of a medical practitioner (if at all). It’s also worth noting that the activated charcoal in OTC supplements may not be pharmaceutical-grade like the kind used in hospitals. Adverse effects may include diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and decreased absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Activated charcoal toothpaste. The trendy ingredient is also promoted as an all-natural whitening treatment with claims that it can safely remove stains and plaque. Unfortunately, there’s no research proving activated charcoal is effective at these endeavors. Moreover, activated charcoal may actually do harm to teeth: Dr. Kim Harms, DDS and spokesperson for the American Dental Association, explains, “like any abrasive, we’re worried about the effects on the gums and enamel on the teeth. We don’t know about the safety and effectiveness of it.”
Bottom line: Activated charcoal may be worth incorporating into your beauty regimen, but charcoal-infused beverages are not a cure-all and should be used only under medical supervision. As far as your teeth are concerned, better stick to that trusty tube of Crest.