One of the most searched skincare ingredients of 2020, activated charcoal has become a mainstay in many of our routines. You can’t hit the skincare aisle without spotting an activated charcoal face mask or cleanser, and it’s not just beauty products either.
Charcoal products have made their way into the mainstream. From toothpaste and deodorants to capsule supplements and even charcoal infused drinks and ice cream, there's no doubt it’s gained a lot of traction. In medicine, charcoal powder’s powerful binding properties are often used to help absorb toxins from the body. There’s been speculation in the past it can even cure your hangover.
But is charcoal really good for your skin? In beauty, activated charcoal skincare is lauded for its ability to detox. A must-have ingredient for those with oily or congested complexions, it’s known to draw out impurities, remove toxins and dead skin cells, helping to clear pores and soak up excess sebum and oil.
Why is charcoal good for skin?
Firstly, it’s an incredibly effective cleansing agent. Acting like a sponge, charcoal soaks up excess oil in your pores. This helps to remove impurities, dirt and grime, making it especially beneficial to oily and acne-prone complexions. And because any bacteria on the skin is absorbed by the charcoal, it reduces the chance of future breakouts too.
A deep detox for skin, charcoal works to remove unwanted oil, cleanses pores, and leaves skin feeling purified. So if you don’t have oily or acne-prone skin, it can still benefit you, helping to counteract blackheads, occasional spots or dull skin.
When it comes to regularly using charcoal, skin benefits don’t stop there either. If pollution is a concern (more than likely if you’re living in an urban area or city), charcoal could be your best defence. Particles in the polluted air settle onto your skin. Charcoal draws these out, helping to counteract dull and congested skin.
What is activated charcoal?
Often used interchangeably when it comes to skincare, there is a difference between the charcoal found in barbecues and fire pits and activated charcoal skincare products.
Activated charcoal, also called activated carbon, has usually been treated with high temperature steam. This increases its surface area - amazingly it’s estimated that one gram of activated charcoal has a surface area of 3000 square metres, which is the same as three Olympic swimming pools. Charcoal is extremely porous - it’s able to soak up toxins and gas (hence why it’s used in deodorants too); its increased surface area and sponge-like structure can absorb more than 1,000 times its weight.
Is charcoal skincare for me?
Those with oily skin can really benefit from charcoal skincare, because of its absorbent nature. It soaks up excess sebum, removing dirt trapped underneath and reducing unwanted shine. However it doesn’t actively combat acne or the production of oil, so you’ll want to incorporate some active skincare ingredients too, such as a salicylic acid serum or niacinamide night cream.
But it’s not just oily complexions that can benefit from charcoal skin products. Congested T-zones and combination skin can be treated too. If you suffer from blackheads or (incredibly frustrating) blind pimples, its cleansing and exfoliating abilities can be an important part of keeping them at bay.
Dry skin can benefit from its deep-cleaning power too - just make sure you don’t overuse it. Use charcoal masks alongside hydrating products, like a hyaluronic acid serum to keep your skin balanced. If you’re using charcoal as part of a double cleanser, a high-quality hyaluronic micellar water will help to balance the skin.
Can charcoal be used on sensitive skin?
Charcoal is ideal for dry or sensitive skin types. For all its deep-cleaning abilities, it’s actually very gentle. Although being called activated charcoal, it’s actually inert (meaning it’s not an active ingredient), so it’s unlikely to cause irritation or a reaction. If you’re prone to reactions or sensitivity, we suggest testing on a small patch of skin before diving in.
How often should you use charcoal?
You’ll find activated charcoal skincare products in the form of sheet masks, scrubs, skin strips and cleansers. Usually the forefront ingredient in masks and scrubs, it’s always best to follow individual product instructions.
A charcoal-based cleanser is probably the simplest way to incorporate charcoal into your routine, and a super-effective one at that. If you double cleanse, use your charcoal cleanser as a second cleanse once you’ve removed most of your make-up
For best results, charcoal care products should be used before your active ingredients. Oily and acne-prone skin can benefit from BHAs and salicylic acid after the use of charcoal, while dry and sensitive skin could incorporate moisturising hyaluronic acid and soothing rosewater to restore the moisture barrier.
Add charcoal to your skincare routine
Whatever skin type you have, it’s clear there are advantages to using charcoal. The benefits are universal - less oil, dirt and grime on your skin. This means less congestion, spots and blackheads. Add charcoal to your skincare routine for its gentle yet powerful exfoliating and cleansing properties, to refresh your complexion and leave it looking radiant.