Here’s why you should consider charcoal for skin detoxifying purposes. Since it’s really easy to become overwhelmed when searching for a new product, Ingredient Spotlight is here to break down the basics. Here we’ll teach you how an ingredient works and leave you with product recommendations to help you with your search.
There’s something about the smell of charcoal that evokes summer: sunny weather, a chilled glass of rosé in your hand, hot dogs and fresh corn sizzling away on your dad’s trusty backyard grill.
But that’s not the kind of charcoal we’re talking about. No, the kind of charcoal that gets us excited probably didn’t feature in your summer vacations of yore. This is something new (or, more properly, very old,) something that comes in bars and powders and masks; something that will make your sweaty, sunscreen-coated summer skin want to throw a party all of its own.
Activated charcoal in skin care:
Charcoal, more specifically activated charcoal, has been used for its detoxifying properties for years in everything from water filters to face masks to hospitals, where it’s sometimes used to treat overdoses and poisonings.
At its most basic level, activated charcoal is carbon that’s been specially treated to make its particles more craggy and porous. That pocket-riddled texture in turn works like a magnet for all kinds of stuff you’re looking to get rid of (sadly science has not yet developed a version than can absorb weird holiday presents from your cousin or that one ex—you know the one.) The surface attracts and scoops up all kinds of stuff you don’t want floating around, whether that’s in your water or on your skin. For your face, that means sucking up oil and dirt that otherwise nestle into pores and cause blockage; then, when you wash away the charcoal, the gunk goes with it, easy as pie.
Ease of use is only part of the appeal of charcoal, though. While blocked pores tend to plague us all in the dog days of summer (thanks sweat, oil, sunscreen, and smog) traditional treatments aren’t always ideal for different skin types: Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can leave dry types chafing, retinoids make sensitive skin red, and if you’re pregnant, forget most of the classic ingredients. Charcoal, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same issues because it’s considered chemically inert. That means that unlike other ingredients, activated charcoal is unlikely to cause allergic reactions or irritation, even on the most delicate skin types, and unlikely to be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause issues for moms-to-be.
Products with charcoal:
Sound good? Well it gets better, because getting hold of skin care products with charcoal in them is simpler than ever thanks to all of the brands that have embraced its pore detoxifying power. If you want to dip your toe into the pitch black pool (yes, it makes for great Instagrams, too) look for cleansers that incorporate charcoal into their skin-sweeping formulas, like the Erborian Black Soap or the Erborian Charcoal Konjac Sponge, both of which gently clear away dirt and oil while still coddling skin.
Of course, as you would expect from an ingredient that absorbs dirt and oil from the surface, charcoal’s deep cleaning magic really goes to work when it’s allowed to sit on the skin. If you want a major pore purge, masks are the way to go; try the Goodal Black Charcoal Mask Sparkling Clear Wash Off Mask, a bubbling sheet mask that’s carbonated action also helps clear pores, and the Goodal Black Charcoal 2-Step Clear Nose Pack, which pulls blackheads and sebaceous filaments up by the roots.