It’s natural to think that the last place charcoal belongs to is on your skin. The word itself evokes cookouts, coal trains, and mining. Indeed, it doesn’t invoke “glowing skin” or “smaller pores.”
It’s time to throw these connotations out the window. Enter activated charcoal, the best thing since tea tree oil and retinoids. It’s everywhere: cleaners, masques, scrubs, peels, and toothpaste.
It’s even been added to juices as an anti-toxin. Yet, we still regard it with suspicion. Is charcoal good for your skin? How effective is it?
Today, we’re going to explore these meaty details.
Table of Contents
- What Is Activated Charcoal?
- What is Activated Charcoal Used for and How Does it Work?
- Is Charcoal Really Good for Your Skin?
- What Does Activated Charcoal Do for Your Skin?
- Benefits of Activated Charcoal for Different Skin Types
- Benefits of Activated Charcoal Skincare Products
- How to Use Activated Charcoal for Hair
- Activated Charcoal for the Body
- Activated Charcoal for Teeth
- Is Charcoal Good for You? A Summary
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Unlike what you might think, activated charcoal is different from the charcoal used on an outdoor grill.
Activated charcoal is made from materials that are rich in carbon. Such materials, like wood, coconut shells, or even coal, are burned at high temperatures to create a charcoal powder.
This heat exposure creates tiny inner spaces in the charcoal, which makes it highly permeable and capable of trapping chemicals and toxins. “So it’s carbon soot with lots of holes?” Yes, and it has a sponge-like structure.
It’s also noted for being sharp and jagged, which allows for a significant surface area. It’s estimated that 1 gram of activated charcoal has 3000 square meters of surface area.
That’s the same as 3 Olympic swimming pools.
What is Activated Charcoal Used for and How Does it Work?
In these cases, the patient is supplied with a large dose on top of other treatments. Much of the poison then adheres itself to the charcoal, rather than soak up into the body.
Have you ever wondered why melted candle wax dries into one big clump? Intermolecular forces are the answer. Simply put, they’re interactions that keep molecules intact. Without them, water would be gas, and candle wax would splay everywhere.
Intermolecular force is divided into several types. Every substance out there has dispersion force, whether it’s vitamins or poison. The type that concerns activated charcoal is dispersion force.
The huge surface area leaves activated charcoal vulnerable. There’s a space for things to stick into. Since anything can breed dispersion force, activated charcoal absorbs without discrimination.
This means it’ll even absorb nutrients and vitamins, which can restrict the health benefits available in your food.
Since charcoal is a default treatment for detoxifying, many people think that consuming activated charcoal is a great way to detox skin.
But is charcoal really good for your skin?
Is Charcoal Really Good for Your Skin?
We’ve talked about how charcoal works and its benefits for health.
However, does it really work for your skin?
From what we gather, charcoal does work for your skin. There are no formal studies to prove its effectiveness. Yet, anecdotal evidence is hugely in charcoal’s favor: for many people, it’s a magic potion.
However, you have to remember that every skin is different.
Why Is Charcoal Good for Skin?
Due to its ability to absorb bacteria and toxins in the body, some skin experts believe that a face mask with charcoal may help draw impurities from the skin.
“What about good bacteria? The kind that protects your skin?” It’s fast-multiplying.
You don’t have to worry about using charcoal regularly.
Why Is Charcoal Bad for Your Skin?
However, you should be cautious. Over-exfoliation causes irritation and inflammation. This could trigger acne, making you more susceptible to sunburn.
You may lose moisture and even interfere with the natural skin barrier. Your barrier is the skin’s outermost layer that protects against external irritants such as bacteria and environmental pollutants. It preserves water and moisture, as it avoids triggering allergic reactions.
It’s also responsible for keeping your skin feeling soft and acting relaxed and safe when it’s intact. One example of a perfectly intact barrier to moisture can be found on a baby. Plump, smooth, soft and radiant to the touch.
Over-exfoliation is one of the leading causes of damaged moisture barrier. When damage is done to the skin’s protective layer, it causes tiny, invisible cracks in the surface. Moisture can quickly escape through such cracks and irritants can enter more quickly.
In that case, your skin has essentially lost its protective bodyguard. It can become tight, dry, and sensitive. To avoid this situation, keep the exfoliation to a minimum.
If you notice your skin growing irritated, stop using charcoal as an exfoliating agent altogether.
(Check out sensitive skin friendly chemical exfoliants on our blog.)
What Does Activated Charcoal Do for Your Skin?
There are a lot of benefits of charcoal for the skin.
Activated charcoal powder has been proven to absorb its own mass into harmful substances thousands of times, making it a popular ingredient in facial masks, such as this one from Revive Science.
In fact, the activated charcoal’s antibacterial properties can help to lift bacteria from pores. This may help to reduce acne and improve skin complexion overall.
(Looking for other natural acne solutions? Here’s our post on Tea Tree Oil Brands for Acne.)
Activated Charcoal for Acne
We did go over covering up acne with makeup before. What we didn’t mention is how useful charcoal can be in this case.
It only makes sense. Acne is caused by an accumulation of dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria, that get stuck within your skin’s pores. Acne-causing bacteria can cause pimples and other inflammatory lesions, which can lead to inflammation, redness, and swelling.
Activated charcoal can lift off all of that bacteria and leave you with smooth, supple skin. It’s known for its curative qualities, from acne cleaning to digestive aids.
Charcoal products are also non-allergenic and also contain ingredients such as salicylic acid.
This pack of detox wipes from Yes to Tomatoes features 95% natural ingredients for detoxing your face and helping clear it from agents that cause acne.
Activated Charcoal for Blackheads
The charcoal benefits don’t end there. The same is applicable for blackheads.
Blackheads form when the opening of hair follicles in your skin causes a clog or plug to develop. When the gunk inside your pores are exposed to the air, they oxidize and the surface turns black. This results in a blackhead.
Activated charcoal will help remove excess oil and sebum. Products such as peel off masks absorb toxins, dirt, and excess oils from your pores faster than other products when tackling blackheads. This can quickly diminish the appearance of existing blackheads and pimples while preventing the formation of new blackheads on the skin.
A great product is the Vassoul Peel-Off Mask that doubles as a deep facial cleanser for your face and nose.
Activated Charcoal for Skin Rashes, Bites, and Cuts
The use of activated charcoal for skin rashes is widely recognized. Whether you’ve been stung by a bee or had an infected cut from the kitchen, activated charcoal will help accelerate the healing and alleviate the symptoms.
For minor skin disorders including bites of insects, stings, wounds, scrapes, and minor infections, activated charcoal can be used. When applied as a paste the activated charcoal helps to absorb venom and infection. Activated charcoal will also ease swelling and alleviate discomfort.
To make an activated charcoal paste, you must:
- Add water slowly to a small amount of activated charcoal powder.
- Mix until suitable consistency is achieved and then apply.
For first aid options, try this powder from Charcoal House Health.
Benefits of Activated Charcoal for Different Skin Types
We’ll move on to how activated charcoal benefits different skin types. After all, we don’t just have one single agreeable skin type that any product can work on.
Something to note: it doesn’t matter whether you have oily or normal skin. Allergic breakouts are always possible!
It’s a good idea to test the charcoal product on a small patch of skin on the inside of your elbow before first using a charcoal mask. If you don’t experience any itching or redness in a couple of hours, then use on your skin is likely safe.
Activated Charcoal for Oily Skin
Oily skin occurs when excess oil on the face creates a persistently greasy appearance. This skin type is characterized by enlarged pores, thick complexion, and recurring blemishes. When not treated, pores can get clogged, and dead skin cells can build up.
Theoretically, charcoal should work well on oily skin. It removes excess oil, reduces the occurrence of blackheads, and prevents the development of acne. It also provides a thorough cleaning of your pores, eliminating dirt and bacteria.
This can make it an effective ingredient in blotting sheets, such as this one from boscia.
Julep also has a great blotting paper pack that helps absorb excess oil.
Activated Charcoal for Sensitive Skin
Eczema and rosacea frequently accompany those with sensitive skin. You can recognize this skin type by how much it resists irritation. Such skin types are weak when it comes to resistance: they’re highly reactive, prone to rashes, and sensitive to UV rays and topical products. In short, they’re easily irritable.
(RELATED: Face moisturizers for rosacea)
Is charcoal face wash good for your skin? Yes, but if you have this skin type, you can be careful when it comes to products. It would be best if you make it a habit to take a look at ingredients.
However, charcoal is all-natural. It’s inert, which means it won’t cause allergic reactions or irritate sensitive skin. So even if your charcoal-enhanced product isn’t doing much, it won’t make anything worse. Do a little patch test first, if in any doubt.
Check if the packaging says that you can use it for sensitive skin, like this Pink Rex Peel-Off Mask.
Activated Charcoal for Combination Skin
If your face has both oily and dry areas, then your skin is the combination type. The oily areas tend to be the T-zone (the front, nose, and chin) with the cheeks being the dry regions. This is a very common type of skin.
If you have combination skin, after using a detoxifying cleanser or an activated charcoal mud mask designed for your skin type you should notice a real difference to your T-zone. Your skin will feel less sticky, with fewer breakouts.
You might be thinking, “Why not the dry areas? Is activated charcoal good for dry skin?” Activated charcoal works hard to balance skin. You don’t want it to remove oil that is already in short supply, so make sure you don’t use any charcoal products on your dry areas.
Activated Charcoal for Normal Skin
Normal skin is the best type of skin. It’s balanced, which makes neither too dry nor too sticky. Its evenness and lack of blemishes leave little to be treated.
However, you can choose to spoil yourself with a charcoal beauty product you like. Because charcoal removes impurities and toxins it can be great to remove pollution-induced dirt and residue.
Benefits of Activated Charcoal Skincare Products
Every 30 days or so, your skin sheds dead skin cells for newer ones. It performs this task to make room for new cells. However, dead cells sometimes don’t completely shed away. This can lead to dryness, flaky patches, and obstructed pores.
Exfoliation is the process of extracting dead skin cells from the very outer surface of your skin. This is done through chemical peels, granular substances, or exfoliation tools.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), exfoliation makes the skin look healthier. It also increases the effectiveness of topical skincare products through absorption.
Activated Charcoal Cleanser Benefits
Here’s where the charcoal face cleanser benefits come in. Activated charcoal is one of the most effective ingredients in masks and even oils. It helps in the fight against acne, dry itchy skin, eczema, and psoriasis.
A great example of an activated charcoal cleansing oil is this one from GlamGlow. Powerful and unique, it contains two types of charcoal to clarify skin. Potent antioxidants in the formula also serve to protect your skin from pollutants. Turmeric, aloe vera, TEAOXI, vitamin C, salicylic acid and oleic acid-rich oils work together to deeply clarify the complexion. It also has a lightweight formula that protects the skin without over-drying.
Activated charcoal can also induce skin lightening. When used to exfoliate, activated charcoal helps strip the dead skin off of your face. It acts like millions of tiny sponges soaking up all the nasties in your skin and trapping them within their own pores.
Regular face exfoliation may also help prevent clogged pores, leading to fewer breakouts. Long-term exfoliation can increase the production of collagen. Collagen is key to vibrant, glowing skin. The protein also promotes skin elasticity, minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Activated Charcoal Products for Pores
Noses and blackheads: these are lifelong friends. Yet, you have to be vigilant: are those things on your nose actual blackheads?
Look narrowly at your nose tip. Do you see tiny, pin-like dots on the pore surface? If the dots are quite dark, then most likely you are looking at blackheads. If they have a white color, or a gray or yellow tinge, then sebaceous filaments are possibly what you see.
Sebaceous filaments are particles released from oil glands. Blackheads are oxidized keratin produced as a result of dead skin clogging follicles.
If you’re wondering how to use activated charcoal powder for your face, then wonder no further. There are a lot of good charcoal products (including masks!) out there.
Nevertheless, you need to be careful with what you’re putting on your skin.
Harsh charcoal pore strips mercilessly rip off the skin surface layer. They could even rip vellus hair with it. Naturally, the skin underneath will feel soft and smooth.
You have to remember: blocked pores are entirely different from sebum-filled pores. Most of the oils removed from the skin will be sebaceous filaments. They’re actually required by the skin so they will be replaced within 30 days to maintain a healthy skin balance anyway.
If it’s a one-off affair, your skin is likely to recover without any issue.
However, overuse of the nose strips can make your skin look worse. Continued use will remove natural oils from the skin and irritate it. This may trigger secondary skin concerns in the future.
Some people can even develop damaged capillaries or tiny blood vessels that aid in blood microcirculation. Tearing off the pore strip can damage the first layer of skin. The worst thing is that broken capillaries are permanent, which prematurely ages the skin.
Be careful; moderation is best!
How to Use Activated Charcoal for Hair
If you carry enough dirt and oil around you, your hair will start to shrink and regular shampoos may not get it all out.
In fact, hair can gain a small amount of its own weight from scalp oils, pollution, and products in build-up. Regular shampoos remove dirt from the surface, but activated charcoal will extract even more.
To spoil your hair a little, follow these steps:
- Get two tablespoons of activated charcoal powder.
- Massage the activated charcoal powder with some coconut oil or argan oil on your scalp.
- Leave it on, and wash it off for about 20 minutes.
You can also apply some activated charcoal and shake it well in your shampoo bottle.
What Are the Benefits of Using Activated Charcoal for our Hair?
Activated charcoal makes a good ingredient in hair care as it removes impurities from the scalp and the hair itself. This includes dirt and oil, as well as chemicals that build up when using harsh shampoos and conditioners on a regular basis.
This helps improve the hair’s overall appearance but also makes it healthier too. By keeping it strong and healthy you can encourage the hair to grow faster so activated charcoal promotes a longer style in this way.
Nevertheless, activated charcoal additionally leads to hair growth, by giving the scalp a detox, and removing the hair follicles.
Try this activated charcoal shampoo from WOW and see the results for yourself.
Activated Charcoal for the Body
Do you have back acne? It’s quite prevalent. Acne affects between 40 million and 50 million individuals in the United States.
Although acne mainly affects adolescents, it’s also present in children and adults. One study found some degree of facial acne present in 54% of women and 40% of men older than 25 years.
Charcoal Body Wash Benefits
Activated charcoal soap is known to be of great benefit in treating acne. Not only does it help to remove toxins, but it also removes impurities in the skin and thus helps in the treatment of acne.
Much like the face cleanser and facial oils with this ingredient, activated charcoal soap work to detox and cleanse your pores on the rest of your skin.
This bar soap from Dead Sea Spa works well not only in treating acne but other skin problems you may have on your body as well.
Charcoal Scrub Benefits
Being an excellent exfoliant, and having the ability to remove dead skin cells along with dirt and grime extraction, charcoal soap also treats psoriasis and eczema. It is effective in treating cracked, dry skin. In some cases, it also prevents the recurrence of the disease.
White Natural’s activated charcoal scrub for example provides a boost in natural collagen while increasing skin cell longevity. It also balances your skin’s systemic pH.
You can use charcoal body washes and soaps from one to three times a week. This depends on the needs of your skin, as it will clean your pores and neutralize some environmental toxins.
Make sure to avoid using it every day, as it can soak up the natural oils and moisture in your skin.
What Do Charcoal Pills Do for the Skin?
Not only do people buy charcoal pills and take them with their morning meal like a multivitamin, some coffee shops, bars, and even pizzerias put the powdered form into everything. From black tea, smoothies, and lemonade, to bagels and pizza.
Activated charcoal powder has been used for years in emergency rooms to treat certain types of oral poisoning and drug overdoses due to its capability to trap toxins and chemicals that prevent them from being absorbed into the GI tract or bloodstream.
Once swallowed, charcoal binds to the stomach drug or toxin, so the body is unable to absorb it.
This ability to bind to unwanted substances can be the reason that some recommend the “off-label” use of activated charcoal to relieve skin conditions.
While the effectiveness of activated charcoal in the emergency department is proven, there are conflicting results regarding its ability to improve skin.
Charcoal pills, as supplements, are not regulated by the US. Health and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s worth noting that taking pills with charcoal isn’t without risk:
- With long-term use, side effects can develop. They include a black tongue, black stools, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
- The activated charcoal interacts with acetaminophen (Tylenol) and other medications, reducing their effectiveness.
Activated Charcoal for Teeth
Apart from skincare, activated charcoal is also used in other ways, such as for oral hygiene.
Many charcoal toothpaste products are available online and nowadays in most drug stores. It’s highly absorbent, so medically it removed toxins.
But does teeth whitening really work?
Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening
Activated charcoal may help to remove surface stains on your teeth. Charcoal is slightly abrasive, and can also to a degree absorb surface stains.
However, there is no evidence that it does have any effect on stains below the enamel of a tooth, or that it has a natural whitening effect.
You can wear down your enamel using material that’s too abrasive on your teeth. This can make your teeth look more yellow by exposing the dentin, which is a yellow calcified tissue. It can make your teeth sensitive too.
There are other uncertainties as well. How charcoal affects the materials of veneers, bridges, crowns, and white fillings isn’t yet known. Charcoal particles could build up between them, leaving a black or grey outline.
Another thing to consider is the lack of fluoride. Fluoride helps to keep your tooth enamel strong and helps protect your teeth from cavity and decay. There is some evidence that charcoal toothpaste is related to increased tooth decay.
On top of that, charcoal can be harmful to the lungs if inhaled. You must be careful not to breathe in any loose powder.
To see for yourself, see the following steps:
- Sprinkle the activated charcoal capsule on your wet toothbrush.
- Brush it with the black stuff for about two to three minutes.
Be very careful when applying the activated charcoal to them to just graze the teeth gently so that there’s no scratching, chipping, or other unwanted outcomes.
Instead of mixing charcoal powder to your toothpaste, try a safer ready-made activated charcoal toothpaste, like the Cali White Activated Charcoal & Organic Coconut Oil Toothpaste.
Is Charcoal Good for You? A Summary
So, does charcoal really work for your skin?
Well, there’s no concrete proof that charcoal is a reliable solution for problematic skin. However, anecdotal evidence proves otherwise.
Remember: everyone is different. Using activated charcoal doesn’t mean you’ll get perfect skin right away. However, it could allow for great results when incorporated in an effective skincare routine.
Just bear in mind that even natural products can irritate your skin. They also may not always be as good as the ones recommended by your dermatologist. If you have very serious acne, you might want to look into a more effective treatment than charcoal.
Check out related posts on our blog:
- Best Enzyme Mask for Acne
- Best Chemical Exfoliants for Sensitive Skin
- What Moisturizer Should I Use With Retin A
- Face Wash for Sensitive Oily Skin
Do you use activated charcoal products in your skincare or daily health routine? Share your experience with us!