The Buzz on Charcoal in Skin Care Products

Activated charcoal is a is highly porous type of carbon. This specially processed charcoal has the ability to adhere to a multitude of different chemicals and other impurities.

Some of you may be familiar with activated charcoal’s medical usage; it has been used for hundreds of years to treat acute poisonings. It is also used in water filtration, air filtration, distillation, and many other applications. Activated charcoal essentially acts as a toxin magnet. This important property is what allows it to be useful both inside the body and on the skin.

The Difference Between Activated and Non-activated Charcoal

While they are both derived from carbon, activated charcoal has been modified by adding heat and oxygen, making it more porous than non-activated charcoal. When you have higher porosity, you have more surface space which leads to greater filtration properties. Regular charcoal is tight and dense while activated adsorbs (not absorbs) more, like a sponge.   

When used as a face mask or scrub, activated charcoal can help to remove excess oil and bacteria, giving you cleaner, healthier skin.

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Using Charcoal Skin Care Products

When choosing a skin care product, make sure the label says activated-charcoal. Being an Esthetician, I enjoy experimenting with ingredients in my treatment room. To ensure product stability,  penetration and effectiveness, I do not always recommend DIY products. However, in this case, instead of buying pre-made charcoal products I would consider buying a bag of activated-charcoal powder. You can add it into cleansers and masks for an exfoliating and adsorbing boost. If you don’t have time or interest in DIY products, here is an activated charcoal powder made from trees in the US that I found interesting.

What Are the Risk Factors Involved with Using Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is not metabolized by the skin or absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore, it is safe for long-term use. However, because of its abrasive texture, activated charcoal can act as an exfoliant. It is okay to use such product a 2-3 times a week, but more than that could actually worsen your skin. 

There is some buzz going around that using activated charcoal for teeth whitening is a good idea. Before you start scrubbing your pearly whites, read this study which may dissuade you.

In summary, charcoal is worth experimenting with, in small doses, but it’s not a cure-all. 

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