Best Face Forward: Activated Charcoal

Charcoal in facial products - it seems like an oxymoron, right? Who would look at charcoal and think this messy, dark powder is at all conducive to healthy, clean skin?

The first distinction is the difference between what we usually think of as charcoal - the little briquettes usually seen around barbecue grills - and the grade of charcoal used in personal care products, or “activated charcoal.” Charcoal briquettes, while a staple for summer pool parties, contain toxic ingredients such as fuels and flame accelerants to encourage lighting and an even temperature while burning. As you could probably guess, those additives aren’t great for skin care.

Conversely, activated charcoal is processed differently than charcoal briquettes, beginning with the plant matter burned to make the charcoal. This can range from coconut shells to bamboo to hardwood, but the end results are the same no matter the source material. We mainly use charcoal derived from American-grown hardwoods, which is then processed and baked for higher porosity, meaning it becomes highly absorptive - basically, that makes it better for drawing out and absorbing impurities and other nasty gunk. These super-absorptive properties are what make activated charcoal so valuable not just in skin care, but also in water filtration systems (good for your tap water or your fish tank!), and in healthcare as a way of absorbing and neutralizing ingested toxins or venom.

Just as doctors use it to absorb toxins within the body, in personal care and beauty applications activated charcoal is one of the first remedies reached for when wanting to treat acne, oily skin, blemishes, or other impurities quickly. And because activated charcoal is pH neutral, it’s perfect for those trying to balance out their skin’s oil production and their own natural pH levels. Washing daily with a charcoal-infused soap like our Charmer facial bar can show sustainable results, while charcoal face masks provide quick, noticeable results and (we’ve noticed) very soft skin!

Of course, an activated charcoal face mask is only as good as the rest of its ingredients. In the world of online beauty trends, we’ve noticed a common face mask recipe including activated charcoal and white glue being frequently blogged and repinned. We very strongly warn against using any substance not formulated for topical use on the skin - just because the glue is non-toxic, for example, doesn’t mean it won’t peel off the top layers of skin, clog your pores, or cause you to develop skin dryness or sensitivities! We recommend more gentle substances to combine with charcoal for extended use on the skin, such as aloe vera gel, coconut oil, or (a personal favorite) rosewater.

So, what else can charcoal be used for? Aside from facial products like soaps and masks, activated charcoal can be used in exfoliating scrubs, as a colorant in soap and other products like our Botani-coal, or in dental formulations for gently whitening teeth and reducing plaque! Others swear by it as an all-natural homemade eyeliner and mascara. Whether for your fridge water filter or as part of your beauty routine, we hope you can see why activated charcoal is a favorite ingredient here at Apothecary 321.