Activated charcoal can be life-saving in the emergency room to treat poisonings or overdoses, but it is also a powerful detoxifier when used in skincare products, especially if you have oily or acne-prone skin. It can also be used to effectively and gently whiten teeth!
Charcoal, which is simply the element carbon, when used medicinally or topically is generally manufactured from things like coconut husks, bamboo, or wood.
"Activated" charcoal simply means that it is charcoal that has been treated to improve its absorbency to make it more effective at binding to toxins (or in the case your skin, dirt and oil). This treatment is often done physically with very high temperatures and an inert gas like argon or nitrogen. This process dramatically increases the surface area by creating numerous small pores, which turns the charcoal molecules into little sponges. The more surface area, the more unwanted substances can bind to the charcoal so that they can be flushed away.
Just 1 gram (a fraction of a teaspoon) of activated charcoal can have a surface area of up to 3,000 square meters!! For scale, an American football field is 5351.2 square meters. *mind. blown.*
It is a humble, simple ingredient that can be a fabulous addition to your skincare routine if you want to deeply cleanse your pores (which can minimize their appearance), cleanse away pollutants, fight redness and acne, and enjoy clean, clear skin!
It has become quite the trendy ingredient but unfortunately many brands (especially those viral FB videos with those black masks...) use harmful ingredients that mimic estrogen, disrupt hormonal signals, and may cause cancer. I'm talking about phthalates and parabens, things I have banned from my household for almost a decade now. Read more about my skincare journey from DIY to present in this blog post.
Here are some of my favorite products that utilize this powerhouse detoxifier!
100% Pure Konjac Sponge: Charcoal
The 100% Pure Konjac Charcoal sponge has 2 simple ingredients: konjac plant and bamboo charcoal. If you have extremely sensitive skin, you will be thrilled to know that you can use this sponge all by itself as a cleanser. No need to add any type of soap or other facial cleanser to it.
But, of course, if you like to use a cleanser, you can absolutely use it with this sponge! I often pair it with the Charcoal Bar (below). It very very gently exfoliates and the charcoal helps draw out impurities from your pores.
I recently tried out a few brands of facial cleansing cloths, trying to find something that was soft enough for my sensitive skin, yet provided enough grip to feel like it was doing its job, and also NOT made of synthetic fibers or conventionally grown or bleached cotton. I was getting really frustrated because NOTHING I tried fit the bill, and then I got a complimentary sponge from 100% Pure to test out. I am just thrilled with the quality and that it is super gentle (even for taking off my eye makeup) and leaves my skin feeling so fresh and clean, with or without a cleanser!
Konjac is actually a (Paleo and AIP friendly) plant. Here in the US you may find it as konjac noodles (aka Shirataki aka Miracle Noodles). Its use as a sponge began in Korea but it now getting more popular here in the US, and for good reason!
This sponge features a handy string so you can hang it up to dry after each use to prolong the life. It will shrink and harden if you don't use it for several days, but you simply soak it in warm water for a minute or so before using it and you are good to go!
Beautycounter Charcoal Bar
The Charcoal Bar is one of Beautycounter's most popular items. Charcoal bars are a dime a dozen these days so you have to really scrutinize the ingredients when you come across one.
Also, not all soaps are created equally. I've used other charcoal soaps that disintegrate so much faster than the Beautycounter Charcoal Bar. I buy one from a local soap maker that I use for shaving my legs, and it is at least 2x the size of the BC bar, and I need to replace it about once a month, maybe every 6 weeks if I'm lucky. I am still using the same BC bar that I bought in August 2016 (that's 9 months and counting - see above for comparison). I won't be surprised if it lasts me an entire year! And for reference my husband and I both use both products.
The formula is so well balanced, too. It features antioxidant-rich green tea, hydrating coconut oil, and skin conditioning witch hazel so that it cleanses your skin gently without over-drying. I like to work up a lather in the Konjac Sponge for my daily cleansing using the charcoal bar. I've noticed an improvement in my acne since introducing the Charcoal Bar into my regimen!
Beautycounter+ #3 Facial Mist and Charcoal Mask
The #3 line of Beautycounter+ is a targeted trio of products designed to BALANCE. This means if you have oily or acne-prone skin you are going to love these products. Each of the BC+ lines features a Face Mask, Face Mist, and Face Oil. You can purchase them separately or in a full size or travel sized package.
Both the Balancing Mist and the Mask feature wood-derived activated charcoal. At first I did not appreciate just how awesome the Mists are, but let me tell you, if you wear makeup you are going to want one of the mists for the summer.... Not only does it prep your skin by toning it before you apply makeup, but you can also use it to set your makeup and refresh it as the day goes on.
I don't know about you, but at the end of a long day (especially a hot and humid one like we get here in Memphis in the summer) I hate that stagnant, yucky feeling makeup can get. These Mists help keep your makeup fresh as the day wears on.
I actually alternate between the #1 (BRIGHTENING with Vitamin C, read more here) and #3 lines, depending on whether I'm dealing with acne or not.
The Balancing Face Oil does not contain charcoal, but features ylang ylang to calm, balance, and clarify skin. This oil is also what I recommend if you have rosacea-prone skin like me. I use the Face Oils as my daily moisturizer, sometimes mixing them with the Rejuvenating (anti-aging) creams.
Charcoal as a Teeth Whitener
You can use activated charcoal tablets or powder to whiten your teeth, it's as simple as that! My good friend Jessica from Delicious Obsessions wrote a great blog post with her experience using it for this purpose.
I keep charcoal capsules in my first aid kit, and you can just open a capsule to use it for brushing to whiten your teeth.
This deserves its own blog post, but some people (especially those dealing with chronic illness from Lyme) swear by supplementing with a high quality charcoal taken internally. Takesumi has the reputation for being the best for that purpose, but please note I have not tried it. DO NOT EVER TAKE ACTIVATED CHARCOAL AT THE SAME TIME AS OTHER SUPPLEMENTS OR MEDICATIONS. Or you'll be wasting your money on those items! I also strongly suggest working with a practitioner if you want to try internal detoxification with charcoal supplementation.