Activated charcoal – also referred to as activated carbon – is charcoal that has undergone a heating process that makes it safe for medicinal use. This process, which increases the charcoal’s adsorptive ability, allows it to expand into a porous surface capable of trapping a multitude of toxins and chemicals (1).
While its main use throughout history has been as an internal supplement for easing digestive distress and detoxing, its properties have recently been found to benefit the skin.
4 ways activated charcoal can improve your skin
1. Helps remove impurities
Remember how we talked about charcoal’s adsorptive ability? No, this isn’t a misspelling of absorption, but a different process that involves attracting chemicals and toxins using an electric charge. The surface of activated charcoal, filled with millions of tiny pores, has a negative charge that attracts and binds with positively-charged toxicants.
The adsorptive ability of activated charcoal is so powerful, in fact, that for the last 100 years it has been used internally as an antidote to serious poisoning (2).
This adsorptive quality can have a powerful effect when it comes to binding to impurities on the surface of our skin, such as dirt, pollutants from our environment, and build-up.
2. Gently exfoliates
In addition to removing impurities, activated charcoal’s slightly gritty texture makes it a great option for gentle exfoliation.
Exfoliation is essential for removing buildup on the surface of our skin, which can clog pores, further exacerbate blemishes, and result in an uneven, dull appearance. Activated charcoal helps us achieve even, supple skin with a one-two combination of exfoliation and simultaneous purification. Plus, it’s gentle enough to use on sensitive skin since the granules are so small.
3. Balances oily skin
While natural oil production is necessary for keeping our skin moisturized, glowing, and free of wrinkles, too much can be a problem. Oily skin can trap dirt and other impurities from the environment, which then sit on our skin and result in clogged pores—especially if you aren’t regularly exfoliating.
Activated charcoal, again with its adsorptive quality, can bind to these impurities and excess oil, while gently loosening deeply-ingrained particles with its gritty texture.
4. Shrinks appearance of pores
Excess oil and dead skin can become trapped in pores over time, causing them to enlarge with debris. Large pores can give us a tired, aged look – and who wants that?
Using activated charcoal as a mask and scrub can help loosen the debris clogging up your pores. In addition, it will also adsorb any foreign impurities that may have slipped into your enlarged pores.
How to use activated charcoal
You can purchase activated charcoal either in loose powder form, or in capsule form. If you’re using a capsule, simply break open the capsule to use externally. Also, various brands of activated charcoal are derived from different substances, such as nutshells, coconut husk, peat, wood, coir, lignite, and coal. Of course, your best option is to choose a powder derived from natural substances like coconut shells.
Ready to get started? Below are two recipes for your skin: a detoxifying mask to remove impurities and an exfoliating charcoal mask to get that deep debris out of your pores. Keep in mind that while it won’t stain your skin, it will stain other surfaces like countertops and clothes, so be careful during application.
DIY activated charcoal detox mask
1/2 Tablespoon Activated Charcoal Powder
1/2 Tablespoon Rosewater (or regular if you don’t have it)
1/2 Tablespoon Bentonite Clay
Optional: Dab of raw honey for hydration
Combine charcoal, rosewater, and other ingredients if you’re adding them. Know that this mixture will be slightly runnier than many other types of masks.
Apply to a clean face and let sit for 10 minutes.
Rinse and pat dry.
Activated charcoal scrub
1/2 Tablespoon Activated Charcoal Powder
1/2 Tablespoon Rosewater
2 teaspoons coconut palm sugar
2 teaspoons honey
Combine ingredients and apply to a clean face. Use gentle circular motions over the entire face to loosen dead skin cells and other impurities from the pores. Rinse and pat dry, following with a moisturizer.
1. American Academy of Clinical Toxicology and European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists. Position Paper: Single-Dose Activated Charcoal. Clinical Toxicology. 43:61–87. 2005. < http://www.clintox.org/documents/positionpapers/SingleDoseActivatedCharcoal.pdf >
2. Howell CA., et al; Nanoporous activated carbon beads and monolithic columns as effective hemoadsorbents for inflammatory cytokines. Int J Artif Organs. 2013 Oct 3. < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23918264 >