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Does Charcoal for Skin Work?


When we had first heard about charcoal for skin, we immediately thought of the poor boy from Oliver Twist with soot on his face, which is far from glamourous. 

But, before you dismiss charcoal as only being relevant for places like a fireplace or the grill, let’s get into the science behind the buzz about charcoal, and the different uses and benefits charcoal has on skin. 

What Kind of Charcoal Is Good for Skin?

Chances are, you’ve probably come across different forms of charcoal skincare products when browsing the shelves at Sephora – they typically take the form of charcoal face masks, face soaps, exfoliating sponges and loose powder. 

So, what on earth is it? The charcoal used in skincare is referred to as activated charcoal or activated carbon, and is the fine, black, charcoal powder that is released from charcoal when it is exposed to high heat. 

What makes activated charcoal effective is that when it is exposed to high heat, tiny internal crevices are formed in the surface area of the activated charcoal, making it highly absorbent and able to trap toxins. That’s why activated charcoal masks have gained such notoriety because of its purifying and detoxifying properties.

Activated Charcoal in Medicine

The origins of using charcoal lies in medicine as activated charcoal was found to have healing properties and is able to remedy certain conditions. Activated charcoal has been used as an anti-poison remedy because of its ability to help prevent the body from absorbing toxins in the stomach on drug-overdose or poisoning incidents. 

Because it helps the stomach from absorbing toxins, it also prevents the stomach from absorbing cholesterol and research has shown that it has a lower total cholesterol by 25%. 

Research also indicates that activated carbon can aid with people suffering from chronic kidney disease and is a viable alternative to patients on dialysis. The activated charcoal binds to urea and other toxins in the body, reducing the amount of waste products that flow through your kidneys, making them work less hard.

It’s obvious to see the many benefits of using activated charcoal in medicine which lead to many people applying those same principles to skin care. However, while the science behind activated charcoal in medicine is abundant, the research for the use of charcoal in skin care products is anecdotal.

Charcoal Benefits for Skin

Deep cleansing: One of the most popular uses of activated charcoal in skin care deep cleansing with a charcoal mask. Because of the activated charcoal’s power to absorb toxins and impurities, the skin benefits of a charcoal face mask is that it will cleanse deep into your pores and remove trapped dirt without stripping your skin of the good stuff. When looking for a charcoal face mask, it’s important to consider that there are varying levels of how strong the charcoal mask is so carefully read the directions to ensure that you’re not over using, to avoid stripping away the natural oils and moisture in your skin.

Treat acne And Skin Conditions: Activated charcoal is an ingredient known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Acne is caused from build up of bacteria, dead skin cells and oil getting trapped in the pores of your skin. The use of skin activated charcoal on acne may be able to cleanse all of that buildup out of your pores and help with managing your breakouts and reducing acne.

Research has also found that it is an effective ingredient in fighting Escherichia coli (aka E. Coli) and Staphylococcus aureus (Staph). This ingredient helps fight bacteria and fungus in the skin and pores, which helps in speeding up the healing process of acne and other skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Charcoal has been an active ingredient in many face bar soaps and charcoal masks designed specifically for this reason.


Gentle exfoliating: You can also get powdered activated charcoal products as the slightly gritty texture makes it a nice, gentle exfoliant. You can use this exfoliator to buff away dead skin cells and leave way for new, healthy skin underneath to shine through.

Minimize the look of pores: If you’re someone that feels like their pores look like the dimples of a golf ball, you’re not alone. While it is impossible to physically shrink your pores, it is possible to minimize the appearance of your pores. So far, we understand that activated charcoal has antifungal, antibacterial, deep-cleansing, and impurity-fighting properties because of its ability to bind toxins and unwanted materials deep in the surface of your skin and remove them. By reducing all the congestion, your skin texture will improve and become more radiant, while the look of your pores become minimized.

When thinking of what products to get, it is important to consider your skin type when purchasing. For oily skin types, consider a charcoal product that contains clay in it which will help absorb excess oil. In contrast, if you have a dry skin type, then look for products with hydrating properties like hyaluronic acid, or jojoba oil to use. This will help lock in moisture into your skin’s surface while cleansing.

Although evidence to support activated charcoal in skincare is limited, anecdotal evidence has been strong in proving its effectiveness. Many people swear by its detoxifying and deep cleansing properties and have remained a popular staple in many brands’ skincare lines. With all skincare ingredients, it is important to test carefully and read the label to avoid unnecessary and harmful ingredients like parabens, fragrance, harsh chemicals and dyes that can cause irritation.

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