What Is Charcoal?
Charcoal is an ingredient that you are probably familiar with in your skincare. It is an ingredient that is widely used in toothpastes, cleansers, shampoos and face masks. However, what you may not know is that there is little evidence to support the claims of the benefits it provides.
Charcoal is a product that is the result of burning carbon-based material such as wood, think the black sooty substance you find at the bottom of fireplace. The main form of charcoal that you may be familiar with is activated charcoal which is treated in order to increase its absorption. Often charcoal and activated charcoal are used interchangeably but there is some difference in how they perform.
Generally charcoal is considered to help remove excess oil and impurities from the skin. This potential benefit comes from the fact that charcoal is highly absorbent and has been studied for its ability to reduce the effects of some poisonings when ingested. However, there is limited research into how beneficial charcoal actually is for the skin.
the good: Charcoal may help to absorb excess oil from the skin and may help to lift impurities from the skin.
the not so good: Charcoal is not well studied in the context of skincare and has no proven benefits. It also may be drying to the skin.
Who is it for? All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Synergetic ingredients: Works well with most ingredients.
Keep an eye on: Keep an eye out for more research.
What Are The Benefits of Charcoal?
In theory charcoal is used to help remove dirt and oil from the skin, often along side claims that it will remove toxins from the skin. However, there is little evidence that charcoal will actually perform these benefits.
Charcoal-based ingredients are generally marketed to acne prone skin, in particular, oily skin types that produce acne. This is because the oil absorbing benefits may seem appealing to this skin types. However, many of these charcoal-containing products also contain other ingredients that may help to reduce oil and congestion such as acids and clays. So, it is hard to tell how effective a charcoal product may actually be.
Charcoal and activated charcoal are also used in toothpaste products whereby the abrasive nature of the charcoal helps to exfoliate stains off the surface of your teeth. However, it is unclear if they work more effectively than other abrasive toothpastes.
Is Charcoal Safe?
Research is limited on the benefits and safety of charcoal and activated charcoal however it is unlikely to cause irritation or sensitivity unless it is used to exfoliate the skin. If you have experienced a reaction to a charcoal-containing product, it is most likely from the other ingredients in the formulation.
It is also important to note that while charcoal, taken orally for ‘detoxing’, is quite popular it remains a controversial issue. Always check with your doctor before consuming charcoal. Do not consume skincare products that contain charcoal as they will often contain a number of other ingredients in their formulation that aren’t safe to ingest.
Vale JA, Proudfoot AT. How useful is activated charcoal?. BMJ. 1993;306(6870):78-79.