Black Magic: Is Charcoal The New Wonder Beauty Ingredient?

The YS Beauty Lab

Everything’s coming up charcoal! More people are looking up this substance on the Internet, and suddenly, even the skin care aisle at your favorite online and brick-and-mortar shops are now all proudly parading this ingredient in every bottle, jar and tube. YesStyle is not immune to it either. Before you think everyone’s having a barbecue that you’re not invited to, or that you should suddenly start burning wood in your backyard or oven, it helps to know why this ingredient is suddenly on every beauty enthusiast’s list.

Activated charcoal is the ingredient that’s currently making waves. It’s mostly used in hospitals as treatment for poisoning, in household and industrial products like air and water filters, and in beauty products. Activated charcoal is different from your common barbecue/grill charcoal because of the word “activated.” That means the charcoal has been cleaned and treated with a special ingredient to make it more porous, enabling it to trap more substances — a process known as adsorption.

Activated Carbon

Activated charcoal in powder form

Image: WikimediaCommons, Ravedave
Used under GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Below are five skin care products that often use activated charcoal. While you can always DIY some of them, do bear in mind that activated charcoal powder is still somewhat abrasive, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Nose Strips and Facial Masks

Chances are, you’ve used a nose strip to remove icky blackheads, and also slather on a mask once in a while. Activated carbon — another name for activated charcoal — is among the most common ingredients for these products because the charcoal attracts all the excess oil, dirt and other impurities inside pores. As charcoal powder is so fine and porous, they are easily absorbed by your skin and able to penetrate deeply.

Oral Care

My colleague Maureen tried the bestselling Kobayashi charcoal toothpaste a few years ago out of curiosity for its popularity. Well, guess what? Celebrities have now discovered charcoal toothpaste themselves and they’re attributing their pearly whites to it! Activated charcoal powder acts as a micro scrub to get rid of surface stains on teeth. The prospect of your teeth covered in black foam might put you off a little, but don’t worry! You can gargle it away!

My dentist also surprisingly recommended I use a soft-bristled charcoal toothbrush since I complained of some mild tooth sensitivity. The toothbrush, along with some special toothpaste, surprisingly helped in remedying the problem.

Facial Cleansers

Just like nose pore strips and masks, activated charcoal is a welcome addition in most facial cleansers. The combined mild exfoliation plus the resulting scouring of pores certainly help remove any embedded dirt, makeup, excess oil, and even sweat on skin. Using a charcoal-infused facial wash a few times a week (if your skin can tolerate it) also prevents acne and other blemishes from forming.

Body Scrubs

With spring now here and summer not far behind, it’s time to bare some skin! But you certainly don’t want to face the sunshine with uneven, rough or dull-looking skin, right? Enter the exfoliants! Activated charcoal certainly makes a good body scrub, especially for areas prone to roughness and darkening like the front and back of your knees, elbows, and even your back and bum area. If you’re going to rock that swimsuit or Speedo, better make sure you’ve got the skin to show for it!

Clarifying Shampoos

If you use a cleanser and facial wash to remove makeup and clean your face, your hair should deserve the same treatment, especially if you apply a lot of product or subject it to a lot of chemical treatments. Shampoos enriched with activated carbon do a good job of removing any leftover product residue as well as oil and sweat in your hair roots and the scalp. Doing this at least once a week helps ease of stress of your tresses, and make your shampoo and conditioner work better.

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