There’s always a beauty ingredient du jour, but the latest one to hit — and stay on — shelves is everything you wouldn’t want in a Christmas present: charcoal. But it’s not just plain old charcoal that’s turning up in everything from face wash to body wash to toothpaste, it’s activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal and charcoal start off the same way, but the latter does not go through a purification process. Cosmetic chemist, Ni’Kita Wilson, explains, “Activated charcoal goes through this extra step, steam activation, which creates tiny pores that make activated charcoal products the great filters and detoxifiers that they are.”
The detoxifying benefits of activated charcoal have quite the track record, being used everywhere from emergency rooms to treat oral poisoning — think of it as nature’s stomach pump — to your Brita filter’s water filtration system. Once the beauty community caught wind of this ingredient’s detoxifying properties, it’s no surprise it took off trending.
The detox all-star is even said to make teeth whiter and help pull pollutants from your digestive tract. While many doctors advise against sipping on a green juice with activated charcoal (it could actually act as a magnet for good nutrients in addition to bad), charcoal beauty products have proven safe and effective.
Wilson, who’s worked in the beauty industry for more than 15 years, says she’s helped create every kind of product from face masks to lube, so she knows what’s worth trying and why. Activated charcoal is often compared to bentonite, an ingredient used in clay masks, but Wilson says activated charcoal is not as drying. It works by absorbing particles in pores and not only drawing them to the surface of skin but also binding with them, which helps clear impurities away.
Instead of buying off the shelf, Wilson prefers to give her beauty products a “boost” by mixing activated charcoal powder with the cleanser and mask she already uses. You can buy loose powder on its own, but keep in mind that a little goes a long way. One pinch of activated charcoal powder in a dime size of your own product should do the trick.
Just be careful when it comes to orally ingesting charcoal or clay. Though Shailene Woodley and Gwyneth Paltrow may have given charcoal drinks their celebrity seal of approval, studies on its benefits are scant. In fact, there are no recent studies about oral activated charcoal and it should only be administered by a doctor (not a juice bar).
Looking to try out some charcoal beauty products? Wilson’s favorites are the Biore Deep Pore Charcoal Cleanser and the Origins Active Charcoal Mask.