The Dirt on The Newest Beauty Trend: Charcoal

Here’s a surprising ally in clean living: activated charcoal, a natural ingredient turning up everywhere from bar soaps to toothbrushes. Here's why you should give the trend a try.
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Here’s a surprising ally in clean living: activated charcoal, a natural ingredient turning up everywhere from bar soaps to toothbrushes.

Made by burning organic materials such as wood and coconut shells at intensely high temperatures in oxygen-free surroundings, activated charcoal is rich in carbon and riddled with tiny pores that purify by soaking up pollutants and other hazardous materials. Particularly prized is binchotan—a form of activated charcoal produced by torching oak branches—long esteemed for its clean-burning qualities in traditional Japanese-style grilling.

Just as those activated charcoal filters in your water purifier help mop up contaminants, the pitch-black ash added to personal-care products is believed to trap impurities before they wreak havoc on your body. Activated charcoal does have a history of use in hospitals as an emergency treatment for poisoning. “It’s assumed that since charcoal prevents absorption of many compounds in the blood, it can be used routinely for detoxification, but based on research to date, it’s not clear how much of a difference it makes,” says Adam Rindfleisch, MD, family physician and integrative medicine consultant at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Still, natural-beauty mavens note that activated charcoal could help clarify your complexion. Laura Latronico, director of Mokara Spa in Houston, recommends weekly use of a cleanser or mask made with activated charcoal, adding that since activated charcoal may do away with dirt and oil, charcoal-infused skin-care goods could prevent clogged pores, making it a boon for the blemish prone. “That deep-down pore-cleansing means activated charcoal’s great for removing makeup too,” she says.

Editors' Picks

Michael Todd True Organics Charcoal Detoxifying Facial Mask ($34/3.4 oz.; michaeltoddusa.com)

Giovanni Purifying Facial Scrub ($9.95/4 oz.; giovannicosmetics.com)

Shamanuti Activated Charcoal Cleanser ($36/6 oz.; shamanuti.com)

Morihata Binchotan Facial Puff ($16; rikumo.com)