charcoal & skin care

*this post is upon request of my best friend who recently discovered the wonderful world of charcoal face bars*


charcoal in skin care - Cosmetic Composition

image from BeautyCounter


While charcoal may no longer be the hot skin care ingredient that doesn’t make it any less effective. Last spring/summer when the charcoal skin care trend was in full blast my mom was nice enough to pick me up a Yes To Tomatoes charcoal face bar. I fell in love with the cleansing power of this bar, it kept my skin clear for months while I was using it.

Now it’s time for a breakdown on charcoal in skin care!

what is charcoal?

In general, charcoal is essentially just carbon and dust which appear once water has been removed from the system. Carbon can hold many forms, including gas, diamonds, charcoal, graphite, buckyballs, etc. This is due to carbon’s ability to form many isotopes. Isotopes are compounds that have the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons. These isotopes compounds can occur naturally (diamonds) or physically (graphite).

charcoal & skin care

While charcoal and carbon both exist in many forms, activated carbon is the form that appears in skin care products. The black powder that takes the form of activated carbon has “small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions”.  Activated carbon has many uses in environmental, industrial and medicinal areas, however, in skin care, it’s for a fairly simple reason.

Since activated charcoal creates a large surface area, it has the ability to pick up a lot of things. This can include good nutrients, making it a great base for skin care products, but it can also include the dirt and bad oils found on our skin. In an article from Lab Muffin, she explains how activated charcoal has strong-ish intermolecular forces. I say strong-ish because as far as intermolecular forces go, dispersion forces are fairly weak because they are temporary, however at the moment of connection, they can do amazing things. Dispersion forces are responsible for how geckos can walk up walls with their sticky feet, and many other natural occurrences.

Another common notion about activated charcoal is that it acts as a magnet for the skin, which can be seen in many marketing ads for these skin care products. The dispersion forces make it easy for markets to advertise these products as magnets for the skin, however, they are simply just good cleaners.

charcoal & acne

A common notion is that the use of charcoal in skin care can be effective as an acne treatment. This has not been proven with scientific evidence, however, there is good cause to believe that it can. The use of activated charcoal in skin care acts similar to clay masks where bad oil is absorbed and then rinsed off, signaling for the skin to produce new oil for the skin’s surface. This would ideally help stave off the bad oil and keep the pores clean and free of acne.

Overall: Using skin care products containing activated charcoal won’t treat your acne, but it will keep it clean and fresh (which, yes, could lead to acne free skin). In my opinion, the two best (and budget friendly!) brands for charcoal products are Yes To Tomatoes and Biore.

Have you ever used a charcoal skin care product? What did you think of your experience? I’d love to hear in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “charcoal & skin care

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