Activated charcoal is a common ingredient in skin care products and may help improve the texture and appearance of skin. Its absorption properties have been well studied, but its effectiveness as a skin treatment is inconclusive.
Many products claim that activated charcoal can treat spots, improve dry or oily skin, or treat acne. However, evidence for these claims is limited, and manufacturers base these effects on the general detoxifying properties of activated charcoal.
This article explains what activated charcoal is, how it works, and its uses. Next, we explore the potential benefits for the skin and consider potential adverse effects. Finally, we explain how to use it in skin care.
Manufacturers produce charcoal by heating powdered materials such as:
- coconut shells
Charcoal activates when steam or hot air erodes its inner surfaces, thus increasing its surface area.
This makes the product very effective in absorbing substances. For example, one teaspoon of activated charcoal has an absorbent surface area equivalent to a football field.
Charcoal has been used medicinally since the Egyptians who documented its use in deodorizing infected wounds.
Medical professionals can administer it as an internal treatment to counteract poisoning. However, it only works with some toxins and may have health risks, so experts recommend that a Poison Control Center advise.
Retailers also sell activated charcoal products to treat gas and bloating, but there is little evidence to support this.
Activated charcoal is also an ingredient in skin and dental care products that people use topically.
Learn more about activated charcoal and its uses here.
Retailers sell many skin products, such as facial cleansers and soaps containing activated charcoal. Manufacturers claim that these products may benefit the skin in several ways based on the general properties of activated charcoal.
However, it is important to note that there is little evidence to support these claims, and large-scale trials exploring the effects of activated charcoal on the skin are lacking.
Here is a list of the potential skin benefits that activated charcoal may have.
Removing impurities and deep cleansing
Activated charcoal may help remove impurities and dirt from the skin and improve its texture and appearance.
A 2019 study suggested that an activated charcoal peel-off mask was able to widen pores and enhance skin cleansing by removing dead cells. In addition, the pores returned to their usual sizes within an hour of treatment.
Learn more about how to get clear skin here.
Soak the excess oil
Oily skin can look shiny due to excessive sebum production. Sebum is essential to protect and moisturize the skin, but too much of it can clog pores and lead to spots. Activated charcoal may help by absorbing excess oil produced by some people’s skin.
Learn more about oily skin treatments here.
Remove blemishes and acne
Activated charcoal products may help absorb and bind excess oil. This may help remove blackheads and improve the appearance of acne or spots.
Learn more about acne treatment here.
Minimize the appearance of pores
Activated charcoal may help open pores and remove dead skin cells by binding to bacteria and toxins. This may help reduce the appearance of enlarged pores.
Learn more about reducing pore size here.
A 2021 study explored the effects of a 25% activated charcoal product on the skin of the hands. After a month-long treatment, researchers found that it can lighten dry skin on hands and don’t cause irritation.
However, according to a 2019 research review, although activated charcoal is generally safe, there is no evidence to show support for exfoliation or aging.
Learn more about skin lightening methods here.
Since there are no studies on activated charcoal for the skin, it is difficult to assess adverse effects or warnings when using it. However, the few studies available do not report any side effects when people apply it topically.
On the other hand, taking activated charcoal internally can cause side effects such as vomiting or more serious complications such as pulmonary aspiration. Therefore, it is necessary that people take it internally only under medical supervision.
If someone notices a rash or irritation when using activated charcoal products, they should stop using them. In addition, it is important that people with sensitive skin or acne consult a dermatologist before use.
Learn more about sensitive skin here.
Various products that contain activated charcoal are available for people to try. These include:
- Cleansing lotion and gels
- face masks
- face scrubs
- face wipes
Depending on the product, someone may use activated charcoal daily or weekly until their skin improves. The percentage of activated charcoal and the type of product determine this.
Additionally, people can purchase activated charcoal powder to add to a homemade face mask or scrub. Anyone can find recipes for this online, which may include other ingredients like:
- Coconut Oil
- Rose water
Activated charcoal has absorbent properties that make it useful for medical professionals to use in the emergency room for poisoning. However, there is little evidence to support its use as a skin care ingredient, and manufacturers base their claims on its general detoxifying properties.
If someone wants to try an activated charcoal product on their skin, it is usually safe to do so, but they should stop using it if the product causes irritation. Additionally, it is important not to take activated charcoal internally unless directed by a physician.