Activated charcoal is a popular ingredient in skin care products and may help improve the texture and appearance of skin. Its absorbing properties are well studied, but its effectiveness as a skin treatment is inconclusive.
Many products claim that activated charcoal can treat blemishes, improve dry or oily skin, or heal acne. However, evidence for these claims is limited, and manufacturers base these effects on activated charcoal’s general detoxifying properties.
This article explains what activated charcoal is, how it works, and its uses. Next, we explore its potential benefits for the skin and look at possible adverse effects. Finally, we explain how to use it in skin care.
Manufacturers produce charcoal by heating pulverized substances such as:
- coconut shells
The charcoal activates when steam or hot air erode its internal surfaces, thereby increasing its surface area.
This makes the product very effective at absorbing substances. For example, one teaspoon of activated charcoal has an absorptive surface area equivalent to a football field.
Charcoal has been used medicinally since the Egyptians, who documented its use in eliminating the bad smell from infected wounds.
Medical professionals may administer it as an internal treatment to counteract poisoning. However, it only works with certain toxins and may have health risks, so experts recommend that a poison control center advises.
Activated charcoal is also an ingredient in skin and dental care products that people use topically.
Retailers sell various skin products, such as facial cleansers and soaps containing activated charcoal. Manufacturers claim 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 that explore the effects of activated charcoal on the skin are lacking.
The following lists the possible benefits to the skin that activated charcoal may have.
Removing impurities and deep cleansing
Activated charcoal may help remove impurities and dirt from the skin, improving its texture and appearance.
A 2019 study suggested that an activated charcoal peel-off mask was able to enlarge the pores and enhance the cleansing of the skin by removing dead cells. Additionally, the pores reverted to their usual sizes within an hour of the treatment.
Soaking up excess oil
Oily skin can look shiny due to an overproduction of sebum. Sebum is essential for protecting and hydrating the skin, but too much can clog pores and cause spots to develop. Activated charcoal may help by soaking up the excess oil that some people’s skin produces.
Clearing blemishes and acne
Reducing the appearance of pores
Activated charcoal may help unclog pores and remove dead skin cells by binding to bacteria and toxins. This may help reduce the appearance of enlarged pores.
A 2021 study explored the effects of a 25% activated charcoal product on the skin of the hands. After treatment for 1 month, the researchers found that it could brighten dry skin on the hands and was not irritating.
However, according to a 2019 research review, although activated charcoal is generally safe, there is no evidence to demonstrate its exfoliating or aging support.
Because studies on activated charcoal for skin are lacking, it is challenging to assess adverse effects or cautions when using it. However, the few studies available do not note 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 severe complications such as pulmonary aspiration. Therefore, it is vital that people only take it internally under medical supervision.
If someone notices a rash or irritation when using activated charcoal products, they need to discontinue using them. Additionally, it is important that people with sensitive skin or acne consult a dermatologist before using.
Different products containing activated charcoal are available for people to try. These include:
- cleansing lotions and gels
- face masks
- face scrubs
- facial 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 may purchase activated charcoal powder to add to a homemade face mask or scrub. Someone can find recipes for this online, which may include other ingredients such as:
- coconut oil
- aloe vera
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 claims on its general detoxification properties.
If a person wants to try an activated charcoal product on their skin, it is usually safe to do so, but they need to discontinue using it if the product irritates. In addition, it is important not to take activated charcoal internally unless they receive guidance from a doctor.