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Fab or Fad: Where Does Activated Charcoal Land?

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Over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge rise in the use of charcoal in the beauty industry. When I first heard about the trendy ingredient, I didn’t quite understand how something usually reserved for grills can work well for your skin. But the benefits of the chalky substance go much further than what you might think.

Rather than using what we typically picture charcoal to be, beauty products contain a more porous version called activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is present in personal care products like deodorant, toothpaste and skincare to rid of unwanted bacteria. It’s even used in food products like ice cream, bread and coffee to give each item a trendy black hue. Not to mention, activated charcoal also comes in a supplement form and as a detox.

But with so many different uses, we can’t help but wonder how effective the seemingly universal ingredient actually is. So, let’s dive in!

What Does Activated Charcoal Do?

When used in skincare products, activated charcoal is said to detoxify, along with remove dirt, dust and chemicals from the skin’s surface. Plus, it exfoliates and helps unclog pores. If used correctly, skin should be left feeling fresh and clean, with a smoother surface and enhanced radiance.

One skincare brand, Boscia, shares with consumers that charcoal “absorbs impurities and oil […] refines skin’s appearance [and] minimizes growth of harmful bacteria.” Their highly rated Luminizing Charcoal Mask is said to provide a pore-less glow, banish blackheads and promote softer skin.

Additionally, activated charcoal is used in deodorant to help absorb moisture and odor for a fresher, cleaner feel. Popular deodorant brand, Schmidt’s Naturals explains on Instagram, “AC is known to be adsorbent, meaning it can hold liquid molecules on a surface.” They continue, “while we can’t claim that it helps with sweat, we know anecdotally that many of you feel our charcoal [deodorants] are very effective.” In fact, their Charcoal + Magnesium Natural Deodorant is the brand’s best-selling product.

Does it Work?

According to Lab Muffin, “there isn’t any good data on whether or not [activated charcoal] works, but theoretically, it could work.” If it is effective, as many skincare brands claim, charcoal may penetrate deeper than regular skincare products that use surfactants to cleanse the skin.

As someone who has used charcoal skincare products before, I have seen positive results. However, I can’t say that a similar, charcoal-less product wouldn’t be just as effective. Afterall, a nose strip is still a nose strip even with an extra ingredient.

Needless to say, activated charcoal will not harm your skin, and it has the potential to improve it. But each product and experience is different, so you just have to find what works best for you!

Are there any charcoal beauty products you swear by? Share with us below!

Emily Lentz
Emily Lentz
Emily Lentz is a Los Angeles-based Features Editor, creating content and working towards providing an inclusive space for beauty professionals and consumers.