Charcoal Curiosities: The Benefits—and Risks—of Activated Charcoal

Photography: Getty Images

http://www.skinauthority.com/While those on Santa's naughty list are often cautioned to be nice or risk receiving a lump of coal in their stockings, savvy spa-goers know that charcoal-related products can be the ultimate gift. In fact, when it comes to skincare, activated charcoal is one of the hottest skincare ingredients for purifying and detoxifying the skin. “Activated charcoal, which is created when oxygen is added to regular charcoal, is known to absorb 100 to 200 times its weight in impurities, making it an exceptional detoxifier for the skin,” says Melanie Timms, director of marketing innovation, and education for CBI Skincare.

“This is due to the fact that it is a micro-porous material with excellent absorption properties for its large specific surface area. It is ideal for treating oily, problematic skin types as well as providing a purifying and balancing effect on sensitive skin.” Another advantage is the self-preserving nature of charcoal, which can help extend the shelf life of products. “Clays and powders like charcoal are also natural preservatives and are used in combination with other ingredients to create our self-preserving formulas,” says Erica Vega, senior brand and product trainer for Lush.

With anti-pollution protection products more popular than ever, charcoal has become a key ingredient in many cleansers, scrubs, and masks. “Pollution is such a hot topic and a real issue for many skin types,” says Suzanne LeRoux, president of One Love Organics. “Activated charcoal really works to help draw out toxins and impurities from the pores.” Celeste Hilling, founder and CEO of Skin Authority, agrees: “Because charcoal is highly absorbent, it is great for purifying skin and ‘filtering’ out elements of pollution.

”According to Brian Goodwin, international trainer for Eminence Organic Skin Care, the ingredient is especially effective at removing the pollutants, allergens, dust, and more from the skin and putting a stop to the inflammation and free radical damage they can cause. But, although charcoal has proven to be an effective skin purifier, there may be a bit of “well washing” when it comes to the internal benefits it provides.

Charcoal has come under fire as a form of “nonsense” in the recent New York Times article, “Worshipping the False Idols of Wellness” by Jen Gunter. Unfortunately, its reputation has been a bit tarnished by the food and wellness industries, which claim it can do everything from aid in digestion, reduce nausea, cure hangovers, and more. Unfortunately, drinking activated charcoal in detox juices or smoothies can do more harm than good, as it can bind to vitamins, medications, even birth control, rendering them ineffective. That’s not to say it isn’t effective in other instances.

FREE BI-WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Like this story? Subscribe to For Estheticians!

Skincare professionals rely on For Estheticians as their must-read source for the latest news on skincare treatments, trends, tips and more. Sign up today to get bi-weekly top stories delivered straight to your inbox and read on the go.

“Think of the basic use of charcoal in water filtration,” says Holly Harding, founder of O’o Hawaii. “You can have highly impure water and filter it through charcoal and voila—instant drinkable water.” And as Kim Lee, ND, director of education-U.S. Midwest for Pevonia, points out, activated charcoal has been used on occasion in the emergency treatment of suspected poisonings or drug overdoses. Despite these exceptions, there is really no beneficial reason to ingest activated charcoal, which means you can pass on the charcoal and kale smoothies guilt-free.
 

RELATED STORIES

Deciding on Your Charcoal of Choice

Five Reasons to add Activated Charcoal to Your Facial Offerings

Purifying Performances: Ingredients to Try