Best known for its ability to heat up the grill, charcoal, which is often referred to as black magic because of its color and healing powers, is also an ancient beauty secret that is making a strong showing in the skincare industry. Activated charcoal, a processed form of carbon, has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians are believed to have used it to keep wounds clean; Hippocrates used activated carbon to treat patients with conditions like epilepsy and vertigo; and Hindus utilized charcoal for drinking-water filtration. In the 18th century, chemists and pharmacists studied charcoal’s ability to help protect the human body from toxins, and in recent years, charcoal, which is activated through heat and exposure to steam and certain chemicals, has become increasingly popular in skincare. “Charcoal is an excellent natural ingredient to help purify and deep clean the skin,” says Craig Nandoo, founder of Tao of Man. “It is known to absorb 100 to 200 times its weight in impurities. Apart from its purification properties, charcoal is also used for detoxification and is known to clarify the skin—it actually pulls out impurities and leaves skin soft, fresh, clear, and bright.”
Feel the Heat
According to Teresa Stenzel, director of education at Bioelements, charcoal-based products and treatments are ideal for clients with dull, dehydrated, devitalized, and congested skin. They can also benefit clients with rough skin texture and poor circulation. And because charcoal helps to purify and cleanse the skin, it is a great ingredient for products used in facial treatments, especially those targeting acne. “Think of charcoal as a detox cleanse for your skin,” says Ling Chan, owner of Ling Skin Care and Ling Spa (multiple locations in New York City). “Charcoal is great for facials. Known for its cooling effects on the skin, charcoal is not only a soothing summertime beauty treatment but also works to detox the skin from impurities and heavy oil buildup. Charcoal is also beneficial for clearing up acne and blemishes and purifying the skin from free radicals.” At Ling Spa, clients can indulge in the Charcoal Facial ($260, 90 minutes), which incorporates a 15-minute crushed black charcoal mask that is applied to the face with a brush after extractions to help draw out toxins.
Similarly, Tao of Man’s Detoxifying Facial for Men (suggested $125, 60 minutes) features the new Detoxifying Charcoal Mask, which contains burdock and cnidium to detoxify skin and remove impurities; licorice root to purify, calm, and brighten the skin; and activated charcoal to absorb toxins trapped under the skin. According to Stenzel, another benefit of activated charcoal is that it gives the product a dark purplish tint and thickens the formula, which helps estheticians see exactly where it is applied to the skin. “Plus, the consistency helps it stay where you apply it without running or dripping,” she says.
While charcoal-based products are mostly used to treat facial skin, they can also be beneficial for the entire body. “Generally, masks are the best way to apply charcoal, because in this form, it can optimally pull toxins and impurities out of the skin like a magnet,” says Nandoo. “Activated charcoal is very powerful when used in facial treatments, however, it can also be used as a full-body treatment. As a highly effective detoxifying ingredient, charcoal is known to greatly improve skin health.” At Spa Castle (Carrollton, TX), guests can enjoy the benefits of this ingredient in the Charcoal Tower, which is a room that features activated charcoal to help extract ingested toxins from the body, kill bacteria and viruses, and lower cholesterol levels.
To ensure the most effective benefits from charcoal, choose products that contain charcoal that has been activated or dehydrated, as it makes the ingredient more porous, says Stenzel. “I would also recommend a formula where the charcoal doesn’t make it gritty or too rough in texture,” she says. “Ease of application and removal is key.” The Bioelements Glycolic Detox Charcoal Peel Levels 2 and 3 help leave the skin glowing instead of flaking when used in the Ultra-Detox Chemical Peel ($95, 60 minutes) at Botanic Skin Care (Miami). The treatment helps to draw out impurities, unclog pores, improve fine lines, and leave skin with a younger, velvety-smooth texture. The Glycolic Detox Charcoal Peel Level 2 is a 15-percent glycolic peel with 5-percent lactic acid, activated charcoal, and willowherb to soften milia, reduce the appearance of pore size and lines, and brighten dark spots, and the Glycolic Detox Charcoal Peel Level 3 is a more intense version, containing 25-percent glycolic acid. Bioelements also recently introduced the Advanced VitaMineral Deep Detox Mask, which filters out toxins with activated coconut charcoal to even skintone and texture and help it absorb nutrients. Coconut charcoal comes from coconut shells and is a common ingredient in Ayurveda.
While charcoal has proven to be effective in spa services, it also makes for a great retail item. Charcoal bar soaps, for instance, are ideal gifts. Attractive retail displays can also encourage spa-goers to incorporate the ingredient into their homecare routines. Coal Face by Lush, for example, is a cleansing bar that contains powdered charcoal that absorbs excess sebum and acts as a mild exfoliator. Ling Black Charcoal Rice Soap is also formulated with charcoal to remove breakout-triggering impurities, as well as orange and ylang ylang essential oils to ease muscle tension, says Chan.
Because charcoal is not typically thought of as a beneficial skincare ingredient, it may be necessary for you to educate your clientele on its benefits. “Charcoal is a booming ingredient right now and can be incredibly effective when combined properly with other active ingredients,” says Nandoo. It’s important for front desk staff to know which clients can benefit most from these treatments and products in order to properly promote the services to spa guests, and estheticians and therapists should educate clients on the benefits of the ingredient as they perform any charcoal-based treatment to encourage the purchase of at-home products available in your spa’s retail area.
In normal amounts, charcoal is not considered to be harmful to the skin, but Nandoo discourages using too much of any ingredient, including charcoal, as it can negatively affect the body if it is not part of a properly balanced formulation. Because of this, Tao of Man combines powerful ingredients such as charcoal, with proprietary blends of East Asian herbal ingredients in its product formulations. “By doing so, each ingredient is balanced and, therefore, does not lead to any harmful side effects that could be present in an unbalanced formula,” says Nandoo. Stenzel agrees that while charcoal is safe for all skin types, and charcoal-based products and treatments are a good fit for any spa, it is important to look at a formula as a whole to determine if the finished product is right for all skin types, not just the charcoal ingredient itself. “We try to ensure that the finished product can benefit a myriad of skin types, skintones, and target more than one skin concern,” says Stenzel. “Charcoal definitely fits the bill.”
Watch these charcoal-based products disappear from your shelves after clients experience the benefits they provide.—Jessica Morrobel
1. Bioelements Advanced VitaMineral Deep Detox Mask: Formulated with bentonite clay and charcoal, this mask absorbs excess oil and evens skintone, promoting healthy looking skin. www.bioelements.com/pros
2. Dr.Jart+ Pore Minimalist Black Charcoal Sheet Mask: This sheet mask delivers a blend of Moroccan lava clay and spearmint extract to tighten pores without irritating skin. us.drjart.com
3. GlamGlow Supermud Clearing Treatment: Designed to reduce facial breakouts, discoloration, razor bumps, and ingrown hairs, this mask combines aloe leaf juice, charcoal, and peppermint oil. www.glamglowmud.com
4. Konjac Sponge Company Bamboo Charcoal Facial Puff Sponge: Suitable for sensitive skin, this sponge eliminates blackheads, dirt, and oil with bamboo charcoal. www.konjacspongecompany.com
5. Ling Skin Care Black Charcoal Rice Soap: Created with charcoal and coconut and rice bran oils, this soap draws out toxins. www.lingskincare.com
6. Lush Coal Face Cleanser: Made with powdered charcoal and rosewood and sandalwood oils, this preservative-free soap bar removes excess sebum and reduces redness and blemishes. www.lushusa.com
7. May Lindstrom Skin The Problem Solver: Containing bamboo charcoal, cinnamon, and gotu kola, this formula activates on contact with water to tighten pores, heal blemishes, relieve inflammation, and dissolve blackheads. www.maylindstrom.com
8. Mt. Sapola Bamboo Charcoal Soap: Combining bamboo charcoal, coconut and palm oils, and rice bran, this cleanser removes dead skin cells, eliminates unpleasant odors, and conditions skin. www.mtsapolausa.com
9. Shamanuti Activated Charcoal Cleanser: This gel cleanser removes makeup residue, neutralizes acidity, and restores pH balance while lavender and chamomile soothe inflammation and reduce redness. www.shamanuti.com
10. Soap Revolt Naturals Charcoal Soap: Infused with activated bamboo charcoal and lavender and tea tree oils, this bar soap calms skin and leaves it glowing. www.soaprevoltnaturals.com
11. Soapwalla Activated Charcoal & Petitgrain Soap Bar: This soap purifies and helps minimize pores with bamboo charcoal and petitgrain and tea tree oils. www.soapwallakitchen.com
12. Tao of Man Detoxifying Charcoal Mask: This paraben- and sulfate-free mask removes blackheads and toxins with activated charcoal and licorice root, leaving skin feeling soft. www.taoofman.com