Active Ingredients: Charcoal

Tiffany Ong Beauty Expert
Active Ingredients: Charcoal

Does charcoal really suck out all the toxins in our skin?

I think we can agree that charcoal products have become so prevalent in not only the skincare industry but also the lifestyle, F&B or health. For example, we see in drinks, burgers, body wash, toothpaste and a whole lot more. And I can guarantee that almost everyone has bought a charcoal mask at least once. But what is charcoal and does it actually benefit the skin as many brands claim?

Charcoal has long been used in medicinal practices to remove toxins in the body and to treat conditions such as poisoning, gastric and nausea due to its anti-bacterial properties. In skincare, the terms “charcoal” and “activated charcoal” are loosely used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Charcoal is made by burning wood, coal or coconut shells. Whereas, activated charcoal goes through a burning process where the temperature is raised even higher to shed off the carbon atoms and what is left are called pores, giving it a sponge-like structure.

Activated charcoal has a huge surface area with 1 gram of activated charcoal having a surface area of approximately 3 Olympic swimming pools, just let that sink in. Its large surface area and pores are what makes activated charcoal so coveted in the skincare industry as it works like a sponge to soak up all the substances in and on the skin. Charcoal is also considered an adsorptive ingredient, meaning that it has an electrical attraction that draws out toxins. It is also absorbent, it can soak oil better than anything else. With this theory behind how charcoal functions, does it work the same way for our skin?



Mattifies the skin

  • Imagine charcoal as your skin’s sponge, it soaks up all surface dirt, chemicals, sebum and any other harmful substances that can lead to clogged pores or acne breakouts, plus it also has healing properties.
  • Charcoal is recommended for people with oily or combination skin as it can reduce the amount of sebum on the skin, diminishing the appearance of oily skin.

Improves acne

  • By sucking out all the gunk (dead skin cells, oil, bacteria) laying in and on the skin, charcoal may be able to help treat and prevent acne breakouts and improve overall skin condition. 

Exfoliates the skin

  • Its gritty yet soft texture provides the skin with a natural gentle exfoliation that can help to remove dead skin cells and reveal a more radiant complexion.

Suitable for sensitive skin

  • Charcoal is inert and does not cause any known allergic reactions or irritation. However, depending on the formulation, some products may contain a mixture of charcoal and other active ingredients which may cause sensitivity.


What to note?

  • Although charcoal is said to boast amazing detoxing benefits, there are actually very few studies done that backs up this idea. However, based on the theory alone that charcoal attracts toxins, it may work, which is why we still see an array of charcoal-inspired products.
  • Charcoal-based products are all formulated and promoted to people with oily or acne-prone skin as it says that it can suck out all the buildup on and in your skin. However, these products are mostly, if not all, formulated with other anti-acne ingredients, like AHAs, BHAs or kaolin, so it’s hard to guarantee that the effects are because of the charcoal or the additional ingredients that have shown results of treating sebum control and cleansing the skin.
  • People with dry skin should try to avoid using charcoal as it may dry your skin out even more.


Products we recommend 

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

the ordinary salicylic acid 2 masque

Formulated with 2% Salicylic Acid, Vegetable Charcoal, Amazonian Clays and Squalane aims to target lacklustre tone and textural irregularities. It also aims to enhance the appearance of soothe and clarity, leaving the skin feeling refreshed and looking radiant.


Dear, Klairs Gentle Black Sugar Charcoal Soap

dear klairs gentle black sugar charcoal soap

A great daily cleanser for oily skin while effectively cleansing the pores and clearing away dead skin cells. It leaves the skin well moisturised even after cleansing. Experience the feeling of purified pores along with a more brightened and evened skin tone.

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