Charcoal: Decoded

Charcoal skincare products have been known to trigger a few double takes. You want me to put what I use on the backyard grill on my face? But the ingredient is supremely effective, both at clearing away bacteria and oil without drying out skin and at de-gunking pores without any irritation. We took a trip back to chemistry class to find out exactly how this all-natural purifier works.

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Unlike the nuggets you toss in a grill, activated charcoal—also known as activated carbon—has been treated with oxygen. This process makes the charcoal much more porous, and it also exposes a large surface area of carbon. Once the carbon molecules are exposed, they’re drawn to bind with organic chemicals like toxins, odors, and contaminants—exactly what you don’t want hanging out on your skin. Activated charcoal is so powerful at removing toxins that it’s often used in water filters (those black specks you sometimes see in your Brita pitcher are harmless carbon particles) and as a treatment for victims of chemical or food poisoning.

How Does It Work?

Applied topically, activated charcoal acts like a powerful magnet, drawing out impurities, according to Los Angeles dermatologist Dr. Soheil Simzar. Charcoal can also suck out those tiny flakes of skin that over time can build up and form milia, hard white bumps under the skin’s surface that can require a doctor’s visit to remove. To keep pores free and clear, Dr. Simzar recommends a charcoal-based mask once or twice a week, like ORIGINS Clear Improvement® Active Charcoal Mask.

Who Should Use It?

Unless you have a specific allergy to the ingredient, all skin types can use products that feature charcoal. Dr. Simzar especially recommends charcoal for those with oily skin and large pores, since more pollutants tend to accumulate in their skin. One of his top product picks: boscia® Detoxifying Black Cleanser, which he says does a terrific job of improving pores’ appearance.

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