Why charcoal is oily skin's new best friend
When you say charcoal, the first thing that comes to my mind is summer barbeques in the backyard. But separate from grilling hotdogs, charcoal has become the beauty ingredient of the moment. It may be able to burn at high temperatures to cook your food, but it also has the unique ability to absorb oil and toxins, so it is being used in everything from face masks to cleaners to toothpastes.
Charcoal is a carbon-based compound, created by heating wood or other natural substances, in the absence of oxygen. (How do they do that, I do not know. I may not get how its made, but I can still enjoy the benefits!) Activated charcoal is a special form of charcoal that is more porous, making it more absorbent than regular charcoal. Since it can bind better to chemicals, it has been used in medicine, like in emergency rooms for people with medication overdoses.
Switching back to skincare, activated charcoal has been incorporated into cleansers, masks, and pore strips because of its ability to absorb oil from the skin. In researching charcoal skincare, I have come across countless blogs reporting that charcoal helps detoxify the skin. Confused, I turned it to Dr. Z. for his expert advice. He tells me that the only truly detoxifying organs in the body are the liver and kidneys. The skin does release sweat and natural oil but not toxins, so charcoal is not truly detoxifying in the way that we think it is. However, it does effectively remove dirt, oil, and make up that get trapped in our pores. So I guess we should think of it more as clarifying than truly detoxifying.
So here's my round up some of the most popular charcoal-based products I could find on the market.
1) Boscia Charcoal Jelly Ball Cleanser. You can get this K-Beauty inspired cleanser from Sephora for around $20. I had no idea what to expect when I first looked at the box. It is a balloon full of a black jelly which literally feels like a stress ball. The instructions tell you to take the pin it comes wth and poke the balloon. What? Will the jelly just drip out? Is it a one time use? Is it going to leave slime all over the place? To my surprise, the balloon acts like a protective coating around the jelly, and poking it pops the balloon to free the ball inside It is a soft, jelly consistency (think hard Jell-O), but maintains its shape. No slime. No drips. You use it like a soft bar of soap, even though it is a black ball of jelly. It forms a gentle, white lather, and was easy to use. After, my skin felt squeaky clean. (I put on a moisturizer afterwards to counteract a little dryness.)
2) Biore Deep Cleansing Charcoal Pore Strips. This is an update to the traditional nose strips we all know and love. For about $8 you get a pack of 6 strips from your local drugstore. What can I say about nose strips? There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of pulling off the strip and seeing that you cleared out all of that gook from your nose. Of course, I had to stare at the inside of the strip afterwards, and I could not believe what was clogging my pores. I honestly cannot tell if the charcoal strips worked any better than the older white ones, but they still get the thumbs up. Quick. Easy. Budget Friendly. Effective. Satisfying.
3) Glamglow SuperMud Activated Charcoal Treatment. Selfies with this mask have made their way around the internet, so I had to check it out. It retails for $59 at stores like Sephora, and combines calming mud with charcoal to help treat oily or even acne prone skin. I have combination skin, with oil and prominent pores in my T-zone, so I decided to use it only in those areas. As you open the jar, you'll notice a minty scent. As you apply it to the skin, you immediately start to feel tightness, that increases over 10 minutes to the point that your skin feels stretched as the mask dries. It took some scurbbing to get the mask off completely. My skin still felt tight and dry and looked a little red. This all calmed down with a bland moisturizer, and I was glad I only applied it to the T-Zone. (If you are oily, you can defintiely put it all over. Otherwise, it is great for localized oily areas.) The pores on my nose looked smaller, so I was happy.
4) Hello Charcoal Whitening Toothpaste. This sells for about $5 at you local drugstore. OMG. What was I in for. The toothpaste is black. BLACK. I was totally intrigued. There are no words to express how I initially felt when I first looked a my black teeth when I started brushing. What was I doing? My teeth, my whole mouth, turned black. But when I spit, I was pleasantly surprised. It was able to get my teeth whiter, and pearlier than the regular toothpaste I had been using. It defintiely did a better job of getting rid of the plaque around the gumline. Plus, the toothpaste had a light, fresh, and minty taste that was not overpowering. The only downsides are that it takes a few mouth rinses and spits to fully get rid of the leftover toothpaste between your teeth. Also, it defintiely causes a mess in your sink - black splatters everywhere when you spit, but that was easy to wipe away. Overall, it was great.
5) Herbivore Bamboo Charcoal Deotifying Soap Bar. This black bar sells for $12 from your local beauty retailer. Not surprisingly, since it is made of charcoal, the bar is black. It is made with natural oils and activated bamboo charcoal. Rather than the wood charcoal used by many of the other products, this charcoal comes from bamboo itself. The bar has the light, waxy consistency of a glycerin bar, and I was really surprised to see there was actually no glycerin in it. It formed a light, white lather, similar to the jelly ball, and did a great job of removing oil and dirt from the skin. Just like the other products, it left me a little dry on my cheeks, but was perfect for my nose.
So what's the verdict on charcoal skincare? If you are oily, acne-prone, or non-sensitive, charcoal skincare is 100% #TheDermWifeApproved. Just be careful if you are dry or sensitive skin and limit use to your T-zone.