Skin Benefits of Activated Charcoal

Remember the first time that one friend suggested you try a skin product with activated charcoal?

 What?! Put coal? On my face? … On purpose?

Well, that friend was right this time. Activated charcoal is a force for good, a fighter of icky, a superhero taker-away of all that we don’t want on (or in!) our skin.

A definition is in order. Activated charcoal is not coal. The two share a syllable and they share the same ingredient list (carbon, carbon, and carbon), but their difference comes in the form they take. Coal is a millenia-old piece of pressurized carbon, while charcoal is the carbon that is left after burning wood, coconut husks, bamboo, and other things that have a lot of carbon. When this newer charcoal is super-heated (to over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit!), it becomes activated charcoal.



That super-heating gives charcoal its new name, Activated Charcoal. And “activated” is quite fitting since it is now ready to work for us. What comes out of this heating process is a carbon full of connected holes, like a bundle of mesh. Which doesn’t sound very special, but it is! Activated carbon has a bunch of surface area: one teaspoon has more surface area than, say, a football field. Really.

The reason we like this surface area is because it’s really adsorbent. Adsorbent means it binds other things to its surface, like a film, instead of taking them inside itself. Since activated charcoal has a lot of surface, it has a lot of points available for binding. This holey carbon is amazing at making friends with all the like-sized things around it–meaning it bonds with those teeny-tiny toxins and impurities that we want gone from our skin.



A bonus is that our bodies can’t absorb activated charcoal. Thus, when we use it on our skin and then wash it away, it takes along with it all those icky things it has picked up. This makes it great for skin when we want to take care of things like acne, deep cleansing, and detoxing.

Do you see the simple beauty of the physics of “activated charcoal”? It truly is amazing. Tell your friend thank you.


Activated Charcoal Skin Uses & Benefits:

Activated charcoal picks up dirt, oils, and toxins. Soap works by attaching one end of its molecules on water and one end on these other things. When soap is washed away, it takes those things with it since they are all attached. By using activated charcoal and soap together, you have a clean-up team that sponges everything up and then takes it away. Note: It is especially important to apply moisturizer after cleansing with activated charcoal.




Activated charcoal not only picks up toxins, it tends to attract them out of the skin. This makes it particularly useful for detoxing. 




With deodorizing, the idea is to neutralize or get rid of things that are causing bad odors. Specifically with underarm deodorizing, activated charcoal is useful in a couple of ways. First, activated charcoal picks up bacteria, the biggest cause of underarm odor. Second, activated charcoal has a great capacity to absorb moisture, a breeding ground for bacteria.



References accessed March 14, 2022

  1. Filtration: Sediment Activated Carbon and Mixed Media 
  2. Encyclopedia of Materials: Science and Technology, 2001