Let’s talk charcoal—and no, we’re not flashing back to fifth-grade art class. As you may know, charcoal is a substance created when organic matter (i.e. something containing carbon) burns in the absence of air. You may also recognize it as those black chunks in the bottom of the BBQ. You may not know, however, that charcoal is used as an air purifier in filters—and now it’s in your beauty products.
Note: Charcoal is not to be confused with coal or coal tar, which is used to treat psoriasis and dandruff and may be found in hair dye and synthetic colors in cosmetics. Coal is NOT safe in beauty products—it’s a human carcinogen. Other countries have banned it from beauty products.
Activated charcoal, which has been treated with oxygen to make it more porous, stars in several new skin-care products—particularly in formulas designed to purify, cleanse, and otherwise detox your scalp and your pores. It works by chemically binding to other organic matter and bacteria—the packaging may call this process “absorbing.” (Isn’t nice to think that a special ingredient absorbs everything we don’t want on our faces?)
Good news: there’s a lot of truth in the words of the charcoal proselytizers. Charcoal can draw out all sorts of skin nasties, making it an effective ingredient in anti-acne masks. Your skin will not in turn absorb the charcoal, so it’s safe for topical use. (Although charcoal has been used since ancient times to absorb ingested poison, I don’t recommend eating it—charcoal powder may cause mild constipation and nausea.)
The activated charcoal in beauty products is typically made form Japanese bamboo or oak, although it could also be made from peat, coal, coconut shell, and petroleum (eek). If you’re concerned about the source of charcoal in a product, you should contact the company for more information.
Sandalwood oil and rosewood oil reduce redness and blemishes, while licorice root works as anti-bacterial agent in this cult favorite charcoal soap by Lush.
The sponge exfoliates gently while konjac root and bamboo charcoal draws out impurities, for minimized pores.
Have you used charcoal beauty products? Share!
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Photo: Freeparking via Flicr, Mary Hood, Lush, Boscia