Why this ancient beauty tool is making a come-back.

14 06 05 Charcoal

Charcoal, now found in more and more beauty products—from affordable drugstore products to profession grade and more natural brands, too, has been used for centuries in beauty regimens. Apparently, Cleopatra used charcoal as eyeliner, which is where the term kohl liner that we use today comes from. But since this ingredient has been around so long, why is it only becoming a go-to ingredient now? And what does it really do for our skin?

To answer these questions we spoke with Donna Bishop, founder of Green Beauty—an all-natural spa, salon and beauty boutique destination in Toronto—for some more information on this hot ingredient.

Although it is unknown exactly when charcoal became popular as a skincare ingredient, currently it enjoys a “renaissance,” as Bishop puts it, for its cleansing properties. “The key charcoal is ‘activated charcoal,’ where it has been treated with oxygen to open up millions of tiny pores that allow it to absorb. The word ‘absorb’ is important here. When a material absorbs something, it attaches to it by chemical reaction. Activated charcoal is good at trapping other carbon-based impurities, so the activated charcoal will remove certain impurities while ignoring others.”

When used in products like a facemask or cleanser, charcoal will secure itself to certain impurities found in the skin and dirt (yuck!) in order to wipe them away when the charcoal rinsed off. At the same time it leaves other ingredients our skin needs behind, providing a sort of deep-cleaning and “detoxifying” effect that leaves our pores clear and unclogged.

Since charcoal removes impurities and absorb oils, it is an optimal ingredient to look for when shopping for products for oily or acne-prone skin. As a naturally occurring ingredient, there is a smaller chance of allergic reaction. However, as with any new product we apply to our skin, always test it out first on a small patch of skin to forsee any sensitivities in order to be safe. 

We like Baléa Charcoal Facial Cleanser ($6.99, Shoppers Drug Mart) and Bioré Deep Pore Charcoal Cleanser with the Self Heating One Minute Mask ($9.99 each, mass retailers).

14 06 09 Balea Charcoal-Facial-Cleanser14 06 06 Biore-high-res