Charcoal is pretty much everywhere at the moment: masks, cleansers, toothpaste, and even bottled water. But is it even worth the hype? We investigate...
Charcoal doesn’t exactly look skin-friendly, does it? But - surprisingly - using it for skin-beautifying purposes isn’t some new fad: the variety that’s used in products is known as ‘activated charcoal,’ which is more absorbent than the BBQ variety - and has been a staple in the beauty cupboards of the savvy since the 1500s.
The key to its efficacy lies in its ability to attach itself to toxins (in fact, it’s so good at doing so, that its been used in hospitals in cases of alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses to help grab toxins in the stomach before they can be absorbed by the blood stream).
On skin, it’ll do similar, attaching itself to impurities which can then be washed away. The beauty benefits go on, and on… and on. If you’re dealing with acne-prone skin, charcoal can effectively cleanse it of excess sebum, dirt, and bacteria, crushing the likelihood of future spots. If large and obvious pores are getting you down, it can tighten them and reduce their visibility. And, for those of you who are panicking about what living in the big smoke is doing to your skin and health, then charcoal can swoop in, detoxifying and rejuvenating a lacklustre complexion.
The best thing about charcoal is that it’s so versatile, so you an easily customise your products to suit your needs. Apply a charcoal-based cleanser and leave it on for a few minutes for a mini mask, or mix your charcoal face mask with moisturiser if you find it leaves your skin feeling a tad dry when applied neat. Here are our top picks of charcoal skincare that might just change your life…
1. Dermalogica Daily Superfoliant, £55
This is one for all the big city folk - air pollution can wreak havoc on your skin, but this exfoliant can help to ward off unwanted toxins and absorb the ones already living inside your pores. Here’s the tech-y bit: it activates upon contact with water, and the charcoal, redness-reducing niacinamide, and skin shield-building red algae all work in harmony to blast those pollutants.
2. Clinique City Block Purifying Charcoal Clay Mask & Scrub, £29
We love dual-action products, and this scrub/mask effectively removes pollution and impurities while gently sloughing away dead skin. Plus, the combo of charcoal and kaolin clay really helps clear away excess oil.
3. Erborian Black Charcoal Face Scrub, £24
The charcoal powder in this scrub seriously helps to mattify the skin, but what really grabs our interest is how it exfoliates with cotton microfibres. That’s right, those pesky minuscule threads serve a purpose other than to settle on your black coat - they really help to eliminate dead skin cells. Afterwards, your skin will feel smoother and less shiny, but still luminous. Witchcraft!
4. Glam Glow Supermud Mask, £39
Glam Glow’s masks already have a cult following (we adore their Gravitymud Mask) and it’s pretty understandable why. Charcoal, lactic, glycolic and salicylic acids work to comfortably tighten and heal damaged skin while absorbing impurities, without depleting your skin’s natural moisture content.
5. Lush Dark Angels Face Cleanser, £7, Lush
A must-have for anyone who loves a good old scrub. Take a tiny pinch, mix with water in your palm and use as an exfoliator or a mask for renewed and glowing skin. We especially love how it moisturises with black sugar, Dorset charcoal and rhassoul mud while refining with avocado and sandalwood oil.
6. Nugg Charcoal Mask, £3.50 each
We were seriously impressed with this capsule mask when we tried it. Remember what we said earlier about not letting your charcoal dry on your face? That’s pretty much impossible with this mask. It tingles nicely while the charcoal and tea tree do their jobs, plus the gel formula glides onto the skin and doesn’t shift around. Afterwards, skin feels cleaner, tighter and surprisingly moisturised. We’re stockpiling them.
7. Peter Thomas Roth Irish Moor Mud Mask, £39
Now, this mud is seriously old school. We’re talking 9000 years old here. Harvested from the Irish countryside, it’s the most organic mud in the whole world - but we’re not actually here to sing the praises of mud. This hero mask uses the aforementioned mud along with volcanic ash and charcoal to detoxify, refresh and draw out impurities from the skin, and the natural vitamins, amino and fatty acids help restore and hydrate.
8. Pure Konjac Puff Sponge with Bamboo Charcoal, £9, Cult Beauty
Massage while you cleanse with this cute little sponge - but don’t underestimate its bacteria-blasting power. When damp and scrubbing the skin, it stimulates circulation and helps encourage skin renewal, while restoring its pH balance. A total all-rounder.
9. Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask to Clear Pores, £22.50
This much-loved mask gently draws out impurities, while also breaking down clogs. Try using it on areas of congestion, or as a spot treatment as and when needed.