Activated Charcoal: Ancient Ingredient, Modern Skin Care

Activated charcoal is one of the world’s oldest detoxification remedies, used in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine to flush out harmful toxins. The ancient Egyptians and
the Greeks recommended it as a multi-purpose antidote to poison and disease. Hospital emergency rooms find it effectively treats alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses, since it helps prevent absorption from the stomach into the body.

Charcoal is a toxin magnet

Activated charcoal is a fine black powder. Completely odorless, tasteless and nontoxic, it is made by burning a source such as wood or coconut shells. The heat activates the charcoal, creating millions of tiny pores, nooks and crannies. The surface has a negative electric charge, which causes positively-charged toxins to stick to it. With so many pores, a large surface area is created. For example, 50 grams of activated charcoal has the same surface area as 10 football fields. Because activated charcoal is not absorbed by the body, it carries toxins bound to its surface out of the body, instead of causing damage within.

Charcoal hits the modern beauty scene

Today’s skin care experts tout charcoal’s superstar detox capabilities and absorptionproperties to help deal with the continuous rise of harmful chemicals and pollutants in our environment. Chronic exposure to toxins causes inflammation, cellular damage and rapidaging. “Activated charcoal is a powerhouse ingredient to help remove unwanted toxins from the body’s surface, gently and safely,” states Tara Foley, founder and CEO of Follain in Bethesda. “When you apply a skin care product that contains activated charcoal, the toxins in your skin bind to the soap or mask, and are simply removed when rinsing the product from your face.”

Foley suggests using activated charcoal products to:

  • Detoxify Skin by binding to toxins and contaminants,
  • Balance Oily Skin by removing excess oil,
  • Unclog Pores by absorbing impurities that tend to clog pores and
  • Shrink Pores by binding with debris that clogs and enlarges pores.

Rachel Mulcahy, founder of Ivy Wild on Florida Avenue NW, recommends getting your activated charcoal in a mask or using a soap. She explains: “Carbon needs to come in physical contact with impurities in order to soak them up and be an effective defense in our modern toxic environment.”

Charcoal reality check

Because activated charcoal absorbs whatever it comes into contact with, not just poisons and toxins, make sure to use these products before applying healing serums and treatments, so that they are not wasted. Additionally, those with extremely dry or super-sensitive skin will want to apply charcoal products with a careful hand, if at all.

Rebekah Kelley is the creator and founder of Virtue Skinfood, a pure organic luxury skin care line. Experience the collection at Aveda Georgetown or visit



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