Is all the hype around activated charcoal just that, hype?
Maybe, but likely not!
Scientifically, activated charcoal has the potential to do just what it says it does – absorb all the stuff you don’t want in and on your skin and leave you with a radiant complexion, or your armpits fresh and odorless. And let’s face it, using a charcoal mask gives you a deeply satisfying and purifying experience. So, at the very least, it leaves your skin feeling cleaner, and at the very most, it rids your skin of dirt, oil and other types of residue that clogs your pores. Not too shabby! Realistically, the effects lie somewhere in the middle, and that’s a net positive for the health of your skin!
Activated charcoal is everywhere these days, it’s in your water filter, your skincare, your air freshener, not to mention the very serious medical role it plays in charcoal pills in removing poisons and toxic materials from your body in an emergency.
But what is it and why is it so amazing?
Activated charcoal is produced from carbonaceous source materials such as bamboo, coconut husk, willow peat, wood, coir, lignite, coal, and petroleum pitch. It is "activated" in that the carbon is processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase its surface area.
Therefore, activated charcoal (or sometimes "carbon") has tons and tons of surface area, giving it a high degree of microporosity (material containing pores with diameters less than 2 nm), and as a result, amazing "adsorption" properties. Yes, you read that right, adsorption, not absorption. It doesn’t absorb as commonly thought but works through the chemical process of adsorption. In the body, absorption is the reaction of elements, including nutrients, chemicals, and toxins, soaked up and assimilated into the blood stream. Adsorption is the chemical reaction where elements bind to a molecule's surface.
Furthermore, charcoal is not metabolized or absorbed by the body, so it is harmless, and is proven to attract thousands of times its own mass in harmful substances!
Think of it as a magnet, or sticky tape rather, drawing out all the stuff you don’t want in your skin, allowing your skin to breath and regenerate as it’s meant to. But in order to work, the charcoal has to actually touch the material it draws out, which makes the activated charcoal as an ingredient in your face mask or your deodorant, particularly excellent. However, for maximum benefit, your masks should stay on considerably longer than the 10-15 minutes they usually do, as the charcoal takes longer to adhere. So the issue with optimal efficacy lies in the duration of time the charcoal is allowed to adsorb.
With little to no harm associated with it, and with these amazing scientific properties, activated charcoal is a safe and theoretically effective ingredient for cleaning and detoxifying your skin.
FUN FACT: Not only is it effective at treating your skin, and body odor, it’s also great for relieving discomfort from insect bites, rashes from poison ivy or poison oak, and snake bites.
P.S., thinking about all that detoxifying goodness, I might just go and do a charcoal mask right now. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites!