It seems counterintuitive that something as grimy as charcoal – the stuff that covers your hands in soot and sears your steaks – is actually an excellent means of purification. But you'd be surprised at just how effective the stuff can be at cleaning.
Now, that's not to say that you should pluck a charcoal briquette from the bag next to your grill and press it to your face. It’s a specific kind, called activated charcoal, that does the job you want, and you'll be able to find it blended into face washes, shampoos, and even toothbrushes to lend extra strength to your cleaning routine.
What's It Do?
It's got terrific absorption capabilities, thanks to science-y processes that would require a chemistry lesson to explain. Simply put, the porosity of the charcoal allows it to soak up nasty things like toxins and impurities.
That makes it a lifesaver for extra grimy skin, and also quite literally for real health concerns – charcoal is a mainstay in ERs for its ability to absorb excess alcohol and drugs in the stomach to prevent overdoses. It also works like gangbusters to soak up pollutants in the air and water, making for an effective and natural alternative to high-tech air and water purifiers.
The Skin-Saving Benefits
Like other well-respected grooming ingredients like kaolin clay and rice starch, charcoal is a natural oil absorber, which is great news for those with greasier skin. And unlike other grease-absorbing options like alcohol, it doesn’t go too far in drying skin out, so there's no responsive overproduction of oil as a result.
While charcoal removes excess sebum (naturally-occuring skin oil) from pores just like normal soap does, it also pulls out grime, toxins, and other pimple-causing nastiness. Think of it as a one-two punch against acne and dull-looking skin.
If that sounds good to you, look for the ingredient in cleansers, scrubs, and especially face masks – those do real dirty work, as they have more time to thoroughly absorb all the crap on your face. And if you have issues with spots on your shoulders, chest, and back, charcoal does a bang up job in body washes and exfoliators, too.
Don't Forget About Your Teeth
We know, it may seem odd to put charcoal in your mouth, but trust us on this one. When included in an oral hygiene regimen, the stuff has the same purifying effects as with skincare, which translates to better breath and whiter teeth.
Like a lot of beauty and grooming products, charcoal-infused toothpaste is big in Asia, but it’s still a niche offering stateside. If you’re not down with covering your teeth in black gunk (it does wash off) but still want the tooth-brightening effect, try a charcoal bristle toothbrush.
The bristles on them are made with binchotan charcoal, a variety of charcoal that’s used in Japan to absorb odors in the air, remove chemicals from water, and even promote healthy soil. As far as your teeth are concerned, it halts bad breath and is extra effective at killing bacteria.
As with all things grooming-related, your milage may vary with this stuff – it all depends on your specific skin type and daily routine. But if you want a helping hand to ward off oily skin, gunked-up pores, and bad breath, charcoal is well worth a shot.