A Dermatologist’s Take: Charcoal Masks

Charcoal Peel Off Mask: Part 1

As a Dermatologist, I try not to be surprised by the “newest thing” in skin care.

So, when a patient asked me, “Is charcoal good for my skin?”, I paused for a moment before I responded. My first thought was, “Charcoal? Really? It’s just carbon.” That’s how my “science brain” (as my family calls it) works.

But I wanted to give her an informed opinion, so I told her I would do some research and get back to her.  I then went online, where I found:

  • general information about activated charcoal and its many uses, and
  • NO science supporting the use of activated charcoal in skin care, though I did find alot of products for sale.

I wasn’t satisfied with this information and kept searching,

and that’s when I saw something that absolutely shocked me.

I was so shocked, I got stuck in a You Tube loop watching post after post for over an hour. I can’t believe people out there are doing this to their skin. I definitely need to talk about this. So now there will be a Charcoal Peel Off Mask: Part 2, where I will try to make sense of it all.

For now, though, I’ll address the original question, “Is charcoal good for my skin?”

First, what exactly is charcoal?  Typically, charcoal is made by burning some type of plant material, such as peat, wood, coconut shells, bamboo, etc., in a low oxygen environment until all the impurities are burned off, leaving the carbon.

This carbon material can then be “activated” by heating it in the presence of a gas until it develops little bubbles or “pores.” These pores help the activated charcoal “trap” things such as impurities from water, toxic chemicals or drugs from the stomach, and moisture and fluids from chronic wounds.

So how is it supposed to work in your mask or scrub?

Very simply, activated charcoal is supposed to act like a micro sponge when you put it on your skin. The claim is that its many little pores will trap the oil, liquid gunk (not a medical term), or anything floating on the surface of your skin. When you wash the charcoal away, it takes the gunk with it and that’s that. Gunk gone.

 Yay! Right? Well, sure, if that’s what really happens. But think about this.

How do you apply the charcoal to your skin? Is it a dry powder with all its little holes empty and ready to suck all the debris off your skin? Probably not.

Typically, it is in a cleanser, a scrub or a mask.  This means that it has had the chance to fill its little pores with all the other ingredients also swimming with it in the jar or tube. If you float a sponge in a bucket of soapy water, you must wring it out to clear out the pores if you want it to absorb anything else. But you’re not wringing out the charcoal, so how does it absorb anything? Hmm.

But, let’s just suppose the poor little activated charcoal particle still has some openings for your oil to ooze into. If it does, then maybe you might lose a little as you wash everything away.

But is it more oil than you would have washed away with just a good cleanser, scrub or mask?  Probably not.

So, my conclusions are …

  • the activated charcoal in your mask or scrub is not bad for your skin. It is just carbon that will be washed off.
  • if there is any benefit from its use, it is likely insignificant. I recommend that if you are considering purchasing one of these charcoal-containing products, read the label. The product may have other beneficial ingredients that can help improve your complexion. It’s probably not the charcoal.

And that brings me to why I need to do a second post on this subject. I’ll just leave you with this…

Charcoal Peel Off Mask: Part 2 Charcoal and Elmer’s Glue!

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Posted in: A Dermatologist's Take, Beauty/Skin Tips

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