By now you’ve probably seen at least one beauty or grooming product you like revamped to include activated charcoal. Count us as fans, as it’s a pretty awesome personal care ingredient. At the most superficial level, it’s cool looking: it’s a powder that’s the blackest black and it makes everything it touches look edgy. On a more practical level, it’s a powerful form of carbon with ninja-like cleansing abilities.
What It Is
Activated charcoal is a treated carbon with an incredibly high surface area to weight ratio. To give some perspective, three grams of activated carbon has the same amount of surface area as a football field.
How It’s Made
Activated carbon is made made by heating wood, coconut shells, or other carbon-rich materials to extremely high temperatures and then exposing them to high amounts of oxygen.
How It Works
Activated charcoal’s surface area is highly adsorbent. To understand that term, think of a sponge. If a sponge is absorbent, and sucks molecules up into it, something that is adsorbent works by attracting molecules only unto its surface area. Because activated charcoal has a crazy high surface area, a small amount can adsorb a vast amount of chemicals, toxins, and pollutants.
Why We Love It
It may not be a new application, but we love that activated charcoal is an effective water purifier that has been allowing people to drink otherwise undrinkable water for centuries. It's also used to draw poisons out of spider and mosquito bites, as an anti-septic for wounds, and as a form of poison control.
And then there's our favorite use: for personal care! Activated charcoal is a highly effective acne treatment. Just going through our daily life, our skin absorbs pollutants, dirt, and bacteria that build up and can lead to less than ideal skin. But scrubbing or exfoliating our faces to get at that stuff too frequently is really bad for our delicate skin and it's protective outer layer.
Well guess what: activated charcoal does not adsorb acid, and our skin is naturally acidic. So a topical treatment of activated charcoal does an excellent job of drawing out the non-acidic dirt and grime we don't want from our pores, without damaging our skin. That's a pretty perfect system.
Try It Out
If you want to try some of that skin clearing action for yourself, we recommend Alder New York's Charcoal & Aloe Face Mask. But be careful- while using A.C. can be kind of addictive once you get started, we try to keep our topical use down to once a week, as it also adsorbs moisture and we like to keep some of that on our face. Still, you can't beat a grime magnet for some regularly scheduled serious deep cleaning