If you’ve walked down a beauty aisle lately or spent time browsing the virtual shelves of Sephora, it’s clear that charcoal isn’t just for grilling anymore. This unexpected ingredient is infiltrating skin care, hair care, and even toothpaste thanks to its detoxifying properties. And while the black hue may seem a little off-putting at first (especially when the end goal is a whiter smile), its benefits are worth stepping out of your beauty comfort zone for. The reasoning: “Charcoal draws out oil and debris from the skin and also exfoliates, so think of it like a deep, detoxifying cleanse,” explains NYC cosmetic dermatologist, Sejal Shah, MD, founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology. “It works by a process called adsorption, an electrical attraction that causes substances to stick together, so it basically acts like a magnet for dirt, oil and other impurities.”
In terms of skin care, this magnetic effect reduces oil, clears acne, and minimizes the look of pores, which is why it should come as no surprise that charcoal is getting infused into face masks, micellar waters, scrubs and more. While everyone can reap the benefits of charcoal, it can be dehydrating if it’s overused—especially if your complexion is on the dry side. “It tends to be better for people with combination or oily skin,” advises Dr. Shah. A simple way to ease charcoal into your routine is by applying a mask once or twice a week. However, try to steer clear of any DIY treatments, since it can potentially be irritating to skin. “Generally, activated charcoal beauty products should be researched for safety and efficacy,” explains Connie Gregson, Director R&D at Hello Products. “Some products can be too harsh and abrasive.”
This detoxifier also leads to good hair days. “It works on the scalp the same way it does on the rest of skin by pulling out oils and debris and purifying,” says Dr. Shah. “Shampoos containing charcoal do a better job of removing excess oils and dirt compared to regular shampoo—plus, the hair will not be as weighed down and will appear to have more volume.” Dry shampoo is also a good option to soak up second-day grease. While most hair products shouldn’t leave behind any residue, there’s always a chance: “For lighter colored hair, depending on the concentration of charcoal, it may end up staining, so use with caution,” says Gregson.
Another one of activated charcoal’s perks? It can be used to brighten up your pearly whites. “At the correct use level, it can be a very effective teeth-whitener without being too abrasive,” explains Gregson. She recommends brushing with a clinically-tested toothpaste, like Hello Activated Charcoal Fluoride Free Whitening Toothpaste, that helps effectively remove extrinsic stains without damaging enamel and gums. “Activated charcoal can also be used to remove odors for fresh breath,” she adds.
Want to try charcoal for yourself? Check out some of our personal favorites below.