Charcoal Beauty

Discover more about this remarkable natural cleansing and detox ingredient.

Beauty consumers are covering their faces and teeth in a black paste that could be your next best-selling product. Activated charcoal can be found in everything from toothpaste to facial cleansers and detox drinks. The food-grade material is even used in hospitals to treat cases of drug overdose and poisoning. Made from such natural elements as coconut shells, sawdust and wood chips, activated charcoal is a form of carbon that has been superheated into a porous substance that traps toxins and chemicals. Its porosity is key to its power.

“It’s a natural ingredient,” says Gloria Allorbi, senior chemist for Beautycounter, a beauty brand that maintains a “Never List” of 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals that do not appear in its products.

“Charcoal has been used for centuries. I grew up in Ghana, and we would use charcoal powder and chewing sticks to remove stains from our teeth. In being used by prior generations, it has proven itself to be effective,” she says.

The binding quality of activated charcoal is what makes it a popular ingredient within the wellness and beauty sectors. It captures chemicals, toxins, pollutants, dirt and oil without adding foreign material. As a beauty product, it can be sold pre-formulated within solid or liquid beauty items, or made available as a capsule or powder, allowing consumers to add it to their toothpaste, skincare items and haircare products.

“When used in beauty products intended for topical application, the safety issues are minimal,” Allorbi says. “It’s burnt wood. It’s a carbon compound that shouldn’t have complication in skin care, [although some people] may have allergies to oak trees, pine trees or various other trees. [At Beautycounter,] we do our best to be accountable for all the ingredients that go into our products and where they are sourced. In terms of the charcoal we use, we are well aware of its place of origin. Ingredient sourcing is one of the biggest challenges in making safer products, and we do our best to source from ethical and sustainable sources when possible.”

Retailers would be wise to help inform their customers about activated charcoal. As a natural product, it is not foolproof. Activated charcoal cannot distinguish between good and bad substances. It can interfere with the body’s absorption of vitamins, minerals and medication, and therefore should not be ingested in combination with them. The black material also can stain counters, floors and clothing.

With all that said, many consumers and retailers consider activated charcoal a highly effective beauty ingredient. It’s likely that many of your customers are already using it, and may be looking for it on your shelves. Equipping your staff with the pros and cons of the ingredient while providing plentiful options gives your customers an ideal environment for purchasing activated charcoal with confidence.

Retailers can grab customers’ attention by highlighting activated charcoal’s performance attributes. It is used to effectively remove dead skin cells from skin and scalp, explains Allorbi. This, in turn, rejuvenates and brightens skin, and contributes to a healthy scalp that produces healthy hair.

“Charcoal is an incredible clarifier. It removes pollutants and chemicals on the surface of your hair and helps draw out impurities, and deep cleans the pores, which minimizes pore size,” says Brent Ridge, cofounder of Beekman 1802, an online and brick-and-mortar store that specializes in artisanal offerings, including skin care. Ridge says Beekman 1802 was one of the first brands to use activated charcoal, beginning with the introduction of its Lump of Kohl detox purifying bar in 2010. The bar became so popular that the brand developed additional activated charcoal products. Both Ridge and Allorbi agree that although activated charcoal benefits both hair and skin, it is overall most effective as a skin-cleansing agent.

Activated charcoal is also an ideal option for customers who are concerned with brands’ environmental footprint. Allorbi touts its biodegradability and sustainability. She says, “For a very long time in personal care, we have looked to polyethylene beads–plastic beads–for exfoliation. They’re cheaper, but not environmentally friendly. They go into sewage and natural water sources. Thinking about aquatic life, plastic beads are ending up in their bodies. They are not biodegradable. The processes used to create the beads are simply not sustain- able. [Alternatives, such as] apricot seeds and now charcoal are of natural origins and are widely available. They’re not harmful to aquatic life or the environment. In terms of being environmentally cautious, charcoal is a better alternative.”

Beauty retailers may wonder whether activated charcoal is worth their investment. From one retailer to another, Ridge offers: “Charcoal is as good or better than many cleansing agents on the market and satisfies the growing demand for less chemically based formulations. It certainly has become more trendy since we first started using it in our original product. Ultimately, what determines whether a beauty trend continues to grow or peters out is how well the product works for the customer, and whether alternatives offer a better experience or solution.”

Overall, activated charcoal beauty products offer three advantages for both the retailer and the customer: 1) they’re effective cleansers; 2) they reduce exposure to toxins; and 3) they help lessen negative environmental impact. And that is the beauty of activated charcoal.

Keep the following additional insights in mind when talking to your customers about activated charcoal.

  • Activated charcoal deep cleans the skin. It draws out excess oil, which can help address acne and blackheads. However, this characteristic also makes it a less than ideal ingredient for people with dry skin. Users also should note its abrasive texture. Activated charcoal works to eliminate blemishes, lighten underarm areas and neutralize odor. The most common skin and personal care products featuring activated charcoal include bar soaps, wipes, sponges, deep cleansers, face masks, hand washes, scrubs and deodorants.
  • Activated charcoal helps restore healthy hair. It’s great for oily hair, dandruff and similar conditions. It can be found in scalp treatments, as well as shampoo, in both regular and dry forms. Its ability to thoroughly cleanse the scalp and hair helps add volume.
  • Activated charcoal cleans teeth. It can help remove coffee, red wine, nicotine, plaque and tartar. It’s available in toothpastes and infused in toothbrush bristles. Some users simply dip their toothbrush in the powder. A couple of notes of caution: it removes stains only from the surface of the tooth. Due to its abrasiveness, some experts caution users about the potential for damage to teeth and gums.
  • Activated charcoal is considered an effective detox agent. The supplement form, which has a neutral flavor, can be added to beverages for detox. There also are a number of activated charcoal detox drinks on the market. But some experts do not recommend it as a detox solution. They point out that the body already has a detoxification process via the liver and kidneys. And they emphasize that the consumption of activated charcoal can interfere with the body’s absorption of nutrients. Overall, it’s considered generally harmless in small amounts. And its usefulness extends beyond beauty and wellness to home remedies. Activated charcoal can help reduce swelling and pain, can heal cuts, insect bites and minor infections, and can extract thorns, splinters and ingrown hairs.

[Photo by dimid_86/]