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Your first memories of charcoal probably consist of grilling hot dogs in the backyard, but fast forward a few decades and activated charcoal has become a huge trend in skincare and health. You can find it in cleansers, face masks, toothpaste, and even ice cream. It’s fun to use, has enticing claims, and those face masks make great Instagram-worthy selfies. You might be wondering, though, “does it work?”. Well, we are here to breakdown the science behind activated charcoal for acne, so you can see if it’s right for your routine. 

What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal comes from a carbon source like peat, coal, wood, coconut shell, or petroleum that has been processed at very high temperatures making it more porous than regular charcoal. It’s a fine black powder and is used in medicine to absorb poisons. Your body does not absorb activated charcoal, so the charcoal carries out absorbed toxins through excretions. It’s important to note, though, that activated charcoal does not know the difference between good and bad chemicals. It will absorb the useful chemicals in your body like vitamins and minerals along with the toxins you wish to get rid of, so you won’t want to ingest it in excess.

How is charcoal used for skincare?

Activated charcoal has become a popular ingredient in many skincare products. Similar to when it’s ingested, activated charcoal is believed to absorb chemicals from your skin, including oil and dirt from pores. There are not any scientific studies about the usefulness of activated charcoal for skincare, and most of the knowledge in this area is anecdotal; however, many people report feeling that activated charcoal better cleanses and clarifies their skin. 

Can you use charcoal when dealing with acne?

Due to activated charcoal’s potentially clarifying properties, it’s also used to fight breakouts. To be on the safe side, though, look for activated charcoal products that also contain additional acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid. Then, as always, follow the application of these products with a hydrating moisturizer since charcoal can be drying to the skin. If you’re on the fence about trying activated charcoal products, the good news is that it’s an inert compound, which means it won’t cause any irritation or allergies, so give it a try the next time you’re looking for a new treatment or face mask to jazz up your routine.

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