Activated charcoal has been trending in men’s grooming — popping up on everything from skincare to toothpaste. I investigated to find out what the benefits are, what products we should look for, and whether the benefits are hype or real.
What is activated charcoal?
First, what is activated charcoal? Activated charcoal is created by forcing high pressure gas through granulated charcoal. This makes the charcoal have numerous low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions. This makes it particularly useful for men with congested or acne-prone skin.
What Are the Benefits of Activated Charcoal?
There are numerous ways to use activated charcoal — including ingesting. However for the sake of this article, we'll look primarily at cosmetic applications for skincare.
Dr. Sejal Shah, board certified dermatologist and RealSelf contributor explains the skincare benefits: “When looking for a skincare product containing charcoal, it’s important to make sure it’s activated charcoal. Both whiteheads and blackheads are considered non-inflammatory acne. Because they are primarily due to clogging of the pores, the most effective treatments for this type of acne increase cell turnover, exfoliate the skin, and contain ingredients that reduce oils on the skin, such as activated charcoal.”
Lauren Rachel, men’s grooming expert at Boardroom Salon for Men explains, “while activated charcoal is most well-known for helping to treat acne, there is another benefit: it can soothe itchy, irritated skin. This is why summer is a great time to add charcoal to your skincare routine, as you’re more prone to skin rashes and insect bites from being outside.”
As for the most effective method to use activated charcoal, Shah explains “I like masks over cleansers because the process by which charcoals works (adsorption-an electrical attraction that causes substances to stick together so it basically acts like a magnet for dirt, oil and other impurities-adsorption is not to be confused with absorption) depends on physical contact so it needs to sit on the skin to be effective.”
Not everyone is so enthused. Dr. Fayne Frey, a board certified dermatologist is neutral stating, “activated charcoal in skincare products have no proven benefit but have not been shown to be harmful.” However she does admit activated charcoal products, “are really cool looking.”
Dr. Peter V. Vanstrom DS, PC weighs in on the dental benefits. “Activated charcoal is effective in teeth whitening as it may help lift the extrinsic stains from tea, coffee, wine and smoking when utilized once daily. You should look for fluorides – this helps with cavity control and gum care. This helps with the abrasivity of charcoal, since it can be, if it’s not properly diluted, very harsh on the teeth.” He warns, “raw charcoal can be actually very harsh on your teeth since it lacks fluorides. It is also highly abrasive and lacks hydroxy appetite for enamel protection and regeneration.” Beware dumping pure activated charcoal on your toothbrush.
Because your face isn’t the only place to break out — Every Man Jack's activated charcoal infused body wash draws out the excess dirt and oil that can cause breakouts on your back and body, while acne fighting Salicylic Acid helps control current breakouts and prevents future ones. Coconut derived surfactants gently cleanse, while aloe leaves skin feeling soft and smooth.
While the black color might seem exactly the opposite of what you want to whiten your teeth,CURAPROX Black is White toothpaste powered with activated charcoal whitens teeth by adsorbing stains and discoloration particles restore a natural white smile. Low on the abrasivity scale and easy on your enamel. Has a strong mint flavor with a hint of lime.
If you haven’t used dry shampoo yet, do yourself a favor and try this out. You can run it through your hair after a long-haul flight and show up looking fresh, or use it to roll out of bed minutes before you have to head to work. IGK’s First Class Charcoal Detox Dry Shampoo uses activated charcoal to absorb dirt and oil so your hair actually looks and feels clean. Plus it smells amazing.
If you’re concerned about chemicals in your deodorant and don’t mind smelling a bit fruity, try this natural deodorant out. The activated charcoal plus magnesium formula detoxifies impurities while neutralizing odor and absorbing moisture. Good for sensitive skin.
For a traditional approach to teeth whitening with activated charcoal, try Dr. Sheffield's Naturals. Founder Dr. Washington W. Sheffield literally invented toothpaste, and was the first to sell it in collapsible tubes so you’re know you’re in good hands. Eco-friendly without synthetic bleaching agents which can cause tooth sensitivity.
Dora Vandekamp, Nutritionist and Founder of Biohack Your Beauty points out that you don't even need a specifically designed product — you can go straight to the source. Just look for 100% pure, food grade charcoal that is finely milled. Then Vandekamp suggests, “toss a teaspoon of activated charcoal in your drinking water 3-4 times daily to rid the body of toxins and chemicals that cause bloating, weight gain, and rapid aging. Create a face mask with charcoal, bentonite clay, and raw honey to banish stubborn acne or razor burn. You can even add it into your pancakes, morning coffee, or bone broth to take it to the next level!”