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Activated charcoal has become a popular ingredient in the beauty world lately. You’ll find it in products ranging from facial cleansers and shampoos to soaps and scrubs.

Because it’s believed that it can draw bacteria and impurities from the skin, activated charcoal has also become a popular ingredient in face masks, too.

Whether you’re looking to improve your complexion or fight acne, here’s a look at how activated charcoal may benefit your skin, as well as other practical uses for this product.

Activated charcoal, also called activated carbon, is a fine black powder that’s produced when common charcoal is exposed to high heat. This exposure creates tiny internal spaces or holes in the charcoal, making it highly absorbent and able to trap chemicals and toxins.

Although it’s a type of charcoal, activated charcoal is different from the charcoal used on an outdoor grill.

Because there’s limited scientific research on the skin benefits of activated charcoal, many of the potential benefits of a charcoal mask are based on anecdotal evidence.

A charcoal mask may:

Remove impurities from the skin

Because of activated charcoal’s ability to absorb bacteria and toxins in the body, some skin experts believe that a charcoal face mask can help draw impurities from the skin.

Anecdotal evidence claims that by removing trapped dirt and bacteria from the skin, using a charcoal face mask can lead to a healthier, clearer complexion.

Improve acne

Acne is caused by a buildup of dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria that gets trapped inside the pores in your skin. Acne-causing bacteria can trigger pimples and other inflammatory lesions, resulting in irritation, redness, and swelling.

The antibacterial properties of activated charcoal, however, may help lift bacteria from the pores. This may help with reducing acne and improving overall skin complexion.

Treat insect bites

Insect bites and stings can cause your skin to itch and swell. According to anecdotal evidence, activated charcoal may help take the sting out of a bite by neutralizing the toxins in insect venom.

There’s currently very limited research on the risk of using a charcoal face mask. Generally, these masks appear to be safe, although overuse could cause skin dryness, redness, and sensitivity.

Before using a charcoal mask for the first time, it’s a good idea to test the product on a small patch of skin on the inside of your elbow. If you don’t experience any itching or redness within a few hours, then it’s probably safe to use on your skin.

  1. Cleanse your skin before applying the mask. A clean face helps the mask penetrate your pores.
  2. Apply the mask evenly over your face, including your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. Gently massage the mask into your skin using your fingertips or a soft-bristled brush. Be careful not to get it into your eyes.
  3. Let the mask dry on your skin for 15 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.
  4. Gently dry your face, then apply a facial moisturizer.

As with other facial masks, it’s best to apply a charcoal mask once or twice a week. If you have sensitive skin, or find that your skin feels dry after using a charcoal mask, only apply once a week or every couple of weeks.

Because the mask needs to sit on your skin for about 15 minutes, it might be more convenient to include it in your nighttime skin care routine.

If you apply the mask in the morning, you can do so before getting in the shower, and then wash the mask off afterward.

You can make your own charcoal mask at home, or purchase a premade mask at your local beauty or drugstore.

You can also shop for a charcoal mask online.

When shopping for a premade mask, choose one that has ingredients that suits your skin type.

  • If you have oily skin, look for a charcoal mask that contains clay. This ingredient may help absorb excess oil on your skin. It may also help clean out your pores and prevent acne breakouts.
  • If you have dry skin, choose a charcoal mask with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, olive oil, or jojoba oil.

Different varieties and brands of charcoal masks will have different ingredients, so be sure to read product labels carefully before purchasing.

If you have sensitive skin, avoid masks with fragrances, dyes, parabens, and other chemicals that may cause a reaction.

Activated charcoal doesn’t only have the potential to benefit the skin. It can also be used as a natural treatment for other conditions. This includes:

  • Use in poison treatments. Activated charcoal can help prevent the body from absorbing chemicals from the stomach in poisonings and drug overdoses.
  • Reducing cholesterol levels. Due to its ability to prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol in the gut, research has indicated that activated charcoal may help lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 25 percent.
  • Helping with kidney function. By helping the body get rid of toxins, research has shown that activated charcoal may help people who have chronic kidney disease.
  • Improving gastrointestinal problems. Limited research has shown that activated charcoal may help with relieving gas and bloating.

In recent years, activated charcoal has become a hugely popular ingredient in the beauty world. Despite limited research to back up its skin care benefits, many people have had positive outcomes with a charcoal mask, enjoying clearer skin and a healthier complexion.

For best results, try to find a charcoal mask that’s suited to your skin type, contains natural ingredients, and is free of harsh chemicals, dyes, parabens, and fragrances. Or, you can make your own mask with all-natural ingredients.

If you have very sensitive skin or specific questions about the safety of activated charcoal, talk to your doctor or dermatologist before using a charcoal mask.