Last updated: August 31, 2021

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The beauty world interests many people, and you've probably seen the trendy black face masks if you're one of them. You may also be intrigued by the black teeth whiteners that have recently flooded the market. Both products share the same eye-catching colour, and it is due to its key component: active charcoal.

Activated charcoal is a product that comes from natural sources, and it we have used it for many different purposes. Recently, it has become extremely popular in the cosmetics industry due to its magnificent properties for our skin and health. Keep reading if you want to know more about them!


  • Also called activated carbon, this type of charcoal is obtained through an activation process. Its mechanism of action relies on its adsorption capacity: its ability to capture and retain several substances on its surface.
  • In medicine, activated charcoal has generally been used as a detoxifier. However, its applications have grown in number, and more particularly the cosmetic world.
  • As a beauty product component, activated carbon tends to be found in face masks, shampoos, soaps and toothpastes. Its great detoxification power has been the key to its success in the industry: it eliminates toxins and impurities with amazing results.

The best activated charcoal in the United Kingdom: Our Picks

This section will introduce you to the very best activated charcoal-based products that you'll find on the market. We've also given you some info on each of them to help you evaluate and compare them well. We're sure you'll find all this useful when the time comes to buy the product that's just right for you.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about activated charcoal

It is essential that you know the key aspects of activated carbon before buying any such cosmetic. This is why we've designed the following section to include the most relevant factors regarding activated charcoal. You'll also find answers to the most frequently asked questions by past users, so that you have all the information you need.

Activated charcoal is found in facial masks known as "black masks". (Source: Latsenko: 47767020/

What exactly is activated charcoal?

This product of vegetable origin has undergone an activation process. It is extracted from, inter alia, coconut shells, beechwood, eucalyptus, pine and willow. So it is not actually the same charcoal that you use for domestic purposes. Once the extraction is complete, the product has to go through an activation process in the laboratory.

This procedure will contribute to enhancing the properties of activated carbon via an oxidation process that increases its porosity and fosters its adsorption. In other words, it improves the activated charcoal's capacity to capture and hold toxins. The natural product resulting from this process can remove up to 200 times its own weight in impurities.

How does activated charcoal work?

The adsorption capacity of activated charcoal is its main characteristic. And yes, you read well: do not confuse adsorption and absorption. Adsorption refers to the ability of a product to retain various substances on its surface, such as toxins, pathogens and other chemicals. The electrical attraction between toxins and carbon particles is the key to this phenomenon.

Activated charcoal attracts and retains any toxic or harmful substance it comes into contact with. In the cosmetic industry, it is therefore used to attract impurities and toxins, facilitating their elimination. You'll discover below that this characteristic feature can also be used in other situations, such as poisoning or overdose.

What is activated charcoal used for?

This product can be used topically or systemically. In the world of beauty products, its topical use is as a cleansing and purifying agent. Often found in face masks, its ability to adsorb impurities makes it ideal for removing blackheads, pimples or other skin imperfections.

It is used systemically in medicine as a detoxifier. Activated charcoal is administered orally in case of intoxication. It retains the toxins ingested, therefore preventing their absorption by your body and facilitating their elimination. Its capacity to eliminate gases means it is also useful for stomach swelling. Activated carbon has astringent properties too.

You'll find the different uses of activated charcoal in the table below:

Cosmetics and health Household Other
Purifying and detoxifying masks Water and air purifier Metal extraction
Makeup Odour neutraliser Purification of drinking water
Exfoliating products Fruit preservation Medical detoxifier
Component of soaps and shampoos - Sewage treatment
Whitening toothpaste - -

What are the cosmetic properties of activated charcoal?

You've probably realised by now that this is the rising star of cosmetic products. Its mechanism of action is chiefly responsible for the many advantages it brings to your skin. First of all, its capacity to absorb excess oil from the skin makes it ideal for combination or oily skin. It also promotes the elimination of toxins.

By eliminating the dirt obstructing your pores, activated charcoal manages to reduce their size. Its antibacterial and disinfectant properties also contribute to fighting acne and pimples. All in all, it purifies your skin, freeing it from toxins and impurities; after use of this product, your skin will come out looking smooth, clean and healthy.

The use of activated charcoal has recently spread significantly, and it is now found in many other cosmetics such as shampoo, where it is particularly useful for greasy hair.

You'll also see it in facial brushes and toothbrushes, and as a whitening and purifying ingredient in toothpastes.

We've summarised the cosmetic benefits of activated charcoal in the list below:

  • Sebum regulator: it removes excess fat from the skin
  • Elimination of toxins and impurities
  • Pore size reduction
  • Anti-bacterial effect
  • Improvement of acne and pimples
  • Shampoo for greasy hair
  • Dental whitener and purifier

For whom do we recommend activated charcoal?

This product is highly recommended, given its multiple cosmetic properties. The sebum-regulating capabilities of activated charcoal mean it is particularly useful for people with oily skin, while individuals suffering from acne or pimples will also greatly benefit from it.

By supporting sanitation and cleaning of your skin, it is also a great tool to fight open pores or blackheads. But the most important thing is that activated charcoal isn't tailored to a specific group of people. Anyone looking to purify and cleanse their skin by freeing it from all kinds of impurities will reap the benefits of using activated carbon.

This product is particularly recommended for individuals with oily or combination skin. (Source: Tudsamalee: 57803409/

How should I apply my activated charcoal mask?

The main product that uses activated carbon are facial masks, so you should know exactly how to apply them correctly. Start off by cleansing your face, then apply a layer of mask (all over your face or only on the target area depending on what you're aiming for). Leave the mask on for 10 to 15 minutes.

Once the time is up and the mask has worked its magic, remove it with a sponge or gauze soaked in lukewarm water. Here's our little trick: using micellar water will help if you have difficulties removing it. You can repeat this process up to three times if the results obtained aren't optimal. Our suggestion is to wait 1 to 2 days before applying a new mask, especially if you have a sensitive skin.

What are the harmful effects of activated charcoal?

This product is generally considered safe, but that doesn't mean it's completely free from adverse effects. There have been reports of skin dryness and severe skin irritation after topical use. Some people have also suffered burns, erosions and even skin ripping. Note that this tends to occur with homemade or poor quality masks.

The use by systemic route has worse consequences and therefore needs to be particularly accurate and monitored. Otherwise, it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, black stool and drug interactions. The use of activated charcoal is contraindicated in case of hypersensitivity or before an endoscopy.

You'll find the precautions you should take while using this product via systemic route in the list below:

  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Toxins that interfere with intestinal motility
  • Risk of gastrointestinal obstruction, perforation or haemorrhage
  • Recent surgery or drug interactions
  • Electrolyte imbalance and/or loss of body volume
  • Administration via gastric tube in case of unconsciousness or seizure
  • Not recommended after ingestion of corrosive products
  • Pregnancy and lactation (unknown safety)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of activated charcoal?

We've listed its main cosmetic advantages and disadvantages in the following table:

  • Sebum regulator
  • Antibacterial effect
  • Improvement of acne
  • Whitener
  • Purifier
  • Dry skin
  • Skin irritation
  • Erosions

Shopping Criteria

There are a number of key aspects that you need to consider before buying any product containing activated charcoal. This is why we've designed the following section to discuss the most relevant factors to have in mind when analysing different products. They will help you make the right decision by choosing the product that best suits your needs.

These are the different aspects to keep in mind:


This aspect is naturally fundamental, as there is always a wide range of qualities available on the market when it comes to cosmetic products. You absolutely need to aim for good quality activated charcoal products, as you'll be applying them on your face, hair, teeth, or may even ingest it.

We mentioned earlier that there had been reports of individuals suffering from side effects when using poor quality products. Some black masks have for example resulted in skin rips or irritations. You definitely want to avoid this from happening, so make sure that the cosmetic you buy offers a top quality.


This is always a key factor when it comes to beauty products. You have to be particularly careful with this, as you'll be applying the product on sensitive areas such as your skin. Activated charcoal is never the only compound found in beauty products, which are also formulated with other excipients and components presenting different properties.

We strongly recommend you to take the time to read the composition of a product before buying it. Individuals suffering from allergies should for example make sure that no components are harmful to them. You'll also find that certain cosmetics contain a large number of skin irritants, in which case we encourage you to stay away from these products.

Activated charcoal has multiple cosmetic properties. (Source: Petrenko: 46965186/

Skin type

Your skin's specific characteristics are key when purchasing a cosmetic with activated charcoal. As we've mentioned before, this product is particularly beneficial for people with oily or combination skin. So if you want to remove excess sebum from your face, this will be your go-to product.

On the other hand, you'll have to be extremely careful if you suffer from sensitive skin or a skin condition. Side effects of activated charcoal include skin dryness and irritation; this tends to be emphasised in sensitive skins, so monitor your condition very closely. There have also been reports of its use worsening certain pathologies, such as rosacea.

While cosmetics are indeed used to enhance beauty, their number one goal is to contribute to healthy skin. Caring for your health and knowing your limits are therefore essential. While activated charcoal does present many properties, not everyone will benefit equally from them.


The different functions of packaging makes it an extremely important aspect in cosmetics. Presenting the right characteristics is essential if you want it to ensure optimal preservation of your beauty product. It should also be designed to avoid alterations during its manipulation, storage or transport.

As discussed earlier, it must absolutely feature all necessary information regarding the cosmetic, such as its composition, ingredients and recommended expiry date or shelf life. They are essential to prevent allergic reactions or other side effects on your skin.


While there are many cosmetics containing activated charcoal available on the market, the concentration of this component will vary from one product to the next. Knowing your goals will help you evaluate the concentration of activated carbon you should aim for. You might want a higher or lower concentration.

The effects of beauty products vary depending on the concentration of this active ingredient. Tooth whiteners with a very low concentration of activated charcoal are therefore less effective than products with a higher concentration. Knowing exactly what effect you expect from your cosmetic is essential to choose the product that will best suit your needs.


There is a wide variety of products with very different prices available on the market, so you'll have to consider the price before settling on a specific product. You probably know that price and quality don't always go hand in hand, so make sure you choose the product that best suits your needs without exceeding your budget.


The many properties of activated charcoal has turned it into a true cosmetic success, and the applications of this plant-based compound have now gone beyond the medical and health fields. Its efficiency in the care of your skin, hair and even teeth has been scientifically proven.

Activated carbon has become so popular that it is already a celebrity favourite: Gwyneth Paltrow, Khloé Kardashian, Blanca Suárez and many others say that this product is a key component in their beauty routine. Well-known brands such as Clinique, Lush or The Body Shop already offer several products containing activated charcoal.

This natural compound will offer a great variety of benefits to your skin and your overall health, so what are you waiting for to join the movement? If you liked this guide on activated charcoal and its cosmetics, feel free to share our article on your social media, or leave us a comment in the section below!

(Source of featured image: Tudsamalee: 57803110/