Skin care companies advertise charcoal face masks and other skin care products as great ways to clear pores and absorb impurities.
You may have seen videos online of people peeling off a thick black mask or brushing their teeth with gritty black powder.
But do charcoal masks work? Is charcoal good for your skin?
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Charcoal has a long history of use for medical purposes. Specifically, it’s used to absorb toxins from the stomach in people who have overdosed on drugs.
Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made by burning wood, coconut shells, peat, and olive pits in a low-oxygen environment.
The burning creates pores in the material that increase its surface area. These pores trap or absorb chemicals. This gives the charcoal its purifying properties.
When used in skin care, companies claim it can:
- Draw bacteria and impurities from the skin.
- Improve acne.
- Treat insect bites.
- Minimize pores.
- Treat skin conditions.
That’s why charcoal is in all kinds of skin care products. Products with charcoal include cleansers, makeup removers, hand washes, bar soaps, and face masks. Even toothbrushes and toothpaste can contain charcoal.
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The Benefits of Charcoal Masks
Many skin care products contain activated charcoal to absorb pollutants and clear your skin. But the question remains: Is charcoal good for your skin?
Charcoal’s ability to absorb toxins is well known. There’s reason to believe it can work on your skin, even if this use has not been officially proved.
One of the most viral incarnations of the charcoal skin craze has been the peel-off masks. These charcoal-based masks cling firmly to the skin to pull out blackheads, dead skin, and even hair.
Manufacturers of these charcoal face masks claim to help remove impurities and make your pores look clearer and smaller. As with many skin care products, determining whether charcoal is good for your skin is subjective.
So, do charcoal masks work? It depends.
Scientific studies haven’t proved charcoal to have specific beneficial effects on the skin. There is no evidence that charcoal products can purify, exfoliate or have an anti-aging effect.
Studies have suggested that activated charcoal help with wound dressing. It may help prevent odors, fight infections, or help with specific types of itching associated with kidney disease.
On the positive side, it typically doesn’t irritate the skin or trigger allergic reactions.
The Cons of Using Charcoal Face Masks
As with any trend, many companies want to cash in. Searching social media for charcoal masks will show people in pain as they peel the black tar from their faces.
According to a 2021 review, charcoal-containing peel-off masks can sometimes cause excessive skin peeling. This is more common in people with sensitive skin or certain skin conditions.
This situation can cause pain as well as serious and permanent skin damage like scarring and infection.
Charcoal dental products may damage the tooth enamel. This can result in severe tooth sensitivity, cavities, and discoloration.
Peel-off charcoal masks can also permanently enlarge skin pores and cause scarring. They may even result in hypopigmentation in people with darker skin.
How to Choose a Charcoal Face Mask
Because there have been so few studies regarding charcoal’s effects on the skin, use activated charcoal products cautiously. Though some people see beautiful results from a product, others don’t.
Beware of beauty products from other countries. These aren’t regulated as strictly as they are in the U.S. This means that sometimes, what’s in the product isn’t clear, and you may not want to put it on your skin.
Some products have led to chemical burns, rashes, and pain. Poor-quality ingredients can cause adverse skin reactions, so test the product on a small patch of skin.
If you try a charcoal mask, choose a safe one. Make sure the product you’re testing:
- Is manufactured in the U.S.
- Has credible reviews.
- Is a quality product.
You can also talk to a dermatologist about the pros and cons of charcoal skin care. They can suggest products that would work well for your skin type.
And if you’re considering trying an at-home recipe you found online, exercise caution. Ensure you buy activated charcoal and quality ingredients from a reputable seller before mixing something at home.
Tips for Using a Charcoal Face Mask
Charcoal is in hundreds of skin care products created with many other ingredients. Use all products according to their specific directions.
If you’re worried about pain or skin reactions during the peel-off process, consider these tips:
- Wash your face beforehand to pre-exfoliate the skin.
- Do a patch test to check for allergies.
- Get rid of or avoid putting the mask on the hair on your face.
- Apply the mask to only your T-zone (your forehead and nose) or other areas that have blackheads.
- Don’t put it on your entire face.
- After you peel the mask off, wash your face with a gentle cleanser.
- Then apply a moisturizer to protect the skin.
You can find this ingredient in face washes, pore strips, and other products if you don’t want to try a peel-off mask.
If you want to improve your skin, see a dermatologist at the UPMC Department of Dermatology for a chemical peel.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.