I don’t know about you, but my Instagram feed has recently been overtaken by an influx of jet-black beauty products. From soaps to face masks, toothpaste to exfoliators, “activated charcoal beauty” products are everywhere – and the marketing promises are almost as varied and elaborate as the products themselves.
Some claim to “purify” your skin; others promise to “detox” your body or brighten your teeth. Sound improbable? Before you write off charcoal as just another beauty fad, you should know that science backs it.
Charcoal has the ability to soak up to 200 times its weight in impurities by binding to toxins like a magnet, which is why it’s used in hospital emergency rooms to treat alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses, and in gas masks and water filtration systems as a purifying agent.
Although I wouldn’t describe my skin as requiring hospital-grade detoxifying, after a long, flu-filled winter, it definitely looks dull, dry and sallow. The skin is the largest organ in our body, and at this time of year, mine needs a thorough detox to kickstart sluggish cell turnover, purge toxins and remove dead skin cells. With spring (supposedly) here, this seemed like the perfect time to try out Instagram’s latest beauty trend – charcoal – in preparation for bare-skin season.
Here’s how it went:
It zaps spots
If, like me, your skin is a common-sense-defying mix of wrinkles with the occasional side of spots, then you’ll love Glamglow Starpotion Liquid Charcoal Clarifying Oil.
Being a fan of the brands cult masking products (especially the SuperMud Clearing Mask), I was keen to get my hands on more of their skincare.
What is a clarifying oil you ask? In this case, a lightweight oil that you apply after cleansing and before moisturising and which contains vitamin C, turmeric and salicylic acid.
First, I twisted open the chic black bottle and rubbed a few drops of the jet-black oil onto my palms. As I rubbed my hands together, the oil turned clear (a fact I noted with some relief), and released an earthy scent. I went to bed that night with few expectations, but to my surprise when I woke up the next morning my skin was noticeably softer and brighter, and a few scars from healing spots were noticeably less red. Perfect for dry skin, this is the type of product I’d happily use a couple of times a week.
Brightens your smile
I’m so accustomed to white, minty toothpaste, that the first time I used LoveByt Botanical Toothpaste in Charcoal and Mint it was a little confronting. Dubiously, I loaded up my toothbrush with the inky black paste and tried not to feel disconcerted by the cloud of black foam that appeared as I brushed my teeth.
However, the results were impressive. After a week of using it, my teeth looked whiter and less stained. I also loved the cool packaging, and knowing my brushing was chemical-free. Tip: Brush before you get dressed. One morning I dripped charcoal toothpaste on to my white shirt, and subsequently needed a complete outfit change. Charcoal is hard to get out in a hurry!
Treats a dry scalp
If the effects of dry winter air are evident anywhere, it’s in my hair. Office air con, central heating, dry winds have left my hairline looking dry and flaky (never a good look in a black knit).
When Briogeo Charcoal and Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo landed on my desk I was keen to try it. I nearly chickened out after twisting off the lid, the dark grey mousse-like texture wasn’t enticing, and I didn’t know how it would sit with my freshly topped up balayage.
I lathered up the mousse and massaged away, noticing a subtle peppermint infused tingling sensation that felt invigorating. Like many natural cleansers it doesn’t lather in the same way as chemical shampoos, but, post-wash, my hair felt squeaky and my scalp was deeply cleansed and noticeably less dry. And despite my fears, the shampoo left my blonde hair even brighter than before because any product residue had been lifted away.
It clears and brightens
I can’t always be bothered cleansing my face in the morning, so I was interested to discover Mukti Organics Activated Charcoal Konjac Sponge, which is made from Konjac, a vegetable fibre that’s been used in Asia for thousands of years. Super cheap ($16.95) and infused with charcoal, the sponge can be wiped over your face for a deep, but quick, clean. When it’s wet the sponge has a silky, almost gel-like texture, and I found it to be a fresh and fuss-free alternative to a traditional cleanser.
I’m always dubious of products that call themselves ‘miracles’. But I’m a long-time fan of Joanna Vargas, who’s known as Hollywood’s queen of naturopathic facials and treats A-listers like Julianne Moore and Naomi Watts, and her charcoal miracle bar has been on my radar for a while.
I tested it out after a day of being in front of clients and the camera – so there was a fair bit of camouflaging (and make-up) going on. But the simple black bar removed it all and delivered the same post body bar-soap clean feeling, minus the tightness. Over the coming days of use, my skin felt firmer and less congested – especially around my chin. The minimal packaging really appealed to my inner eco-warrior and it was so easy to pack for a night away. However, maybe it’s my inexperience with facial bar cleansers or just a complete lack of coordination, but every time I used it ended up in my eyes – not the most pleasant experience.
If there’s one charcoal product that many of us are familiar with it’s the charcoal face mask, I used Philosophy The Microdelivery Detoxifying Oxygen Peel, twice last week and loved it. The two-step mask seems a little involved at first. But because it only stays on for three minutes, it’s really quick and straightforward.
After scraping off the black foamy goo, my skin had a post facial glow about it. The next morning it felt super smooth and a few tiny blackheads hand come to the surface. Two nights later, I it tried again. Same impressive dewy, fresh results. Anna even commented on my skin in a meeting the next day! (Ed – it’s true!)
Worth the hype?
Well, yes! While I don’t think you need to completely overhaul your entire beauty routine. This nifty natural ingredient ticks a lot of boxes and I’ll definitely be bumping a few of my regulars out of my bathroom cabinet to make room for some charcoal.
Photo credit: Edward Urrutia