How Activated Charcoal Powder Became a Hot Ingredient in Skin Care

Activated Charcoal Powder

In 2015, the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) listed 148 skincare products containing charcoal powder—a strong showing for an ingredient that personal care brands had begun using only a few years prior. By 2019, that number multiplied to 754 products containing charcoal powder. From ancient medicine to modern beauty fad, through skepticism to becoming a mainstream ingredient, activated charcoal has earned its sizzle in skincare.

What Is Steam Activated Charcoal Powder?

Charcoal powder is usually obtained by calcination of materials such as sawdust, coconut shells, peat, and olive pits. Its activation consists of heating charcoal at high temperatures, generally with steam, in order to increase the porosity and create smaller volume pores, thus increasing the surface area and the enhancing adsorption.

What Does Charcoal Powder Do?

Long before beauty brands ever existed, activated charcoal powder was used as an Ayurvedic medicine for oral poisonings. By treating charcoal to make it more porous, a carbon byproduct with the ability to extract dirt, toxins, and other impurities was created. This is where skincare comes into play.

A dermatologist explains:

“Using charcoal [powder] for the skin is based on the idea that if it can remove toxins from your GI tract, it can do the same for your complexion. It acts as a magnet for oils, dead skin cells, and debris from environmental exposure.”

Martha Stewart adds:

“[Activated charcoal powder] ingredient can absorb over a thousand times its own mass in harmful substances, so it’s essentially an all-natural way to draw impurities like dirt and chemicals from skin and hair.” 

Our skin possesses the power of absorption as well as the primary means of protection. Unfortunately, this means the skin takes in toxins by the second. From the food we eat to the air we breathe—not to mention sweat, natural oils, and any environmental pollutants we’re exposed to—our skin is absorbing it all. The claim of activated charcoal powder is that it wins the battle with stronger adsorption than skin’s absorption, with the result being healthier skin and better complexion.

Does Activated Charcoal Work?

As with any active ingredient, the merits of charcoal powder are frequently called into question. Though absent of strong scientific evidence, formulators and consumers alike rightly believe charcoal powder to be an effective detoxifying agent. Compared to a typical surfactant cleanser that removes surface impurities, activated charcoal does appear to reach deeper into the pores. Additionally, activated charcoal powder can be used as a colorant in regions where permitted by regulatory agencies.

Formulating with Charcoal Powder

With its widespread popularity, activated charcoal powder is not so much a topic of science; but rather a unique, alluring ingredient to consumers and a successful one for brands, especially as wellness and self-care enter a potential post-pandemic renaissance. Activated charcoal powder is considered to be very safe for external use and meets the growing demand for natural ingredients in skincare products. Sensient’s activated charcoal products include:

Vegetable Charcoal
Extracted from European peatlands, our 100% natural steam activated carbon has high absorbing properties for a purifying effect and small particle size for dispersibility. Learn more.

NEW: Covarine Charcoal
This cosmos approved dispersion of activated charcoal provides a convenient and ready-to-use alternative to pulverulent charcoal powders while exhibiting equal cleansing and detox properties. Learn more.

To request samples of these and other related products, contact us.

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