December 2015

Not JUST for the Grill:The Benefits of Charcoal

Author: Denise K. James

Experimenting with our beauty routines is one of life’s most sincere pleasures, at least for women. Remember when we were 12 or 13 years old, trying on purple nail polish at a sleepover or wiping a garish shade off our eyelids, then laughing and starting over? I do, too, which is why I signed up for experimenting with charcoal, one of the “newcomers” to many beauty lineups.

First, I should probably admit that I maintain quite a low-maintenance beauty regime. I usually wash my face with a plain Dove soap bar and use whatever moisturizer is handy. (Though I’ll probably have to change this soon, because, you know, aging and all.)

So anyway, I bought a bar of charcoal soap in my friendly neighborhood skincare aisle. I took it home, tore it out of the box and marveled over the pitch-black soap bar, which fit perfectly in my hand and smelled fresh and pepperminty. I wet it, started lathering it between my hands, and it felt…strange. It was little more slippery than regular soap, if that makes sense. Nevertheless, I put it on my face.

Long before the days of fancy modern grills, my family used a modest charcoal grill to cook hamburgers and hotdogs during summer meals, just as many other families did. True, I wasn’t old enough to wear makeup back then, but I never thought I would see the day when charcoal would show up as a popular ingredient in so many masks, gels and cleansers. But charcoal has caught on, ladies. And, like many other beauty products, the devotion often starts by hearing about it from someone else—a book, a friend or trusted beauty expert. Hunter Gilbert Ray, a South Carolina native, jumped on the bandwagon after reading about it.

“I started using charcoal about one year ago, after Dave Asprey, the guy who founded the Bulletproof Diet, suggested it in his book,” she explained.

“While I was in graduate school, I lived with four other women,” added Caitlin Chewning Williams, another Southern belle who swears by charcoal. “So you can only imagine the scores of beauty products crowding the bathroom counter! One of my roommates had a charcoal mask. I snuck some of it to try for myself, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
The charcoal incorporated in skincare products (not to be confused with activated charcoal, which mostly comes in a capsule form) is lauded for its purifying properties. In other words, it supposedly cleans out pores and makes them shrink.

“My daily skincare routine includes an acne gel cleanser and then a charcoal mask, which I apply to the t-zone of my face, where it’s most oily,” explained Ashley Burleson Campbell, a beauty consultant and former makeup artist. “The mask helps absorb oil and debris from my pores and reduce them in size. Using the mask after the shower is highly effective, because the heat helps open the pores as well.”

But do women who start adding charcoal to their routines feel that the benefit of having one more product outweighs the hassle or expense?

Absolutely, according to Williams, who said that her skin is dramatically better since she started using charcoal three years ago. “My skin has definitely improved,” she said. “My pores are so much smaller and my pimples clear up much faster. I wear a decent amount of makeup daily, and I like knowing that my pores are getting a deeper cleaning.”

Yep, she said the magic word: pimple. According to raving fans, charcoal can help clear up zits in addition to deep cleaning and shrinking your pores. Acne is not a fun experience for anyone, and most who suffer from it will agree anything that helps is a keeper.

“As I have grown older, I have had the privilege of acquiring cystic acne breakouts,” Ray said. “It happens about one or two times each month and is really painful and embarrassing. When I have a breakout, I use coconut charcoal to spot treat. I break open a capsule, mix it with a tiny bit of water and dab it on. It looks terrible, but it helps.”

Are there people who shouldn’t use charcoal on their faces? The ladies I spoke to were reluctant to say; they think of it as a miracle product and would sooner recommend it heartily than caution anyone.

“I would definitely recommend charcoal,” Williams said. “My pores are so much smaller. But if you have very sensitive skin, you might want to try the product on a small area first.”
“I would recommend charcoal to anyone,” Ray added. “It’s a natural alternative to topical acne treatment and is much better for your body than chemicals.”

Campbell pointed out that ladies with drier skin might not love charcoal quite so much, but she didn’t say a charcoal bar or mask would do harm.

“I recommend charcoal for anyone, but especially someone with oil or pore issues,” she explained. “Someone with dry skin and no pore issues probably wouldn’t find this product as effective.”

Interestingly, charcoal has other purposes besides making our skin bump-free and luminous. Ray, for example, often imbibes charcoal by mouth after a night of not-so-healthy snacks. “I take it orally when I have unhealthy food, because it removes the toxins and heavy metals from my body,” she said.

“My sister-in-law swears by charcoal for whitening her teeth,” Williams mused. “Her teeth are gorgeous, and all she uses are active charcoal pills!”

I know you are wondering how my own experiment with the charcoal soap bar turned out. After I lathered it up and spread it on my skin (relieved to find that it created regular white foam, even though the bar was dark), I rinsed it off like I would any other soap. Then I patted my face dry and looked in the mirror. My skin looked immaculately clean, but it felt a little squeaky. So I dabbed on a little bit of the avocado oil I use when my skin is feeling dry. Problem solved.

Will I continue to use charcoal beauty products on my own skin? Because my face isn’t oily and I don’t break out much, it’s probably not as useful to me as it might be to some.
Actually, I’m thinking I might try the charcoal capsules next, even though feeling great despite eating junk food and sporting white teeth despite drinking coffee sound too good to be true. I’ll report back. 

Recommended Products
Caitlin: Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask, $25 at Sephora.com
Ashley: Clinique’s Pore Refining Solutions Charcoal Mask, $25 at Clinique.com
Hunter: Bulletproof Upgraded Coconut Charcoal Capsules, 90 count, $22 at Amazon.com
Denise: Bioré Pore Penetrating Charcoal Bar, $6 at Target.com

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