• Black Magic: The Key Benefit of Activated Charcoal

    Dr. Diana HowardOver the past few years numerous products have been introduced into both the skin care and health care markets that feature activated charcoal as a main ingredient. As the Vice President of Research and Development at The International Dermal Institute I am often asked, is this just a fad or is there any real science behind this trend? In order to answer this question I need to explain exactly what activated charcoal is and how it works in these types of products.

    Let’s start with the obvious question…What is charcoal? Charcoal may be derived from peat, coal, wood, coconut shells, or petroleum that is burned to form a lightweight mass of carbonaceous charcoal. When we refer to “activated” charcoal it means the charcoal has been reheated, often to extremely high temperatures, which creates thousands of micropores that increase the surface area of the charcoal.

    Adsorption Power

    The activated charcoal, with its increased surface area, can readily adsorb substances onto its surface. This differs from absorption where one substance is incorporated into another; think about a sponge absorbing water—the sponge becomes saturated with the water through and through. In adsorption, molecules adhere just to the surface of the activated charcoal. Suppliers of activated charcoal use special manufacturing techniques that yield highly porous activated charcoals with varying surface areas; it is not uncommon to find that one teaspoon of activated charcoal can have a surface area of as much as 10,000 square feet. That’s a lot of adsorption power!

    While the skin care industry has just seen the merits of activated charcoal, the medical community has known about the adsorption power of charcoal for years. Entire books have been written on the subject of the medical uses of activated charcoal to adsorb toxins or poisons in humans and animals. As a matter of fact, even the Red Colobus monkeys of Zanzibar have learned about the health benefits of using activated charcoal.

    I learned firsthand about the power of charcoal when one of my dogs ate something poisonous and the vet pumped her stomach with activated charcoal to adsorb the toxins; fortunately the activated charcoal along with the adsorbed toxins are readily eliminated through the dogs digestive system. In a similar fashion activated charcoal filters are used to adsorb odorous or colored substances from gases or liquids; a common household example is charcoal water filter often found in refrigerators and freezer ice makers. Bear in mind that once all of the sites on the activated charcoal are filled it’s time to replace your filter.

    Activated Charcoal in Skin Care

    In the skin care industry, cosmetic chemists have found that activated charcoal can readily adsorb oils, toxins and impurities from the skins surface. One of the most effective forms of activated charcoal is Binchotan charcoal derived from Ubame Oak trees from the Kishu region of Japan. Binchotan charcoal is activated by burning oak branches at extremely high temperatures for several days and then rapidly cooling them. It is known as the highest quality activated charcoal and is often used to purify drinking water. Because it is such a clean, odorless charcoal it is also used in high end Japanese restaurants that use charcoal fires in tableside dining.

    In skin care formulations, activated Binchotan charcoal adsorbs oils as well as pollutants and other superficial toxins from the skin’s surface. We know that masques can deliver dramatic benefits to the skin and charcoal masques have gained popularity among consumers, especially those with oily and breakout-prone skin. Combined with other actives, such as keratolytic sulfur, mineral rich volcanic ash, and exfoliating AHAs, one can optimize the results of using a charcoal masque for a wide range of skin care conditions. Rinsing this charcoal formulation from the skin readily removes the adsorbed substances from the skin to help purify, brighten and revitalize any skin condition.


    • Tanya C Matos Says:

      I am a skin therapist in Chicago and wanted to know how this new masque compares to the back bar charcoal powder/activator? Does it replace that product?
      Thank you!

      November 25, 2015 at 8:19 am
      • IDI's Response:

        Hi Tanya!
        The Dermalogica professional masque product you are referring to has been discontinued and it also required mixing. The new Charcoal Rescue Masque is ready to go in an easy to use tube to revitalize tired, lackluster skin. It has very unique active ingredients, dual action exfoliants along with brightening properties. Plus it’s perfect for all skin conditions! It contains activated Binchotan Charcoal to adsorb impurities, Volcanic Ash, Sea Silt and Bamboo Extract to stimulate cell renewal and Chilean Wild Mint to refine pores. It’s currently retail only, but may be available in professional size in the future.


        December 1, 2015 at 3:32 pm
    • Ginger malcomb Says:

      Are there specific face masks you prefer?

      November 25, 2015 at 10:27 am
      • IDI's Response:

        Hi Ginger!
        We research and develop formulations for Dermalogica, you can try the new Charcoal Rescue Masque that helps to detoxify, brighten and invigorate all skin conditions.


        December 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm
    • Renee Melfa Says:

      I loved when you had the charcoal masque and when I went to order it, I was told it was discontinued.
      Are you bringing it back? I used it on bad acne clients and it worked so good.
      thank you, Renee Melfa

      November 25, 2015 at 3:44 pm
      • IDI's Response:

        Hi Renee!
        Dermalogica has released the new Charcoal Rescue Masque that treats multiple skin concerns, including acne. It is currently available in retail size only, but may be available in professional size in the future. The professional-only charcoal masque you are referring to has been discontinued. Hope this helps!


        December 1, 2015 at 3:35 pm
    • Lisa Rospigliosi Says:

      I was very excited about this product glad it has finally been released.It is an excellent way to purify skin and keep skin healthy, without using stripping acne product.

      November 27, 2015 at 3:42 pm

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