Charcoal: Not just for summer barbecues


Charcoal mask


Activated charcoal is serious stuff. This highly porous form of carbon is given to patients orally in hospital E.R.s to treat poisoning because it attaches to toxins in the stomach, keeping them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. It works in a similar way, albeit with less dramatic results, on the skin.

"When dirt and oil in your pores come in contact with the carbon, it sticks to it—and then gets washed away when you rinse your face," says cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson.

But not all of charcoal products are created equal. Carbon needs to come in physical contact with impurities in order to soak them up, which is why Wilson recommends skipping charcoal cleansers -- they get washed away too quickly to do much good -- and opting instead for a mask that stays on the skin for 5-10 minutes. (We love Origins Clear Improvement Charcoal Mask.)

"The longer it's left on the better," she says. Charcoal products are especially beneficial to people who live in cities, "they're a must for people in urban environments, because your skin is constantly being bombarded by pollution," says Wilson.

But even if you live in Shanghai, you don't need to use a charcoal product everyday. Wilson suggests using a mask or activated charcoal sponge (try the Konjac Bamboo Charcoal sponge) once a week. These "sponges" could be considered the anti-Buff Puff: super hard (after all, they're made out of carbon!), but plenty effective when you soften them with water before gently rubbing over your pre-washed face in a circular motion before rinsing clean with water.

Bamboo Charcoal Sponge Puff


"It doesn't exactly give you that 'Oh I feel so fresh and clean,' feeling," says Wilson, "but it can be a good thing to try if you've been washing your face regularly, but your skin is still acting up."

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