Ingredient Spotlight: Why We Use Activated Charcoal (+ Skin Benefits You’ll Love)

 My first experience with activated charcoal happened a few years ago when I came down with a nasty bout of food poisoning. Instead of seeing a doctor or taking medicine, I decided to consult Dr. Google on what to do. 

I probably typed in “natural remedies for food poisoning” or something like that.

One of the first things that popped up was activated charcoal. Charcoal becomes “activated” when oxygen is added to it, increasing the charcoal’s porosity and surface area – but more on that soon. 

I’d heard of people with alcohol poisoning taking large amounts of charcoal in hospitals to get it out of their system, so it made sense that it would help remove the food poisoning toxins from my body.

My husband drove me to Sprouts to buy a jar of activated charcoal, and I took two capsules right away. I don’t remember exactly how quickly I started feeling better, but it was faster than I ever imagined. 

A few hours later, I took two more capsules. By the time I fell asleep and woke up the next morning, I was pretty darn close to feeling 100% back to normal! 
This was my first venture into exploring the various uses for activated charcoal – clearly, I was on to something. 

Today, charcoal is widely accepted as a strong detoxifying agent, purifier, and skincare ingredient. It’s used in almost everything, from toothpaste to water filters, to one of the most popular: skincare products. But even with its widespread popularity, this is a pretty fascinating ingredient that I don’t want to skim over. 

Let’s explore the many facets of activated charcoal: how it’s made, how to use activated charcoal, and my favorite part – charcoal skincare.

How Is Activated Charcoal Made (+ What Is It)? 

Activated charcoal is a substance created by heating naturally carbon-rich materials, such as:1

  • Wood
  • Peat
  • Coconut shells
  • Sawdust

When I say heating, I mean very high temperatures. “Activating” the charcoal in this way reduces pore size, strips previously absorbed molecules, + frees up bonding sites.1 This is important because one of the main benefits of activated charcoal is its ability to bond with (and remove) toxins.

As you can imagine, this proves useful in various health-related situations, as well as in skin care. 

Due to reduced pore size and more holes in individual molecules, activated charcoal contains a large surface area for its size. Just check out this stat:1 

“One teaspoon of activated charcoal has about the same surface area as a football field.”

Impressive, right? 

Activated charcoal comes in pill forms as well as powder. It’s very inexpensive and can be a lifesaver in many situations (which I’ll discuss below). And since a little bit goes a long way, activated charcoal lasts a LONG time. 

Here are some of the tried + true uses for activated charcoal.

How to Use Activated Charcoal (+ Things to Know)

I’m not a doctor, and this isn’t medical advice when it comes to treating illnesses, diseases, or medical diagnoses. So, of course, seek guidance from your holistic practitioner before using it in any medical-related setting.

These are the ways activated charcoal has been useful to me + what some studies tell us. But it’s definitely not the end-all-be-all ruling on activated charcoal. We all have unique bodies and situations. So make your best-informed decision. :) 

Internal Uses for Charcoal

Because it’s extremely porous, activated charcoal can attract and hold onto material and debris within its pores. But it isn’t absorbed by the body – so it can bind to and eliminate toxins within the body.

But it’s important to note that activated charcoal can also bind to good things that we WANT in our bodies (vitamins, minerals, etc.). So it shouldn’t be taken internally on a regular basis or with supplements/vitamins/prescription medications.

With that said, studies have shown the effectiveness of activated charcoal to: 

  • Resolve several forms of poisoning in a medical setting
  • Help calm an upset stomach2
  • Reduce excessive gas3
  • Assist kidneys in removing toxins4
  • Filter toxins + enrich water with elements like sodium and potassium5

Now, I’m not advocating using charcoal for any of these uses, but they’re helpful for context.

But here’s what I am advocating: considering these points, it’s pretty exciting how this translates to what activated charcoal can do for skin care. 

Alright, let’s dive into my favorite part: charcoal skincare.

Charcoal Skincare

Just as activated charcoal binds to toxins inside the body, it does the same on the outside – which is why I LOVE including it in skincare products. When used topically, a lot of the internal risks of charcoal are negated since the body doesn’t absorb charcoal. 

The European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research has confirmed activated charcoal’s ability to attract:6

  • Bacteria that cause acne + inflammation
  • Poisons + chemicals (toxins
  • Dirt + debris (black-head culprits)
  • Other micro-particles
  • Excess oil 

So with its ability to attract these components, we can use activated charcoal to bring these contaminants to the surface of your skin through charcoal-infused skincare. 

The result: a clear complexion, less inflammation, and fewer breakouts + acne. 
But please note: some charcoal can be created from petroleum – which you definitely don’t want to apply to your skin. I recommend sticking with safe sources like activated charcoal produced from coconut hulls. Here are my favorite products/ways to embrace the power of charcoal skincare:

  • At-Home Ultra Cleansing Face Mask

Since my teenage years, I’ve been plagued with acne and less-than-perfect skin. And although my skin has improved A LOT since adopting a real food diet, making lifestyle changes, and switching to 100% natural skincare products, I still get the occasional zit/breakout. 

Activated charcoal has been a total game changer in my skin journey over the years – which is exactly why we use it in some of our best-selling products. 
Here’s an easy way to use it at home: a super deep cleaning face mask. Since I began using activated charcoal as a facial mask, I’ve noticed a major shift in the cleanliness of my skin. My pores appear to be smaller and less filled with gunk.

To make a charcoal mask: 

→ Mix one opened capsule of activated charcoal powder (or 1/2 teaspoon) with about eight drops of water. You want it to have the consistency of a paste – not too cakey and not too runny. 

Then apply – easy! I leave the mask on for about 30 minutes before thoroughly rinsing it off with our Baby Bar.

*Warning: Activated Charcoal is SUPER messy, but it does come off most surfaces if washed right away. Be careful not to touch your face or let your face touch anything when wearing the mask. In fact, you might want to wear an old t-shirt when handling activated charcoal powder and use a black washcloth to avoid staining. 

Tips: Apply right before a shower so it’s easier to wash off. 

Tip if you have big pores (like me): activated charcoal may temporarily “stain” your pores for up to 48 hours. When I say “stain,” I just mean it may give a darker, more obvious appearance than normal. This isn’t super noticeable and will always go away, but it’s something to consider (especially if you decide to apply the mask before an important event).

  • Charcoal Deodorant

There’s a reason our charcoal deodorant is one of our best-sellers – men included. It’s loaded with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial workhorses + toxin-binding charcoal. If you struggle with excessive sweat (or the dreaded sweat stress), this non-toxic charcoal deodorant is your ticket to managing sweat. 

In combination with powerful odor-busting and moisture-wicking baking soda, kaolin clay, and arrowroot powder, activated charcoal adds an extra boost. It gets right to work detoxifying, deodorizing, and disinfecting pits.  
And though charcoal helps release toxins through sweat, it’s important to be sure you’re using a fully non-toxic deodorant. Here’s a helpful guide if you need somewhere to start. :) 

  • Zit Spot Treatment 
Similar to the facial mask as charcoal skincare, activated charcoal also makes an amazingly effective spot treatment for breakouts and acne-prone skin. It helps pull toxins + inflammatory bacteria to the skin's surface to purify pores and heal the skin.
How to use activated charcoal as a spot treatment:
→ At the first sign of a new zit, mix one capsule of activated charcoal powder with a few drops of water. Apply to the pimple and surrounding area. 
→ Let it sit for about 30 minutes.
Do this a few times a day until the zit is gone (this method usually gets rid of pimples within a day or two for me).
  • Clarifying Bar (Double Cleanse Method)

Many of our spa guests rave over the improvements they see in their skin after adding our Clarifying Bar to their skincare routine for acne. If you’re unfamiliar with double cleansing, here’s the rundown: you’ll want to follow up your nightly oil cleanse with a second cleanse using a gentle glycerin-based soap. 

Our Clarifying Bar features activated charcoal, which gives it its beautiful dark hue. It provides light exfoliation paired with antibacterial, antimicrobial, and astringent properties. It does all this without stripping the skin like traditional cleansers + acne treatments. 

It’s perfect for those struggling with acne or anyone who loves the feeling of a good thorough cleanse. :) 

  • Bug Bite Remedy 

This was probably the most astonishing experience I’ve had with activated charcoal. A while back, I had a pretty gnarly bug bite on my forearm. I have no idea what it was from, but it was swollen, irritated, and red. And it wasn’t going away. 

After a few days of being unable to move my wrist more than a 1/2 inch in any direction due to the extreme swelling, I decided to experiment with my trusty activated charcoal. I made a paste of AC mixed with a few drops of water and applied it to the bite. I covered it with a large bandage and let it sit overnight.

When I woke up, the swelling had gone down significantly, and I could move my wrist around like a normal person again! 

I applied the paste the following night and didn’t need to do anything beyond that. My bug bite had already healed faster than I’ve ever experienced before (and I’ve had many – I’m one of those people bugs love).

Again, I’m not an expert or a medical professional, but this sure worked for me! I love that it speaks to the powerful detoxing and calming properties of activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal has garnered so much attention over the last few years. In my opinion, it’s well deserved as a non-toxic, deeply purifying, + potent ingredient that can make all the difference in your skin. 

Will You Be Adding This Powerhouse Ingredient to Your Routine ASAP? 

Do you think all of this sounds crazy? Or are you dying to add activated charcoal to your personal care routine? If you haven’t tried any charcoal skincare products from Primally Pure, give them a shot. 

The power of activated charcoal with clean, non-toxic ingredients and proven benefits means you’ve got nothing to lose – and only good things to gain.

Bethany – Founder of Primally Pure 

  1. Medical News Today | What Are the Benefits of Activated Charcoal?
  2.  Taylor & Francis Online: Peer-Reviewed Journals and Articles | Is There a Role for Charcoal in Palliative Diarrhea Management? 
  3. European Food Safety Authority | Scientific Opinion on the Substantiation of Health Claims Related To Activated Charcoal and Reduction of Excessive Intestinal Gas Accumulation And Reduction of Bloating
  4. National Library of Medicine | Oral Activated Charcoal Adsorbent (Ast-120) Ameliorates Ckd-Induced Intestinal Epithelial Barrier Disruption 
  5. Research Gate | Evaluation of Potential Use of Charcoal as a Filter Material in Water Treatment
  6. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research | Formulation and Evaluation of Gel Containing Neem, Turmeric, Aloe Vera, Green Tea, and Lemon Extract With Activated Charcoal And Honey  

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Activated charcoal is one of skincare’s best kept secrets.  Since it has so many uses that aren’t talked about too often, this post shares all the details on how to use activated charcoal | Primally Pure

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Bethany McDaniel

Bethany is the Founder of Primally Pure and lives in Southern California with her husband and two daughters. Having used all sorts of harsh prescription creams to treat her acne as a teenager and young adult (and dealing with red, raw, irritated skin as a result), Bethany was blown away by the effects she eventually experienced after ditching the harsh chemicals and replacing them with natural ingredients. Bethany’s journey inspired her to start Primally Pure (with an initial $250 order for ingredients + supplies) to help others experience the benefits of using clean products. In addition to leading the PP Team and envisioning new product ideas, Bethany is passionate about all things clean living, biohacking and personal growth - as well as taking regular tropical vacations with her family to reset + refresh.