Can char­coal-in­fused prod­ucts re­ally help detox­ify your skin – both in­side and out?

Friday - - Contents -

The fu­ture of sk­in­care’s dark and gritty.

Pop­ping up in ev­ery­thing from fa­cial cleansers, sponges and face masks to cold-pressed juices, pore strips and even tooth­paste, char­coal has made a name for it­self as a detoxifying, deep-cleans­ing, supercharged in­gre­di­ent. Like co­conut oil and green tea be­fore it, char­coal has moved up from be­ing a niche beauty se­cret – it was first pop­u­larised this decade by Korean fa­cial­ists as an add-in to mud skin treat­ments – to a ma­jor main­stream hit, with crushed car­bon now star­ring in beauty prod­ucts to suit all bud­gets.

Rather than your run-of-the-mill bar­be­cue coal, the beauty world uses ac­ti­vated char­coal to fuel its prod­ucts. Sourced from a va­ri­ety of woods – ash, ch­est­nut, hazel and oak – logs are cut and left to ‘sea­son’ in stor­age for a year, be­fore be­ing slowly fired in a kiln for around six­teen hours, re­duc­ing the wood to a del­i­cate car­bon. It’s then finely ground, put through a cold wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion process and fi­nally treated with oxy­gen.

The end re­sult, the now ‘ac­ti­vated’ char­coal is revered for its abil­ity to at­tract and hold other atoms, soak­ing in be­tween 100 to 200 times its own vol­ume. With roots in an­cient Egyp­tian medicine and body em­balm­ing prac­tices, ac­ti­vated char­coal is still used to­day by hos­pi­tals to treat poi­soned pa­tients, and cap­sules re­side in many fam­i­lies’ first-aid kits. Taken orally, it uses ad­sorp­tion (an elec­tri­cal at­trac­tion that pulls other out­side mol­e­cules to its sur­face) and acts like a mag­net, at­tract­ing tox­ins in the stom­ach and bind­ing to them be­fore they can en­ter the blood­stream and cause po­ten­tially fa­tal dam­age.

It’s also a cru­cial com­po­nent within house­hold fil­ters, with the pres­surised and com­pacted char­coal discs trap­ping ex­cess min­eral residue and io­dine to purify wa­ter for drink­ing.

Used on skin, it’s claimed that ac­ti­vated char­coal will act in a sim­i­lar way, draw­ing im­pu­ri­ties from pores so they can be rinsed off the skin along with the ad­sor­bent char­coal. Ac­ti­vated char­coal is clas­si­fied as an in­ert com­pound, mean­ing it’s a pH-bal­anced non-al­ler­gen that’s suit­able for use on even sen­si­tive skins.

Its ma­jor draw as a sk­in­care head­liner? As a deep-cleanser for oily and acne-prone skin types. ‘Char­coal is a fan­tas­tic, nat­u­ral cleanser,’ says Rowena Bird, co-founder of Lush. ‘One of our best­selling fresh cleansers, Dark An­gels, has a char­coal and rhas­soul mud base, which aids in soak­ing up ex­cess oil, im­pu­ri­ties and other pol­lu­tion nas­ties that re­sult from city liv­ing. The char­coal is also slightly gritty, so it can gen­tly ex­fo­li­ate the skin with­out be­ing too rough.’ Lush has also used char­coal as a star in­gre­di­ent in its Coal­face solid cleanser.

Aside from face washes, the ma­jor­ity of char­coal prod­ucts claim to deep-clean prob­lem skin, and leave your com­plex­ion as clean as a whis­tle. Masks are a handy way to put char­coal to work, as the more time it’s in con­tact with your skin, the bet­ter your results. Nose strips are also get­ting in on the ac­tion with a sim­i­lar premise, re­lay­ing on char­coal’s pure mag­netism to get gunk out of your pores.

As ev­i­denced by a new rush of char­coal-in­fused juices, health brands are an­other mar­ket chip­ping into the char­coal trend, with In­sta­gram-chic black lemon­ades pro­moted as an in­ter­nal-detoxifying aid. Claim­ing to re­fresh your body from the in­side out, brands such as UAE-based Detox De­light are jump­ing to use char­coal as one of their hero ingredients.

Ni­cole Jung­haenel, Detox De­light’s founder, says that in­gest­ing char­coal comes with a range of ben­e­fits. ‘Ac­ti­vated char­coal pow­der mixed in wa­ter, or our great-tast­ing Black Le­mon­ade, sup­ports the body’s elim­i­na­tion pro­cesses and helps rid the body of un­wanted sub­stances,’ she says. ‘When you drink ac­ti­vated

HEALTH brands are an­other mar­ket chip­ping into the char­coal trend, with In­sta­gram-chic black lemon­ades pro­moted as an in­ter­nal-DETOXIFYING aid, claim­ing to re­fresh your body

char­coal, tox­ins can bind to it. There­fore it pre­vents tox­ins and even cer­tain poi­sons from be­ing ab­sorbed into the blood­stream.’ She at­tributes a long list of in­ter­nal and gut is­sues that char­coal can re­lieve if taken as an early in­ter­ven­tion treat­ment. ‘It can not only ease gas­troin­testi­nal prob­lems such as di­ar­rhoea, stom­ach cramps, in­di­ges­tion and gas with bloat­ing, flat­u­lence and stom­ach pain, it can also help with an an­noy­ing gen­er­alised itch, caused by an im­bal­anced level of bile in the gall­blad­der, named cholesta­sis.’ How­ever, oth­ers are

less con­vinced that char­coal is the won­der sup­ple­ment it’s claimed to be.

‘Char­coal is use­ful and proven to be ef­fec­tive, when taken as a sin­gle sup­ple­ment,’ says Kath­leen Al­leaume, founder and head nutri­tion­ist of The Right Bite. ‘But as it does negate the ben­e­fits of any­thing it’s be­ing taken with, so there isn’t much point drink­ing it in a vi­ta­min-rich green juice.’

Kath­leen also dis­putes char­coal’s detox claims. ‘Char­coal doesn’t have the abil­ity to cleanse the body, blood­stream or gut. There’s no way to “detox­ify” your body, out­side of the func­tion that your or­gans usu­ally per­form.’

‘Since AC­TI­VATED char­coal clings to sub­stances and traps them, tak­ing it as a sup­ple­ment can IN­TER­FERE with the ef­fec­tive­ness of med­i­ca­tions, so don’t take it for at least an HOUR af­ter other tablets’

Mov­ing from the stom­ach, up into the mouth, high-pro­file den­tist Dr Richard Mar­ques, who is known at his Lon­don home of­fices as ‘The King of Smiles’, says there are ad­van­tages to us­ing char­coal-based prod­ucts to brush your teeth with – de­spite their seem­ingly counter-pro­duc­tive dark ap­pear­ance. ‘Char­coal prod­ucts bind with rough parts on teeth in­clud­ing sur­face stains and plaque, which then makes it eas­ier to re­move yel­low­ing sub­stances,’ he ex­plains. ‘Once the char­coal has been given enough time to stick to the teeth, it can be re­moved and when it is, the min­eral takes the plaque, food par­ti­cles, and sur­face stains with it, whiten­ing the teeth.’

How­ever, he points out that as a nat­u­ral prod­uct, char­coal will have less suc­cess bright­en­ing some smiles, with the tougher jobs bet­ter left to tra­di­tional bleach­ing-based solutions. ‘Be­cause it latches on to grit­ti­ness found on the teeth, ac­ti­vated char­coal may not dras­ti­cally change teeth that are deeply stained or nat­u­rally yel­low­ing,’ he cau­tions.

While ac­ti­vated char­coal is prov­ing to have its ben­e­fits, its us­age may not be for ev­ery­one and ev­ery health sce­nario. Lush’s Rowena says that char­coal-based skin prod­ucts are bet­ter suited for oily and com­bi­na­tion skin, with the car­bon of­ten prov­ing too suc­cess­ful on al­ready de­hy­drated skin.

As an in­ter­nal aide, Ni­cole says like all orally-taken sup­ple­ments, care should be taken with what you’re mix­ing it with. ‘Since ac­ti­vated char­coal clings to sub­stances and traps them, tak­ing it as a sup­ple­ment can in­ter­fere with the ef­fec­tive­ness of other med­i­ca­tions, [so it’s best] not to take it for at least an hour af­ter you’ve had other tablets,’ she says. Check with your doc­tor be­fore tak­ing ac­ti­vated char­coal if you are con­cerned about how it will in­ter­act with your med­i­ca­tion.

With so many ways char­coal has been a part of beauty prac­tices for years, why is this unas­sum­ing car­bon dust only now hit­ting the big time? Ni­cole says that char­coal’s surge in pop­u­lar­ity can be traced back to the pres­sures of our high-stress ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments. ‘

Ac­ti­vated char­coal is get­ting pop­u­lar at times when detox­ing is more im­por­tant than ever due to an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of pol­lu­tants from air, soil, drink­ing wa­ter, food and sk­in­care prod­ucts,’ she sug­gests. ‘Nowa­days we are chal­lenged con­tin­u­ously to keep up with elim­i­na­tion of ad­verse sub­stances, while also fac­ing a busy life­style that does not al­ways en­tail enough time to tend to our own health op­ti­mally.’

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