Experts say this un­con­ven­tional in­gre­di­ent holds the key to clear skin, white teeth and lus­cious locks

Experts say this un­con­ven­tional in­gre­di­ent holds the key to clear skin, white teeth and lus­cious locks

Women's Fitness (UK) - - Contents -

Inescapably rem­i­nis­cent of sum­mer bar­be­cues and Santa's naughty list, char­coal cer­tainly isn't the first in­gre­di­ent to spring to mind when we con­sider what's good for our skin. But, hav­ing been used both in­ter­nally and top­i­cally for cen­turies (with records dat­ing back to the Egyp­tians in 1550 BC), it's re­cently be­come the beauty buzz­word of the mo­ment, with nearly ev­ery house­hold brand in­clud­ing the won­der in­gre­di­ent in face masks, cleansers, sham­poos and even tooth­paste. In­deed, de­spite its usual as­so­ci­a­tions, char­coal is fast be­com­ing the key in­gre­di­ent in our beauty regimes.

Like everyone else, our ob­ses­sion with char­coal-based beauty prod­ucts be­gan with so­cial me­dia. From nowhere, our In­sta­gram feed was filled with strangely com­pelling face mask re­moval videos, the de­tails of what that black goo could pull away hard to flick past. A prod­uct that promised the re­moval of those black­heads we've been gri­mac­ing at in the mir­ror for years? It sounded too good to be true.

Turns out char­coal was quite rightly pro­pelled to beauty hero sta­tus – it works. 'In­cor­po­rat­ing char­coal into your skin­care regime can have nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits, es­pe­cially if you have par­tic­u­larly oily skin or suf­fer from acne,' says con­sul­tant der­ma­tol­o­gist at the Cado­gan Clinic, Dr. An­jali Mahto. 'Its abil­ity to pull dirt and tox­ins from the skin makes it a great deep cleanser and detox­i­fier. It's also a nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ent, mean­ing that any­one can use it with­out their skin be­ing at risk of hav­ing a re­ac­tion. Its ef­fec­tive­ness, does, how­ever, de­pend on its con­cen­tra­tion and length of con­tact with the skin.'

How does it work? Char­coal in beauty prod­ucts ac­tu­ally refers to ac­ti­vated char­coal – car­bon that's been treated to in­crease its ab­sorbency. 'Ac­ti­vated char­coal is char­coal that's been re­heated and then rapidly cooled to in­crease the num­ber of pores on its surface area,' ex­plains Dr. Mahto. 'These pores trap for­eign par­ti­cles that the char­coal comes into con­tact with (called 'ad­sorp­tion') so that they're un­able to be re­ab­sorbed by the body, and are sub­se­quently re­moved when the char­coal leaves the body.' Tes­ta­ment to its ef­fi­cacy, ac­ti­vated char­coal can ad­sorb over 100 times its weight in im­pu­ri­ties, so much so that it’s been used for cen­turies in hos­pi­tals to treat ex­treme poi­son­ing cases, bind­ing to and re­mov­ing tox­ins be­fore they reach the blood stream.

To­day, the char­coal mar­ket is boom­ing, with face masks, ex­fo­liants, cleansers, hair­care and tooth­pastes all tout­ing char­coal as their star in­gre­di­ent. 'The beauty in­dus­try has in­tro­duced a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ac­ti­vated char­coal prod­ucts in re­cent years,' says Dr. Mahto. 'Due to its abil­ity to re­move dirt, tox­ins and ex­cess oils, it is best used within a cleanser. It's also a re­ally ben­e­fi­cial in­gre­di­ent within a face mask, as the longer the ac­ti­vated char­coal is in con­tact with the skin, the more im­pu­ri­ties it can re­move.'

A num­ber of char­coal peel masks, how­ever, have faced crit­i­cism for be­ing too harsh on the skin, with users com­plain­ing of pain and ir­ri­ta­tion upon re­moval. 'There are sev­eral videos on­line of con­sumers ex­pe­ri­enc­ing pain and dis­com­fort when try­ing to re­move a char­coal peel mask,' ex­plains Dr. Mahto. 'This is be­cause the mask doesn't only 'stick' to the black­heads, but also to the skin and hair on your face. When the mask is re­moved, it pulls off the out­er­most layer of skin and as­so­ci­ated oils which serve as a bar­rier to pro­tect the skin from the en­vi­ron­ment. This, plus pulling out the small hairs, would cause sig­nif­i­cant pain – just like wax­ing the face – which can lead to ir­ri­ta­tion. Within 30 days, the skin will re­place the oils and se­ba­ceous fil­a­ments you've ripped out with your mask, so the dam­age will heal.' Be­cause of this heal­ing pe­riod, how­ever, Dr. Mahto rec­om­mends not us­ing these peel masks too reg­u­larly. 'If you con­tinue to strip the skin of its nat­u­ral oils, you're likely to cause sec­ondary is­sues,' ex­plains Dr. Mahto. 'If you've ap­plied a char­coal peel mask, you should use a gen­tle cleanser while you wait for the skin to re­cover and ap­ply a hy­drat­ing, an­tiox­i­dant-filled serum to aid the re­pair process. Also, make sure you are ap­ply­ing an SPF of at least 30 ev­ery­day, as any dam­age caused by the peel may make your skin more sen­si­tive to UV rays.'

Are there any other risks to be aware of? 'Ac­ti­vated char­coal has a low haz­ard rat­ing and so, as a lone in­gre­di­ent, it's safe for top­i­cal use,' as­sures Dr. Mahto. 'Char­coal prod­ucts can be used on any skin type but are par­tic­u­larly suited to oily skin. Acne suf­fer­ers of­ten ben­e­fit from us­ing ac­ti­vated char­coal, as the clear­ing of pores and the re­duc­tion of oil can help to con­trol break­outs.'

And it isn't only in skin­care where the in­gre­di­ent shines. Char­coal has also been hailed for its abil­ity to keep our pearly whites pearly and white, and, ac­cord­ing to Jen­nifer Jack­son, manag­ing direc­tor at Laila Lon­don, it was used by an­cient Ro­mans, Greeks and Egyp­tians for this very pur­pose. 'Ac­ti­vated char­coal binds to the bac­te­ria and tox­ins in your mouth and gen­tly re­moves surface stains and plaque, mak­ing it easy to re­move im­pu­ri­ties and leave your teeth sparkling white,' she ex­plains.

Ready to in­cor­po­rate this won­der in­gre­di­ent into your beauty regime? Here are the top prod­ucts you need to get you started...

Its abil­ity to pull dirt and tox­ins from the skin makes it a great deep cleanser and detox­i­fier

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