While there’s no concrete evidence that charcoal is an effective acne treatment, it’s not going to hurt your skin.
Often touted as an acne treatment—since it also absorbs oil and dirt—beauty brands are stocking the shelves with charcoal cleansers, charcoal masks, and even charcoal pore strips…but do they actuallywork?
Jessica Wu, M.D., a Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face, says there aren’t any scientific studies on the effects of charcoal in skin-care products. "There are some acne products containing charcoal because the idea is that the charcoal will bind to toxins, dirt, and oil and lift them out of the pores,” she says. “However, I haven’t seen any research to back up these claims."
Wu explains that most charcoal skin-care products contain other ingredients that have been proven to help oily and acne-prone skin—so, some charcoal cleansers contain salicylic acid, for example, and many charcoal masks contain kaolin, a clay that actually has been shown to bind to sebum (a.k.a. skin oil).
The good news: Charcoal is inert, meaning that it won’t cause allergic reactions or irritate sensitive skin, so even if your charcoal-enhanced product isn't actually doing much, it won't make anything worse—and you can still benefit from the other ingredients in the product that actually have been proven to help control oily skin or acne.
The bottom line: While there’s no concrete evidence that charcoal is an effective acne treatment, it’s not going to hurt your skin. Plus, charcoal products just look pretty freakin’ cool.