At first glance, charcoal beauty products didn’t seem like the average internet fad.
It was used by ancient cultures, the advocates said. Anything that’s been around that long has to be worthwhile.
“It literally sticks to dirt and oil in your pores like a magnet and then rinses them away cleanly,” one beauty magazine said of the charcoal face mask, “making it a hero for oily, acne-prone skin.”
With that ringing endorsement, and dozens of others, the beauty industry responded in kind, rolling out the charcoal honey mask, the charcoal mask with glycerin-spiked carbonation, the charcoal mask that’s filled with 9,000-year-old mud harvested by hand from the Irish countryside.
All the while, we’re watching people literally peel their faces off with their charcoal face masks on YouTube and trying to justify what we’re hearing with what we’re seeing.
Which brings us here: Are charcoal exfoliants bad for your skin? Yes. Here are a few reasons why.
They peel off skin
The pain those people on YouTube are in is real because they’re actually removing an entire layer of skin. That’s not exfoliation; it’s self-imposed torture. Exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells. And, for the record, nothing in your beauty regimen should be painful. If it hurts, be weary of it.
In the case of the charcoal exfoliants, that pain is coming from ripping off the barrier that protects your face from the elements. Sure, it feels smooth as a baby’s cheek, but your face is now exposed in a way that it was never meant to be.
They’re also stripping it of natural oils
Coming off with the surface layer are natural oils that need to be there.
It’s pulling the blackheads right off my nose, the advocates would say. The thing is, those aren’t blocked pores. They’re sebum-lined pores, and they’re supposed to be there.
They’re opening you up to infection
If you’ve already tried a charcoal face mask, you’re well aware of the pain and irritation I’ve mentioned here. The good news: Your skin should gradually recover without further issue.
But, make a habit out of this, peeling off an entire layer of skin and stripping it of its inherent, essential oils, and you could be opening yourself up to infection, hyperpigmentation, and scarring. Your acne could also return in full-force.
There’s not a single clinical study that’s shown charcoal to have any benefit to your face. Even more, the vast majority of face masks on the market today are not regulated by the FDA, which means that you run the risk with any of the ingredients, including the charcoal itself, of a harmful irritation or allergic reaction or both.