Activated charcoal: A trending ingredient

You may or may not have heard of ‘Activated Charcoal’. Perhaps you’ve seen your Instagram favourites smearing a tar-like substance over their T-zone, or a friend’s been telling you about a miraculous new toothpaste they’ve taken up.

Little used just a year or two ago, the natural beauty benefits of this exciting ingredient are finally being realised.

It’s only when you look at the numbers that you understand quite how huge - and indeed how quickly – this trend has grown. Take, for example, discussion about it on social media. Between April 2015 and April 2016, there was no mention of the term to be found, yet by April  2017 it had racked up 110,000 mentions. Between February and April alone, there was a 44.1% rise in discussion when compared with the previous three months. Year on year, the 2016/2017 period saw a 428.13% increase in traffic to charcoal related products – and May 2017 saw record searches online, with 44,400 recorded throughout the month.

But we aren’t just talking about and searching for activated charcoal, we really are giving it a go. The 2016/2017 period saw a 1023% increase in sales of activated charcoal products.

But what actually is it? How can you use it? and is it time to get in on the activated charcoal trend?

You might think it a recent development, but the use of charcoal as part of our beauty regime is nothing new – far from it in fact. Its first recorded use within medicine dates back thousands of years, but it was the Ancient Egyptians who first realised its natural beauty potential. Referred to as ‘Black Magic’ because of its colour and healing abilities, it’s sprung up throughout history with no end of fascinating uses and intriguing abilities.

But why activated? Well, the process by which charcoal gets this way can happen because its particles are so small. When something is built of these comparatively tiny particles, its surface area is much larger overall, and this increases capacity for absorption.

Activated charcoal is created when acid or steam are combined with carbon rich materials such as wood, coal, rye starch and coconut shells. The addition of these helps unlock the billions of tiny pores hidden between the carbon materials, making for super-absorbent stuff.

The surface area created by this process is mind-blowing.

Because it’s so porous, it does an incredible job of binding to other chemicals – making it the ideal substance to help rid the body of bad stuff. It has a host of medicinal uses, while its ability to bind to almost anything means oral consumption can help reduce gas and flatulence. Some people take on charcoal detoxes, consuming the wonder ingredient for a week or so to eliminate build-up toxins.

But it is activated charcoal’s natural beauty-enhancing credentials that has everyone so excited. The incredible absorbency of the substance means it does a fantastic job of pulling impurities from our skin, and removes bacteria and surface staining from teeth very effectively.

So how do you go about using activated charcoal to boost your beauty regime?

For teeth whitening

It seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But covering your teeth in something black and earthy really is the key to natural whitening! With a great range of charcoal-containing toothpastes appearing on the market, searches for these products have skyrocketed – racking up 54,340 searches online in the last six months, and ‘charcoal toothpastes’ alone have seen an 86.72% increase in interest.

It works because activated charcoal is so absorbent. It’s able to pick up and collect particles and bacteria, bringing the bad stuff out with it when you spit or swill your mouth out. Impressively, it’s even able to collect the particles responsible for surface staining on your teeth, and this should leave you with a noticeably brighter smile after several uses.

To use – simply invest in an activated charcoal toothpaste. Use as you normally would, putting a small amount onto the bristles of your toothbrush, and delicately brush around the teeth and gums for a couple of minutes. Once complete, swill out well with water or your choice of mouthwash.

It’s not recommended you use an activated charcoal toothpaste every single day as it can be a little abrasive. Using it just a couple of days a week will still get you great results.

For facial cleansing

Another range of charcoal-containing products to hit the shelves lately are activated charcoal face masks. In these, the charcoal is usually blended within more typical face mask ingredients such as clays and muds. They’ve really taken off, with relevant products receiving 49,140 searches online in the last six months – and the term ‘charcoal mask’ seeing an 86.94% increase in attention over that time. The range of activated charcoal masks available in stores includes everything from simple mud masks through to sticky nose-pore-removing blends and gently abrasive scrubs. In each however, the principle is the same. The binding qualities of the activated charcoal means it does an amazing job of pulling away the bad stuff- be it blocked pores, grease or dead skin – leaving your face looking and feeling refreshed.

To use – Instructions will vary depending on the particular product you’ve picked up. But generally, as with any mask product, it’s a case of applying to the face – leaving a short while – before thoroughly rinsing off.

Do it yourself – using activated charcoal at home

Of course, you don’t need to go and invest in a ready-made charcoal solution to get these fantastic beauty benefits. If you love to make and combine your own products at home, activated charcoal can be easily added to a host of natural ingredients for superb beauty results.

You may have heard of oil pulling; where coconut oil is swilled around the mouth for up to 10 minutes each day. It’s thought to have some serious benefits, as the sticky stuff pulls and collects bacteria from between the teeth, removing it in the process. Adding a sprinkle of activated charcoal will only give the method a mighty boost; with the charcoal able to take on tooth staining while the oil deals with the germs.

If you’ve put together your own face masks and scrubs before, you’ll know it’s super easy and super fun. To throw together an effective and natural charcoal-containing mask.

You need only two ingredients. Simply mix a teaspoon or two of activated charcoal powder with a bentonite clay. Once blended well, smear on your face (focusing on the that troublesome T-zone!) and leave to dry before scrubbing off. The clay will do its usual job of drying up the impurities on the skin’s surface, but the addition of activated charcoal will boost its abilities to collect them.

Surprisingly, activated charcoal does the job perfectly when included in a homemade mascara. To make, simply blend all the ingredients listed. If you like your mascara to have more hold, include 1tsp of beeswax, while those who like less should go for just a half. Once mixed to form a solution, it can be applied to the eyelashes for great strength and volume.

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