What is activated charcoal & what are the benefits?

  • 3 min read

Charcoal. According to a quick scour of the internet it has many uses, only some of them made up. From its classic use as an art tool to “using clumps of it as eyes for scarecrows”, it can be difficult to tell fact apart from fiction. Throw into the mix the word “activated” and suddenly there’s a whole world of confusion. But what is activated charcoal and, more importantly, what does it do?

Firstly, what is charcoal?

Charcoal has been around for as long as fire has, with the earliest signs of its use stretching back to palaeolithic cave paintings of Bison and the like. Not only were these paintings really quite aesthetic, they were also the first indication of what a prehistoric life looked like. Another part of prehistoric life was cooking, and it was its use in this regard in which it made its name.

At its core, charcoal is what you get when you heat things up in the absence of air. Without triggering flashbacks to the fire triangle, it means that materials such as wood end up in a semi-burnt state, with water and other chemicals evaporating from it as it chars. This makes it great for creating instant, super-hot fires when needed (such as a prehistoric barbeque) but also gives it some rather different and bizarre properties.

If you look at charcoal under a microscope you’ll find it has millions of tiny pores peppering it, kind of like a swiss cheese, but even holier. Alongside its chemical makeup, this makes it great at absorbing a whole array of chemicals. Think of it like a molecular sponge of sorts, soaking up bad smells from the air, impurities from water and even certain toxins linked to indigestion.

So what is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is charcoal that’s been specially treated with oxygen. What does that mean exactly? Well, it’s a clever bit of science that means that the pores which are formed within it are much, much smaller than normal. This, in turn, results in more actual charcoal being able to interact with surrounding substances – increasing its absorptive powers. In other words, it’s still charcoal. But supercharged.

What are the benefits of activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal still maintains the basic properties of regular charcoal, yet it’s been particularly embraced for use in a whole range of cosmetics. This is largely due to its ability to soak up dirt and toxins. Some of the benefits and uses of activated charcoal in the beauty industry are as follows:

Oil reduction

Activated charcoal is excellent at absorbing excess oils from hair and skin. So it can work wonders for those with oily skin.

Skincare products containing activated charcoal can help remove excess oil, reduce the appearance of blackheads and help prevent acne. The result is silky smooth skin. Try our Chocolate Charcoal Chai Soap Bar to reap the amazing benefits of activated charcoal.

Teeth whitening

You’ve probably seen a number of teeth-whitening products marketed as containing activated charcoal. It is generally believed that its toxin-absorbing properties are helpful in removing stains from teeth.

However, there is no significant research to support its use for teeth whitening. So the jury is still out on this one.

Skincare for all skin types

Activated charcoal is remarkably effective in skincare. A popular ingredient in face masks, scrubs and Cleansers, activated charcoal binds strongly to the dirt found within pores. We mentioned earlier that it’s great for those with oily skin – but it offers amazing benefits for all skin types. With its detoxifying properties, it’s a treat for any skin. Given that it is an all-natural ingredient, it’s suitable for sensitive skin too.

Of course anyone who’s fallen down a 5am youtube rabbit hole will be aware of the hilarity (read: danger) that a slightly sketchy ‘peel off’ charcoal mask can result in. This is the result of some DIY “experts” recommending mixing charcoal with PVA glue for that ultimate cleanse. Needless to say, we don’t recommend that you do that! 


At UpCircle you’ll be pleased to know that we don’t use PVA glue in any of our products, or any artificial substances for that matter. We use natural, cruelty-free ingredients that your skin will love.