• 05/30/2023

Does it Really Work? Activated Charcoal Skin Lightening

activated charcoal skin lightening

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You see it in toothpaste. You see it in facial masks. Every day, a new skin care trend seems to go viral on TikTok. When gripping yet untrustworthy sources spread a bunch of information on taking care of a human’s largest organ, you may want to think twice before trying it. Activated charcoal skin lightening is one of those magic skin care trends that promise to lighten and rid your face of acne and blackheads. 

Does the science prove it’s too good to be true, or does activated charcoal skin lightening deserve enough hype to incorporate into your routine?

What Are the Claims?

Activated charcoal skin lightening has been widely commercialized for everyone to get its insane benefits for reasonable prices. Purchasing a medley of wipes, moisturizers, creams and other beauty products is cheaper and less frustrating than getting in with a dermatologist. That’s what makes the option so enticing.

It promises people who treat their skin with the substance that it will brighten everything from:

  • Under-eye circles
  • Dark patches
  • Acne scars
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Red areas

Several of these issues require medical assistance, while others may only need a few lifestyle changes, like more sleep or facial supplements, to make you look radiant.

Does Science Back Up the Trend?

There are studies to prove activated charcoal provides benefits for the skin, and it goes beyond skin lightening. In fact, it might perform other benefits better than brightening the face.

The first is deep cleaning. Our pores collect dirt and free radicals from environmental influences, like pollen and microscopic particles. They form sebum, which you could push out of particularly dirty pores like a white head. However, this isn’t recommended because it can damage the skin when not executed by a professional. Activated charcoal does a great job of pulling out all that grime, relieving the pores of stress. 

Some people don’t like how large their pores look, and it doesn’t help if they’re full of stuff. Using activated charcoal to clear them out, especially if you have reddish pores, could give an illusion of skin lightening by proxy.

Because it’s extracting all this oil and dirt, it helps keep the face clear and light. It prevents acne from forming and helps sunscreen stay on longer because it attaches to the skin better.

All these benefits add up to the final key — activated charcoal can lighten the skin, but there isn’t much research on it, and success rates are mixed. In a 2021 study, activated charcoal cream proved it could brighten the skin, while other sources state the product causes more irritation than healing.

How Do You Use Activated Charcoal to Lighten Skin?

The guiding factor behind answering this question is the medium. What kind of activated charcoal product are you using? Because each product requires varying applications and resting times:

  • Face mask: Cleanse the skin, then apply all over the face to slightly wet skin. Leave for around 15 minutes until it’s hard. Then, rinse with warm water.
  • DIY exfoliant or mask: Get activated charcoal tablets or pills. Release powder and mix with a natural ingredient to create a paste consistency. Use as you would a regular face mask.
  • Charcoal sponges: These products look like beauty blenders. Wet it with warm water and gently rub it on the face to unclog pores.
  • Scrubs: Instead of brightening, these focus on pulling out dirt from the pores. Gently rub scrubs on the face to avoid microabrasion, and rinse with warm water.

Use other products as directed on the instruction labels, and always read reviews before trying them yourself.

How Do You Maximize Potential Benefits?

The benefits of activated charcoal can grow exponentially alongside other skin care products with specific ingredients. Some of the most well-studied and effective are retinoids, vitamin C and niacinamide, which can brighten skin and reduce signs of aging with consistent use. 

Consistency is critical because using these products once a month will not produce benefits.

Maximizing the benefits of activated charcoal with a robust skin care routine is one way to get the most out of its properties. Another is through small lifestyle changes. Any of these activities can contribute to less-than-perfect skin evenness: 

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Neglecting other health conditions, such as high blood pressure that can cause flushing
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Picking your face, such as facial hair, acne or scabs
  • Not wearing daily SPF
  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Leaving makeup on overnight
  • Putting a lot of pressure or touching your face, like resting your chin in your hands

When Is the Time to See a Professional?

Many people using activated charcoal for skin lightening may wonder how long it takes or ask why it isn’t working after frequent use. Nothing seems to change, no matter how dedicated you are to washing your face every day. Should you see a professional? Maybe.

There are two types of skin care professionals. One is a dermatologist, which are medical doctors that work to solve deep skin issues. Estheticians are specialists that don’t need medical accreditation. They focus on improving the appearance and texture of the skin — more surface-level, aesthetic benefits. In contrast, dermatologists treat conditions and approach the skin from a medical perspective.

This is important because numerous concerns regular people have with their skin are not medical conditions. For example, occasional redness that could decrease because of activated charcoal or covered with foundation and concealer differs from rosacea — a medical condition that causes skin redness from inflammation. 

People want to adjust their skin for personal reasons, like improving confidence. Therefore, you may not need a dermatologist to “fix” anything, but they could still guide and educate you on achieving your skin care goals. Perhaps you went on a long hiking trip, and your skin feels gross from environmental stressors and sweat. An esthetician would be happy to provide a deep cleaning and massage your pores to remove sebum to get it back to glowing in no time. On the other hand, a dermatologist would assist if your frequent hiking trips in life led to permanent sun damage.

In short, determine your skin care goals. If you suspect a medical reason behind your skin’s feeling or appearance, consult a professional. However, it may just be an aesthetic change you’re after that doesn’t require medical attention.

Activated Charcoal Skin Lightening

Feel free to try activated charcoal skin-lightening techniques and products, but ultimately, there isn’t enough evidence to support its effectiveness one way or the other. More studies will arise because of its consumer success and social media virality. But, it’s not here yet. Use activated charcoal at your discretion, because it may help you with your skin care dreams — but remain skeptical, and be open to trying other avenues if this hack doesn’t pan out.

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