Activated Charcoal

Activated Charcoal

INCI: Carbon

Activated charcoal, known scientifically as Carbon, is a finely milled black powder, highly porous, nonpolar adsorbent material used widely in cosmetic products, primarily produced from carbon-rich organic materials such as coconut shells, wood, or bamboo. This ingredient undergoes a carbonization process at high temperatures, followed by an activation process using steam or chemical agents like phosphoric acid, potassium hydroxide, or sodium hydroxide, which enhances its porous structure and adsorptive capacity.

The primary appeal of activated charcoal in the cosmetic industry is its ability to interact with and adsorb a wide range of organic compounds, impurities, and contaminants, which makes it ideal for deep skin cleansing purposes. Studies have shown that when applied topically, activated charcoal can help clear pores by binding to dirt, oil, and other unwanted substances on the skin’s surface, facilitating their removal and thereby reducing the incidence of acne and improving skin clarity.

Activated charcoal is also noted for its balancing effects on oily skin. By adsorbing excess oil and debris, it can help manage sebum levels, potentially mitigating the development of further skin impurities. This ingredient is increasingly popular in formulations for masks, cleansers, and scrubs where a deep cleaning effect is desired. Its efficacy in adsorbing and removing pollutants and toxins from the skin is supported by its extensive use in medical applications, such as treating poisonings and overdoses, underscoring its potent adsorptive properties.

Activated Charcoal

Common Name

Activated Charcoal



Extraction or Production Process

Activated charcoal is produced from carbonaceous sources like wood, coconut shells, and peat through carbonization, followed by an activation process. This involves high temperatures combined with an activating agent (typically acids, strong bases, or salt), which expands the internal surface area and opens up numerous tiny pores between the carbon atoms, enhancing its adsorptive capacity.


This ingredient is sourced from both vegetable and mineral origins. The most common plant-based sources are coconut shells and wood, while mineral-based charcoal comes from peat or coal. The specific part of the plant used is typically the hard, inner shell of the coconut or dense wood.

Country of Origin

The sourcing and manufacturing of activated charcoal are global, with prominent production in countries like India, Indonesia, and the Philippines for coconut-based versions, and the United States and Canada for wood and peat-based varieties.


In cosmetics, activated charcoal functions primarily as an adsorbent agent, and purifying agent. It is valued for its ability to clear pores, balance oily skin, and remove impurities.


Activated charcoal is characterized by its black color, odorlessness, and insolubility in water. Its extensive pore structure allows it to adsorb many times its own weight in impurities.


The benefits of activated charcoal in skincare include pore cleansing, reduced oiliness, deep cleansing of the skin, and a potential reduction in acne outbreaks. Its ability to draw out impurities also makes it beneficial in body cleansing products and scalp treatments.

Contraindications and Precautions

While activated charcoal is generally considered safe for use in skincare, it should be used with caution by those with dry or sensitive skin types due to its potent drying and purifying properties. Additionally, it is advised that pregnant women consult with a healthcare provider before using products containing activated charcoal due to a lack of research on its effects during pregnancy.


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