Charcoal: Your Summer-Skin Savior

Introducing Worth It, a new series where we personally test-run some of the more oddball, high-priced, or hard-to-find products to determine whether they merit the effort or the cash. Here, you'll find a no-BS rundown of some of the beauty buys you've always wondered about, from wacko ingredients to buzzy, new tools.
There is a certain kind of dirty that one only gets in summer. Say what you will about breezy evenings and sunny, sandal weather, but the fact is by July I'm fantasizing about sleet. Five seconds after I step out of the shower I need another one, and my feet become afflicted with a particular grime known only to urban dwellers — I call it "Summertime City-Foot." Yes, summer is gross. But, I have recently discovered the magic de-gross-ifier: activated charcoal.
Just as strange and magical as it sounds, activated charcoal is a wunderkind multitasker. It's both the stuff your hippie cousin brushes her teeth with and what your vet gives the dog when he breaks into the chocolate stash. Apparently, it will remove stink from your refrigerator, clean your drinking water, and "treat poisonings." This is potent stuff. Master aesthetician Ling Chan of Ling Skin Care New York even has a charcoal facial on her menu. “Charcoal is a powerful absorbent that is able to absorb 100 to 200 times its weight in impurities," she says. "This allows it to effectively remove dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin.”
I'm probably still going to hit the ER should I need to treat any poisonings, but as far as skin care is concerned, I am so sold. When the hot weather hit, I tested three charcoal products — a mask, a body wash, and a heap of straight-up charcoal powder — and came away feeling cleaner and fresher than I have in weeks. If you're prone to summer breakouts, gunky skin, or perspiration of any kind, this is the ingredient for you. And, for your chocoholic pup.
1 of 4
Bioré Self-Heating One-Minute Mask
This was the first product I tried, and man, was I ready for it to work. I'd grown a zit on my upper left cheek that was so deep and bulbous it kind of accentuated my cheekbone. If it hadn't been a honkin', red volcano, I might have just left it there. Fortunately, I had the masks. According to Ling, "Charcoal is great because it works to detox the skin from impurities and heavy oil buildup; this helps clear acne breakouts." Fingers crossed, Ling!

This mask comes in prepackaged portions and heats right up when you rip one open. I raise my eyebrows at the word mask because this is really just a kick-ass cleanser that tricks you into washing your face for a whole minute. But, go ahead and lie to me, Bioré — this stuff is good. The mask/wash exfoliates on a micro level, the charcoal powder being so fine that you don't feel any kind of scrubbing.

The heating effect helps any makeup and gunk melt right off, and once the temp peaks, your face is cooled down with essential oils. That's really what makes this product a one-stop shop. The minty oils linger on the skin once you've rinsed, and, while it's not greasy at all, you don't get that stripped feeling that comes with so many clay-based masks. On one particularly lazy night I even skipped moisturizing afterward (I KNOW, I'M SORRY, OKAY?), and my skin was just fine.

Even better, my personal face-volcano was downgraded to an inert mountain the following day. After a few more treatments, it flattened out entirely. Charcoal: 1, Summer: 0.
2 of 4
Origins Skin Diver Body Wash
A couple of weeks ago, the mercury reached the high 80s, and guess which office didn't have AC? That's right — by sunset, the usually crisp and put-together R29 staff had wilted into a cranky, sweaty heap. We had lost the will to post. We had lost the will to Instagram. Like the rest of my colleagues, I dragged myself home, intending to stand in a cold shower and then lie prostrate in front of my air conditioner.

Upon entering said cold shower, I cracked open the Skin Diver gel and, holy bananas, it was like pouring the AC directly onto my body. "Charcoal is great for the summer because it has a cooling effect, which can soothe sunburned skin," says Ling. I didn't have a sunburn, but I did have a serious layer of all-day perspiration from head to toe. Not only did the gel cool me right down, but it got me so clean. Like, almost suspiciously clean. Once again the teeny-tiny charcoal particles had scrubbed me down without actually scrubbing, and the clove and wintergreen in the gel had turned up their chilling powers to 11.

This shower gel ("for men") isn't as thick or sticky as others you might be familiar with. It doesn't lather like crazy, so you might be under the impression that you need to use a ton. But, fear not — a little goes a long way on a washcloth or shower puff. While it's a little pricier than a drugstore brand, I absolutely think this product is worth it for its magical heat-and-grime-fighting effects. This will never not be in my shower for the next three months. Charcoal: 2, Summer: 0.
3 of 4
Starwest Botanicals Activated Charcoal Powder
Finally, I went straight to the source. After coming home from a Saturday workout, I filled my bath with warm-but-not-hot water and a cup of straight-up charcoal powder. Because it's so multipurpose, this stuff can be purchased anywhere, from a gardening center to a pet store. Wherever you get it, it'll be super cheap (as well it should be, right?).

Fair warning: This powder is so incredibly fine that if you so much as look at it too hard it will puff up into the air. The good news is it will wipe cleanly off whatever surface it lands on — in fact, thanks to the magic of charcoal, my bathtub was spar-k-ling clean when I rinsed it out. The bad news is your towels. But, just resign yourself to some temporarily spotted towels, and do laundry. It will be worth it.

The water itself feels no different. You'll experience no stinging or grittiness as you ease into your pitch-black bathtub like an evil Disney queen. But, the too-clean-to-be-true feeling kicks in right away. Without me having to even actively wash myself, the charcoal seemed to be pulling gunk off the surface of my skin. I let my Summertime City-Feet get a good soak, and then I took it up a notch and whipped out my Baiden Mitten. (If you're not familiar with the Baiden Mitten, for goodness sake, get familiar.)

Here's where things got really crazy. Though the water was tepid and I'd soaked for less than 10 minutes, the Baiden Mitten suddenly worked even better than it had before. The glove sloughed off more dead skin than I have ever seen outside of a professional gommage treatment. My highly unscientific study theorizes that the charcoal, with all its magical absorbing powers, clung on to all that dead skin and gave the Baiden Mitten something to grab onto. Frankly, I don't care if it's voodoo — I have never had softer skin.

Charcoal: 3, Summer: Suck it.
4 of 4
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!