Activated charcoal has been used for detoxification for hundreds of years in Western medicine, however it has only become the new “it” item in beauty and health in recent years. You can now find it in lemonade, teeth whiteners, and an array of skin care products.
Given the craze, you might think that every esthetician across the country would be using activated charcoal based products in their treatments. However relatively few spas have jumped on the charcoal wave.
Whether the barrier to its use is lack of awareness, confusion about implementation, or mistrust of the ingredient, skin care professionals wary of using activated charcoal have good reason to take another look at its benefits. Spas that have already incorporated activated charcoal into their treatments tout its ease of use and the marked improvement it brings to their clients’ skin.
WHAT IS IT?Activated charcoal has been additionally processed to make it highly porous and adsorptive, meaning it can attract and hold toxins. In the skin care industry, proponents of activated charcoal claim that it cleans the skin by binding impurities in the pores and carrying them away when it’s rinsed off. While this use of the substance hasn’t been scientifically verified, for spas, the proof is in the results. Estheticians say their clients’ skin is “glowing,” “even-toned,” and “unusually clean,” after being treated to a charcoal facial.
HOW TO USE ITWith its detoxifying powers, it may seem difficult to decide at which stage to offer activated charcoal in a facial treatment.Some spas, such as Fix Studios in San Francisco, Calif., use charcoal in multiple ways. Leisa Askew, co-founder and owner, has been working with charcoal for more than six years. The spa has pioneered it’s own skin care line, offering charcoal in cleansers that Askew uses in some of her facials.
Still, like most spas, Askew most commonly uses charcoal in masks. “As a standard I add activated charcoal into every mask after extractions,” she explains. “The charcoal is very absorbent, so it helps the skin continue to detox. We add antibacterial and antimicrobial agents to the mask too in order to help keep the bacteria down and to calm the skin.”
At Mud Facial Bar in Chicago, Ill., estheticians cleanse and exfoliate clients before applying an activated charcoal mask. “We’ve been steaming clients the whole time to open their pores so that when we apply the mask it can really penetrate,” shares Shama Patel, the spa’s owner. After applying the mask, Mud estheticians use a proprietary technique, applying cold glass globes to specific pressure points on the face to massage the product into the skin, improve blood flow, and reduce inflammation. “This technique really pushes the product into the pores and allows the mask to serve as a magnet to remove impurities,” Patel explains. Beyond the cleansing and mask stages, spas use activated charcoal to spot treat acne. Askew, for example, makes a poultice from an aloe-based toner and activated charcoal powder to draw out impurities from lesions before applying a charcoal mask.
At whatever stage you do decide to use charcoal, all the professionals interviewed here agree it shouldn’t be used at more than one or two stages in a facial. “Even if I were a skin type that responds well to charcoal I wouldn’t do a charcoal regimen from beginning to end,” Patel advises.
CONTRAINDICATIONSWhile activated charcoal benefits oily, congested skin, most estheticians agree that it can be harsh, and advise against using it on clients with sensitive skin.
Natalia Moreno, owner of Botanic Skin Care in Miami, Fla., uses the substance in a pre-made mask that’s made up bentonite clay, vitamin C, and essential oils. “I won’t use the charcoal mask on people with sensitive skin,” she emphasizes. “It’s very strong and the skin can get really red.” Yet this may be related to whether charcoal is blended with similarly harsh or soothing ingredients. Askew explains, “In my personal experience I don’t have any client that I wouldn’t use charcoal on.”
BEST PRACTICES“Charcoal is easy to work with as long as you don’t use too much. I use just a dab when making my masks,” advises Wright. And once you’ve introduced the ingredient in your spa, Moreno recommends “always doing a spot test to make sure activated charcoal is right for your client.”
Before you dive in, be aware that activated charcoal can be messy. You don’t want to use your white towels for charcoal based treatments!
CLIENT PERCEPTIONSThe three spa owners here using the substance in Miami, Chicago and San Francisco all agree that clients are relatively unaware of activated charcoal, being more likely to look for words like “detox” rather than specific ingredients.
For spas in trend-setting New York City, however, it’s a different story. “Clients love it when they see I offer activated charcoal, and if someone has acne, they expect me to use it!” Wright exclaims.
Given New York City’s renown for setting trends, you might expect your own clients, wherever your spa is located, to become savvy to the benefits of activated charcoal in the near future.
Whether you’re drawn to activated charcoal for its detoxification benefits, its natural safety, or for the cool factor, spas that currently offer charcoal based treatments highly recommend getting on the charcoal wave. Your clients’ skin will enjoy the ride.