ABOUT: Activated Charcoal

We first began stocking Activated Charcoal in 2011 and it has been a top selling ingredient for us since day one and its use is just becoming more extensive!  It can be found in a wide variety of personal care products and offers excellent benefits for the skin. Putting Activated charcoal on your body may sound a bit strange but there are many benefits and reasons people are using it. Read on to find out why!

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Activated Charcoal (also called activated carbon), is obtained by burning natural materials such as wood, regular coal, peat or coconut husks.  The source material is burned at a very high temperature to form a lightweight mass of carbonaceous charcoal.  This means that all the oxygen was removed from the source material through controlled oxidation and/or processing by steam.

Thanks to this process, the charcoal expands and creates a porous surface that traps toxins.  Its natural ability to absorb has been boosted this way and has a higher efficiency for maximum usability in skin care. From this point, we can refer to the charcoal as ‘Activated’ Charcoal.

Our new Activated Charcoal powder is produced using the Binchō-tan charcoal method.  This is a type of lump charcoal or hardwood charcoal, taking the shape of the wood that was used to make it.  The graphic below shows how the surface can perform its adsorption duties!

Close Up of activated charcoal particle
Close Up of activated charcoal particle – you can see the sponge like adsorptive surface.
Adsorption vs Absorption – handy to know!

According to microbenotes.com ‘Adsorption is the process of adhesion of molecules of liquid or gases onto the surface of a solid particle. Absorption is a bulk phenomenon where molecules of absorbate enter into the absorbent. Adsorption is a surface phenomenon where the molecules simply attach to the surface of the adsorbent. Jul 8, 2020’.  For the non chemist we tend to refer to aDsorption incorrectly as aBsorption.

How does it work?

Activated Charcoal binds other substances to its surface and holds them there, so molecules adhere just to the surface of the activated carbon. This is called ‘adsorption’ (not the same as absorption where one substance is incorporated into another).

Charcoal can adsorb thousands of times its own weight.  It also has an incredibly large surface area due to all its pores – 16cm of charcoal has the surface area equivalent to a 14,000 square metre paddock, which is a lot of adsorption power!  That is why you don’t need loads of charcoal to absorb toxins from your skin.

Activated Carbon Filter

QI:  Like many other materials, it has been discovered Charcoal was used by ancient Egyptians.  Moving though 3000 years of charcoal use, it was also used to decolourise sugar in the early 20th Century and during World War 1 in gas masks to absorb gaseous toxins.  Medicinally prepared Activated Charcoal is used internally for intestinal upsets, bad breath and mouth odour, and also to combat flatulence in our pets!  There is anecdotal evidence of its use as a hangover cure too! It is still used for purification and filtering of drinking water.

Activated Charcoal
Melt & Pour Charcoal Kit




Activated Charcoal in Personal Care Products

There’s something to be said for the popularity of Activated Charcoal’s use on the skin.  Activated Charcoal is said to be very beneficial in skin care products, including soap!  However I cannot quote any scientific or clinical articles on its efficacy, it is all anecdotal.


  • Removes oil and dirt by deep cleansing via adsorption
  • Is suitable for all skin types
  • Helps to tighten the pores
  • Offers light exfoliation
  • Helps to reduce acne
  • Said to whiten and brighten
  • Tooth whitening.  I am afraid I am not brave enough to undertake the tooth-brushing regime of charcoal powder, but so many of our customers use it!

Products we DON’T LIKE to use Activated Charcoal in

  • NOT for Bath Bombs!  Seriously beware!  Even adding in some Polysorbate 80 doesn’t help clean your bath!!
  • NOT for Emulsified Scrubs – it always separates and looks ick.
  • NOT for liquid soap and shampoo. This is personal choice but if you want to try this, I recommend a small batch and thorough trials to ensure it works for you!

Prepping Charcoal Powder for Use

I prefer to moisten Activated Charcoal Powder with a little oil, but you can use Glycerine PF if you are putting it into a water based project.

  • In Melt and Pour Soap I use either Isopropyl Alcohol or Glycerine PF.
  • In Cold Process Soap I tend to use oil
  • For anhydrous products, oil is the way to go!
  • Regular clay masks I use Glycerine PF, and my baggie method.  Trying to use water alone is a mess waiting to happen!  If you have oil in the mask formula, you can of course moisten it with the oil content.
  • For emulsified clay masks – well, I have not had any success in these.  I get separation no matter which method I try, so I have decided for these hand crafted I will not add charcoal.
Cold Process Soap with Charcoal for colour

In both Cold Process Soap and in Melt and Pour, too much Charcoal powder can create grey lather and may stain white facecloths.  If you want to create a dark black soap colour in Cold Process Soap, try using the black as a swirled colour until you have worked out the ratio of charcoal to soap you prefer in your recipe.

Charcoal in Melt and Pour Soap can make clear soap look like coal!

Handling Charcoal Powder

As you can see from this graphic, it’s messy – there is no question at all about it!  When you open the jar or pack, please open with care!  Firstly,  close the windows and door and turn off the fan!  The particles are so light that any draughts will carry the dust around.  I always cover my workspace with some newspaper, it is just so much easier to clean up, even without any accidental spills.  Do handle with care and if you are prone to respiratory issues you can wear a mask if handling it regularly.  Finally, if you are a little bit messy when you work, gloves are a good idea too!

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