You guys already know how I like bypassing conventional beauty products to fashion my kitchen cupboard into my second vanity closet, right? Well, get ready for another edition of Using Items in a Non-Prescribed Manner for Alternate Beauty Benefits!
You may already be familiar with activated charcoal powder in capsule form or as an active ingredient in many skincare products. I remember always seeing a stale bottle of activated charcoal pills in the medicine cabinet in the house where I grew up, never really paying it any mind since, to me, they were just some kind of mom-and-dad supplement.
After noticing it show up in a handful of skincare products, however, I had a little look-see into what this stuff actually is and what it does.
I bought an ounce of the stuff from BulkApothecary.com rather than spring for the capsules. I mean, why pay extra for the middleman, you know? An ounce will run you about $3 and change, which is pretty damn cost-efficient when you consider the multiples uses I’m about to lay down on you.
Also, considering this powder is virtually weightless, an ounce is a LOT. Seriously, if you even breathe on it too closely, POOF--there it goes all up in the air like a cloud of black smog.
Activated charcoal powder is basically carbon, the stuff pretty much any living thing is made of. Big whoop. The carbon is “activated” (it sounds so "As Seen On TV" when I say it like that) by heating it so it expands and becomes insanely porous, maxing out the surface area. A gram of active charcoal has the surface area of roughly 5400 square feet, which is probably the size of Kim and Kanye’s pool house (and roughly the same size as the warehouse rave I went to in Bushwick the other week).
And guess what goes on in all those micro-pores: ADSORBTION. I know I probably sound like an over-eager child with a speech impediment but I did not misspeak. Adsorbtion, not absorption, works by electrical attraction, pulling molecules, atoms and ions towards its surface and sticking to it, not becoming one with it. It’s the chaperoned school dance of molecular substance, leaving just a bit of room for the Holy Ghost, so to speak.
Toxins are attracted to activated charcoal like rich teenage girls to high school dropouts. And considering the porosity of the stuff, it can pick up a lot of riff-raff. That’s why you take capsules for an upset tummy (and subsequently for the toots, so I am told). Medicinally, it’s used for removing any poisonous substances in your bod: alcohol (ahem), mercury (!), snake venom (if that’s a thing that happens to you a lot?), and spider bites. I mean, if you’re at Marissa Cooper levels of alcohol poisoning, this might be too little too late, but it’s a natural and easily accessible antidote for the less tragically party.
It’s the stuff they use in gas masks as well as water filters, so you know activated charcoal is legit working hard, never hardly working.
Now let me show you the many ways it can benefit your face and beauty.
Duh, I JUST said that activated charcoal is used in, like, so many skincare products, specifically for acne. The charcoal works best for drawing out impurities from your pores, so it wouldn’t hurt to steam up beforehand--just saying. Get those exits nice and open.
If you want a cheap alternative to buying single-purpose items like a zit-mask for instance, try this cocktail on for size:
• Activated charcoal powder
• Rosewater or plain water if you aren’t into roses (come on, really?)
• Aloe vera gel
• A couple drops of tea tree oil (optional)
Mix everything together in equal measure, except for the tea tree oil, which should be used very sparingly. You will know if you ever use too much tea tree oil because GOOD LORD THE STINGING.
I mixed about a half-teaspoon of everything else in a shot glass and swirl it together with a Q-tip until it formed an inky black paste. I painted it on my face with the Q-tip, feeling all Queen of the Nile (or possibly like an extra in a Bjork music vid) and let it dry completely before rinsing off with warm water. It feels so satisfying, visualizing all the gunk I’m evicting from my skin, watching the water run from black to clear as I rinsed.
Word to the unwise: this can get messy, so be wary of the splash zone. It won’t stain anything permanently if you rinse it right away, but I wouldn’t take chances with any pristine white garments while doing this.
Sure, I could just beg my parents to buy me Colgate whitening strips in bulk when they shop at Costco, but this is arguably more effective and also preserves my dignity as a late-20-something autonomous woman-child.
The micro-porous charcoal grabs all that plaque and “stuff” on your teeth with the determined glee of those animated Scrubbing Bubbles on the TV. I’ve only been brushing with active charcoal for a couple days and maybe it’s my hyped-up imagination, but my pearly whites are looking awfully gleamy. Plus, they feel squeaky clean after I rinse and spit, which is just satisfying on so many levels.
You just dab your toothbrush into some powder and brush as normal. The foam will be gray so don’t be alarmed. Also, if you swallow some, nothing bad will happen to you. You’re meant to ingest this stuff, remember? It doesn’t have a taste, and toothpaste is usually pretty damn minty-flavored anyway, so the chance of you noticing any charcoal-y taste is near impossible.
Next level: lose the toothpaste and just brush it on there straight with a bit of water on your brush for some hardcore whitening and plaque removal. You’ll briefly resemble that gluttonous black-vomiting monster from Spirited Away, which, in my opinion, is a fun Friday night in.
Man, do I love a good excuse to put foreign substances on my face and call it makeup. All in the name of beauty!
You can pretty much apply this as you would convert black eye shadow into liquid or gel liner.
I wet an angular eyeliner brush with water (you can use saline solution if you fancy/are vision-impaired), dipped it into some charcoal powder, and then swirled it around on the back of my hand to form a thin paste-like consistency.
The best part about this is how truly matte black it is. It swallows light like a black hole and lends to a seriously punk look. Who would’ve thunk it--ACP’s got ‘tude!
I’m all about liquid liner, but I find doing a cat-eye with an angular brush so much smoother than with a pen-like contraption. I love how opaque this comes out without having to cake it on so it doesn’t feel like I’m wearing a ton of eyeliner, even though I kind of am.
It comes off easily with water, so if you want to test-drive this for a long sweaty haul, I’d suggest using a makeup-setting product to overlay it.
Is it safe for eyes? Jury’s out, but this isn’t an uncommon use for activated charcoal powder amongst the DIY crowds. I got a little in my eye when washing my face, but it just collected in the inner corners and I swiped it out gently with my pinky. And what do you know? I’m not blind! That is all I can tell you.
Being that, by nature, this is a non-toxic substance, I wasn’t scared to apply it around my eyes, but then again, I couldn’t find any glaring evidence that it’s harmful as eyeliner, nor did I find any statements that it isn’t. The Internet seems not to care.
Keep in mind that I am NOT referring to the kind of charcoal you BBQ with--that stuff’s been treated with a bunch of carcinogenic chemicals and is highly toxic. Don’t put it on your face or eat it--you will probably die a horrible painful death (I am slightly exaggerating but only for your own good: medicinal activated charcoal powder good, BBQ charcoal bad). Choose your own adventure.
If you don’t do any of these things with it, activated charcoal is great to keep around the house in case you have poisonous snakes, poisonous spiders (but for real, I am TERRIFIED of brown recluse spiders), poisonous arrows being shot at you, really bad gas (what, it happens), or just went too cray at a kegger. You will probably want to seek medical assistance for most of those things I just said, but it will help in a pinch, like, until Kevin Costner can carry you, The Bodyguard-style to the nearest hospital.
I am told that ingesting activated charcoal capsules will turn your “stuff” black, and hey, maybe that’s fun to see for you, too. Isn’t health weird?