PHOTOGRAPHERImage by Eda Onay for COOLS

Barbeque season is here! Bags of charcoal have suddenly cropped up at every grocery store, and while I am channeling my inner Girl-Scout-singing-chimney-sweeper, I am wondering how these lumps have worked their way into a global beauty fad. Never one to pass up a beauty trend, I decided to test the waters with some charcoal-based products and do a little research, as my knowledge of charcoal uses has been limited to alcohol poisoning stomach pumping and cooking on the barbie, neither of which seem promotive of a wellness trend.

A Quick Chemistry Lesson in Activated Charcoal

First thing’s first, charcoal as a wellness product is actually “activated charcoal” and is not the same as a bag of Kingsford. Most activated charcoal is made of coconut shells (who knew?) and is intensely processed without oxygen to make it extremely porous. This is the activation stage and differentiator from charcoal as we know it. Once activated, there are millions of tiny pores that are highly adsorbant (note: not absorbent) which are negatively charged, and as these negative nancies gravitate towards positively charged toxins, they bind, and suck up all the bad bacteria and gases to naturally expunge without impacting the delicate gut ecosystem. Fun fact for trivia night: Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have been using charcoal since 1550 BC.

Using activated charcoal for beauty is known to safely and naturally clear up skin, remove dirt, impurities and oils and other toxins. It is natural, and so laden with “detox benefits” that it’s surely Gwyneth approved, but does it actually work?

For the Face: BLAQ Hydrogel Eye Mask

Opening the Blaq undereye masks, I immediately likened them to leeches. A touch of thickness, sitting in some liquid and a little wobbly, I slapped these suckers on after a particularly haggard morning, carefully peeled them off, waited 20 minutes, plucked them off, headed into work, and waited for oohs and ahhs of the magic depuffing and detoxing. Ha! I didn’t think it had done much until I made a late afternoon comment on how tired I was was countered with surprise by a colleague. So maybe they do work? I couldn’t see much of a difference myself, but perhaps one session is too quick to judge. Blaq recommends using these twice a week to retain some bright-eyed-and-bushy-tail peepersor giving up wine and becoming Sleeping Beauty. Your pick.

For the Body: Meow Meow Tweet Tea Tree Charcoal Soap

Let’s be honest, who would really know if the surface of your skin is detoxified? I’d imagine this would be best served for someone with body acne, over a long duration. Regardless of the behind-the-scenes detoxification efforts, the ground oats gently exfoliate, which everyone can use in their lives. And hot damn, the soap smells divine!! It is made of charcoal, cocoa butter, tea tree and eucalyptus oils, enveloping a lovely woodsy scent that is rounded out with the cocoa butter, perfect for a his & hers shared soap. Or if you err on the tomboyish side like me, get it for yourselfjust don’t expect a huge change.

For the Gut: Morgenstern’s Black Coconut Ash

Saving the best for last, and I know, I know, of course I went for the ice cream. But hear me out; I had this delicious cone because, hello instagram, and I was curious as to whether or not you can taste the activated charcoal. While the ice cream was impressively messy, activated charcoal has no scent or distinct flavor, and this tasted just of pure, creamy coconut. I’m ashamed that this was essentially my lunch as it was a particularly busy day, and I went straight from work to a city hall wedding party, thereby dousing my detox lunch in a swimming pool of white wine accompanied by some stale sushi. Amazingly, I woke up UNSCATHED from the night’s celebrations. I had read that you need to ramp up your water intake with charcoal, since it can be dehydrating and cause some gurgly stomach issues, but what I hadn’t read was that I was going to be dropping charcoal kids off at the pool. The New York Department of Health has since shut down on any black edibles, citing the FDA so you’ll have to hit the black market for activated charcoal ice cream or stick to supplements.  

Wellness is a Double-Edged Sword

Charcoal is an all-natural, safe, and gentle detoxification tool. But with most detox products, the results are subtle and not one-and-done deals. Consistency, along with cleaning up habits, will pay off much more in the long run. Overall, I do think that charcoal is an added benefit to bring into anyones beauty routine, just don’t expect spectacular results right off the bat.

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