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Charcoal Face Masks: Are they safe for your skin?

The latest craze in skin care is the use of black masks with activated charcoal. These topical face products are exfoliative agents that address skin pore appearance, oiliness, and acne blemishes.

Boscia makes a popular product (Luminizing Black Mask). Boscia’s product is applied to the face and is peeled off after 30 minutes or once completely dried. Its primary ingredients include:

  1. Activated charcoal powder: a detoxificant and exfoliant that extracts excess oil from the skin and successfully treats blackheads the skin. This reduces pore size temporarily by removing the contents.

  2. Clay (Calcium Montmorillonite): the drying agent that leads to the hardening of the mask and extraction of oil from the skin and pores. This may cause discomfort when the dried mask is being pulled from the skin and may dehydrate the skin.

  3. Stabilized vitamin C ( as ascorbyl Glucoside): While it is true that Vitamin C is a skin brightner and an antioxidant that can help minimize and prevent fine lines and wrinkles, it is probably not as helpful here as the exfoliation properties since likely little of it is absorbed into the skin as the mask hardens and is only used once a week.


Does it work?

Charcoal has long been used for its detoxifying properties. It is an antidote given orally to extract toxins from the body in overdose emergency cases. Charcoal is also used in filtration systems to remove pollutants from water or other sources. Applied topically it is able to extract “impurities” such as oils, sebum, and dead skin from the skin surface and pores. However, it extracts essential skin oils and moisture needed for good skin health, too.

Is it safe?

Excessive use of charcoal products may lead to pain, skin irritation, superficial burns, dryness, skin discoloration due to dehydration and may cause skin to look more aged so do not overuse this product. Not all may be able to wait 30 minutes before removing the mask due to skin sensitivity and discomfort while removing a fully dry mask. As the Boscia instructions state, use these products no more than once or twice a week and that should combat adverse side effects. Always apply a moisturizer immediately after use of the mask since it does significantly strip the skin of moisture and oils.

Be weary of its claims to treat fine lines and wrinkles. This can occur with regular use of topical vitamin C or continuous retinoid use but there is no evidence for these benefits with the periodic use of a charcoal-based product.

My recommendations

As a SkinVestment, Boscia’s Luminizing Black Mask is fine to use periodically as an exfoliant. It can be purchased at beauty stores and online for about $34 a tube. If you are using a retinoid topical agent regularly at night, it may be too irritating to the face and may even result in a superficial skin burn and discoloration. Consider holding the retinoid agent for several days before using the mask if you find you need a deeper exfoliation session with the black mask.