Charcoal is the result of burning carbon-based materials, which makes sense if you've ever come in contact with the chalky, sooty substance. Not to get too technical, but activated charcoal works by using dispersion forces, which is a type of intermolecular force. Dispersion forces are sticky forces that act between all substances microscopically. They form due to temporary dipoles formed from the movement of electrons.
Because activated charcoal has a large surface area, it has a lot of space to form dispersion forces with other substances. It's this sticky characteristic that makes activated charcoal effective at removing substances when it comes in contact with them and why it's earned a reputation for being such a good detoxifier.
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Adsorbent
MAIN BENEFIT: Removes toxins
WHO SHOULD USE IT: Theoretically, charcoal can remove excess oil, so those with oily skin would benefit the most from trying a charcoal-based skincare product.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Because there are no proven benefits when used in skincare, Wong says there is no information on how often charcoal should be used on the skin. However, Levin adds that charcoal is inert and does not cause allergic reactions or irritation.
WORKS WELL WITH: Clays, which can absorb oil from the skin.
DON'T USE WITH: Because charcoal adsorbs (binds to) other substances to remove them, it's a good idea to avoid using actives with the ingredient but adds that they can be used after the charcoal has been rinsed off.