Activated Charcoal + Botanicals: A Stellar Combo for Healthy Skin, Scalp & Hair

Not long ago, the word "coal" was more likely to make you think of summer cookouts or Santa's naughty list than a hero beauty ingredient list.  Yet now, it is part of an ingredient led product narrative about purification with an appeal so wide reaching it has extended far beyond shampoo and skincare, to toothpaste, funky detox juices, and even lattes.  

Is it really worth all the hype?   Or is it mostly linked to the intrigue of the weirdness factor? (Whoever has tried black lemonade or a charcoal/gothic latte must know what I mean). 

For beauty products the answer is YES, if combined with the right ingredients activated charcoal can meet specific skin and scalp needs BEAUTIFULLY.   And when I noticed I had accumulated more than 3 charcoal + botanical beauty products on my bathroom counter, I realized a theme was born-  so here is the 411 on some of the fabulous products I have been using: 

Little Barn Apothecary Charcoal + Aloe Vera Facial Cleanser

I actually had mixed feelings the first time I pumped this black gel onto my hand. I was excited to try it, but at the same time it seemed a little gross… not only was it black, but the texture was slimy (high content of Aloe Vera), and since there are no chemical sulfates the foaming factor was light.  Later I realized the trick was to rub it between wet hands for a few seconds for a surprising transformation to a white foam.   

The charcoal has a brightening effect and the Aloe Vera is hydrating, so the result is healthy balanced skin without the dryness you get from mainstream products filled with sulfates  (check out the ingredients in your favorite cleansers you'll be surprised at what you see).

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For the natural cosmetics purists, it is a fabulous product- literally under 10 ingredients with no chemicals to interpret or check on, and the naturals are certified organic:  Aloe Vera Juice, Water, Coconut Oil (As sodium coconate), Olive Oil (Sodium Olivate), Saponified Hemp Seed Oil, Activated Charcoal, Guar Gum, Cajeput Oil, Basil Oil.  

Available at Anthropologie, Dillards, Ulta for $25 2 oz.

If you are not a purist, and therefore ok with a compromise of some benign chemicals + botanicals Boscia’s Charcoal MakeUp Melter Cleansing Oil-Balm could be a better choice for a deeper clean through multiple layers of product (those days when you go for the works: suncreeen, primer, foundation, highlighter).  I actually haven't tried it yet, and the reason I noticed it is more important than the product itself.

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 It has the  “Clean at Sephora” label !    What is this? Basically a genius marketing strategy to make it easier for OCD beauty ingredient freaks to sift through the clutter.  Anything with this sign/label certifies that Sephora has checked off the brand as free from a select list of chemicals:  SLS and SLES sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, mineral oil, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, Triclosan, Triclocarban.  For more information-  Allure has just written a great article: Sephora Is Launching a Clean Beauty Category That's Free of Certain Unwanted Ingredients

Even better, Boscia products are also void of additional nuisances such as:  Preservatives ▪  Ethanol Alcohol ▪ Bactericides ▪ Synthetic Fragrances ▪ Synthetic Colorants ▪  Animal Ingredients.   Product promise is based on a combination of cutting-edge Japanese technology and clinically-proven active botanicals.  Sounds great to me, so more to come soon...

Now onto 2 VERY UNIQUE charcoal based exfoliants you need to know about. 

Dermalogica- Daily Superfoliant  is my favorite exfoliant ever.  I have never really liked exfoliants, until I tried this one.    Unlike skin scratching sandpaper-esque exfoliates, this black powder foams upon contact with water and turns into a creamy smooth delight. 

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It also special for its multiple functions- it purifies the skin of daily environmental aggressors,  and acts as a resurfacing agent to prevent fine lines and wrinkles. The charcoal removes the impurities, Red Algae and Tara Fruit Extract help protect skin from further environmental damage, and alpha hydroxy acids smooth the skin. Tip- although the packaging says “daily” 3 x per week is enough for normal to oily skin. For problem areas of serious excess oil (upper back) I use every other day.  It is pricey, but a small travel size format has lasted me for 6 months. 

The ingredient list seems a little scary, but half of the ingredients are botanicals and definitely free of common irritants and ingredients that could cause breakouts (including lanolin, SD alcohol, mineral oil, artificial colors and fragrances). Also vegan and cruelty free. 

Microcrystalline Cellulose, Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Myristoyl Glutamate,Malic Acid, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Charcoal Powder, Vinyl Dimethicone/Methicone Silsesquioxane Crosspolymer, Maltodextrin, Silica, Magnesium Oxide, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Extract, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Sapindus Trifoliatus Fruit Extract, Niacinamide, Bitter Orange Peel Oil, Ginger Root Extract, Lavender) Oil, Lavandula Hybrida Oil, Camellia Sinensis Leaf, Kappaphycus Alvarezii Extract, Caesalpinia Spinosa Fruit Pod Extract, Lemon Peel Oil, Rosemary Leaf Oil, Sage Oil, Subtilisin, Lipase, Papain, Lactic Acid, Rice Starch, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Xanthan Gum, Water, Coconut Acid, Calcium Lactate, Capryloyl Glycine, Undecylenoyl Glycine, Cetrimonium Chloride, Limonene, Linalool.

$59 2 oz; available at Blue Mercury, Nordstrom, and specialty retail shops selling quality brands.

Briogeo-Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut oil micro-exfoliating shampoo

The name of this product is already an indication of its uniqueness. Who has tried a micro- exfoliating shampoo? And are you aware of how important a healthy scalp is to having healthy beautiful hair? 

Most people don’t really think about treating their scalp the same way they do their skin, but it is critical for healthier and fuller hair!  If the pores on your scalp are clogged, then so are your hair follicles- resulting in increased hair loss and slower regeneration.

In my case I really can’t go without it. I’m a frequent user of dry shampoo at the roots and although I don't use chemical dry shampoos, a regular shampoo doesn’t remove the resulting buildup.   The best thing about this exfoliating shampoo is that it creates volume at the roots.  If your hair is on the thin side, then you know this is the reason we even use dry shampoo- to create volume at the roots (not because we are too lazy to wash our hair).

And as an added bonus on the wash days- in addition to having glorious strands lifted at the root, I also have the unique sensation of actually touching my scalp as I run my fingertips through my hair.

See below how it works:

Binchotan Charcoal: Detoxifies the scalp and draws out impurities that clog the hair follicle or that cause buildup on the scalp.
-Peppermint, Spearmint, and Tea Tree Oil Complex: Provides a cooling effect to the scalp and reduce itchiness, irritation, and flakiness.
-Witch Hazel: Normalizes oil production to prevent oily scalp.
-Biotin: Provides essential nutrients to the hair follicle that support healthy hair growth.

Briogeo is also a "Clean at Sephora" brand, and in addition has no silicones or DEA. Their products are 93-100% naturally derived, and the small amount of non-natural ingredients used are solely for ensuring maximum product efficacy and scrubbed against supplier safety databases to ensure non-toxicity.  Tthe ingredient list is pretty short vs mainstream shampoos, with botanicals at the beginning of the list vs the end.

Witch Hazel Water, Glycerin, Polysorbate 80, Biotin, Panthenol, Tea Tree Leaf Oil, Charcoal Powder, Peppermint Oil, Ginger Root Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Menthyl Lactate*, Saccharide Isomerate*, Sodium Hyaluronate*, Tocopheryl Acetate*, Hydroxyethylcellulose*, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate*, Polyquaternium-10, Aminomethyl Propanol, Citric Acid*, Sodium Citrate*. *Coconut, vegetable, plant, or sugar derived.

I do have to warn you this product is very different from mainstream shampoo and could take some getting used to: 

1.       It comes in a jar, not a bottle- you scoop it out with your fingers

2.       Texture is grittyish and pasty like a hair mask, color is grey

3.       Smells like a peppermint patty- mint chocolatey, delicious but not your typical fresh smelling shampoo.

4.       Little lather (partially due to no chemical sulfates, but the coconut derived sulfates clean just as well!)

5.       At $42 for 8oz it is pricey- If you have long hair I recommend only using for your scalp and roots and complementing with a different shampoo for the rest of your hair)


I hope those descriptions didn't kill it for you, but if you can get over the expectations built on the chemical ridden shampoos we are used to and just evaluate how it leaves your hair and scalp, you will find it uniquely qualitative and that it fulfills its promise and more.

Since I touched the subject of dry shampoo- if you are into it, there is one within the same product line: Briogeo-Scalp Revival Charcoal + Biotin Dry Shampoo.  It is rather unique, in that it helps to normalize oil production to prevent an oily scalp (Witch Hazel) making it a solution oriented product for those who seek out dry shampoo as a solution to oily roots.  It also has Biotin, which is well-known to improve the strength of the hair follicle and to support healthy hair growth. And of course- activated charcoal.

Sold at Sephora, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie

If you found this article helpful you may want to check out some of my other related theme articles: 

Balance Your Skin and Your Mood with these 3 Botanical Micro Brand Toners

Obscurities of the Natural, Pure & Pretty Ingredient Led Narratives, and “Rosewater”

Top 2017 Rosewater Shampoo Launches 

The Top 5 Prestige Dry Shampoos by Brand Positioning Including Eco-Luxe