Superfood masks are one of the most popular beauty-wellness crossovers. Charcoal masks are one of the most effective complexion fixers, especially when seeing a professional for extractions isn't feasible. When used correctly, a charcoal mask can be a veritable vacuum for clogged pores, melt away whiteheads, and soak up excess oil that makes existing blemishes more pronounced. Even better, you can formulate a DIY charcoal mask that's just as resultant as those on the market. Ahead, a dermatologist and a celebrity esthetician advise on using charcoal masks for your complexion, plus provide formulas for DIY peel off and bubble charcoal masks for every skin type.
Charcoal masks are nothing new, says board certified cosmetic dermatologist, Michele Green, MD. In fact, she says, "Activated charcoal, the active ingredient in these masks, is the same charcoal used in emergency rooms to treat overdose." But they are an inexpensive and scientifically backed course of treatment when it comes to your DIY mask game.
When applied topically to skin, charcoal works similarly by "pulling all the surface bacteria, toxins, chemicals, dirt, oil, and other micro-particles from the pores to the top layer of the skin," she says, preventing them from entering the bloodstream. "Activated charcoal is very absorbent," Green adds. "It is like a micro-sponge absorbing all the pollutants and toxins. These substances are removed from the skin when you rinse the charcoal off your face."
Do take note: the very thing that makes charcoal masks effective at unclogging pores and sloughing away bacteria can harm skin depending on your skin type if you don't take precautions. Charcoal masks "are so absorbent," explains Green, "that they remove all the natural oils that sit on the surface of your skin." (They can also take off facial hair.) Green explains that when peeling off the mask, you can damage the stratum corneum (outermost layer of the epidermis) causing "irritation and also infection." One workaround is to prevent the mask from completely drying and washing it off instead of peeling.
Here’s What You’ll Need
Create a base formula using equal parts dry clay and activated charcoal powder. Always combine your dry ingredients first, then gently fold in wet ones.
- 1 tablespoon Aztec bentonite clay powder
- 1 tablespoon organic activated charcoal
- 2 teaspoons water (you can add more for desired consistency)
- Add-ins according to skin type
- Mihakka tool for mask removal
Celebrity esthetician and founder of Kát Rudu Beauty, Kát Rudu, known for her gentle treatments that leave you looking virtually poreless, shares recommendations for DIY charcoal mask add-ins below. Note that when working with essential oils, it's important to take precautions especially since this recipe does not call for a carrier oil to dilute them. Don't assume that more is better—according to Rudu, "Two drops of each essential oil in the recipe below is sufficient."
Use a mihakka, a handmade terra cotta beauty tool designed for exfoliation to remove your charcoal mask before it fully dries, which can help prevent skin irritation. Although they look squishy, these Moroccan exfoliating devices are actually firm to the touch. Be sure to clean thoroughly after each use.
Acneic Skin Add-In
A tablespoon of probiotic Greek yogurt or two drops of tea tree oil are Rudu's go-to DIY add-ins for acneic skin.
Oily Skin Add-In
Rudu suggests incorporating a few drops of alcohol-free witch hazel into the formula to balance oily skin. For a calming effect, add two drops essential lavender or rose oil.
Dry Skin Add-In
For dry skin, Rudu suggests adding a nickel-size amount of Vaseline or a few drops of grape seed oil.
Opt for a charcoal bubble mask instead of a peel-off mask," says Green. "You will reap the benefits of the charcoal without irritating your skin."
Combination Skin Add-In
According to Rudu, two drops of pure azulene oil works wonders when it comes to add-ins for combination skin. She also likes to add a few drops of chamomile tea to reduce redness and provide a natural glow.
Azulene is a natural botanical oil derived from the steam distillation of chamomile, yarrow, or blue tansy flowers. It soothes, moisturizes, and reduces redness and inflammation.
Green suggests people with combination skin apply the mask to their T-zone only.
Balanced Skin Add-In
Rudu favors pure lavender essential oil plus rose water and aloe for those with balanced skin. Add two drops of each oil to your formula.
These masks work best for single use, so mix and apply for best results. Leave on for five to 20 minutes. Any mask formulated with clay does not need to dry on your skin to effectively pull toxins. In fact, misting your face with water while you mask helps keep the minerals in the clay active for best results.
Bubble Charcoal Mask Formula
To make a carbonated charcoal or bubble mask, add in food grade baking soda and food grade citric acid in a 2:1 ratio. This formula creates a natural fizz. Don't expect the same type of bubbles from a store bought mask, as those use carbonic acid.
Be sure to apply to your face as soon as you mix in your carbonated add-ins for full effects. Wash off with warm water after five minutes. Do note that citric acid is a powerful exfoliant, so those with sensitive or reactive skin should use with caution and patch test before applying to the face.
You can also use the above add-ins to customize a charcoal mask already in your vanity.
Sanchez N, Fayne R, Burroway B. Charcoal: An ancient material with a new face. Clin Dermatol. 2020 Mar-Apr;38(2):262-264. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2019.07.025.