The trend, the facts & the products to try
It’s 2017 (practically 2018) and charcoal has gone from being something you used to braai* with or a cure to poisoning to something we now drink, bathe in, brush our teeth with and clean our water with.
It’s not just any type of charcoal; it’s activated charcoal that’s taken over the wellness scene.
Activated charcoal is also known as activated carbon and is made from natural sources like coconut shells, bamboo and oak. It’s made by burning wood or coconut shells at high temperatures to remove all oxygen and activating it with steam-like gases. This process causes the charcoal to develop lots of internal spaces or “pores.” These pores help activated charcoal capture, bind and remove heavy metals, chemicals, gasses and poisons.
It then works through a process called adsorption (not to be confused by absorption). This means that it doesn’t absorb the chemicals but rather binds them to the porous surface of the activated charcoal like a magnet.
The use of activated charcoal for medicinal purposes dates back to the 1800’s; and doctors still use it to treat food, drug and alcohol poising.
In the past year, activated charcoal has become a popular ingredient in both food and beauty products. The biggest problem with consuming foods with activated charcoal is that it doesn’t discriminate between the good nutrients and bad chemicals which means that it can interfere with nutrient absorption and tax your system. It’s something to be used occasionally and not long-term. If you’re on medication, you need to be incredibly careful with consuming activated charcoal as it can inactivate that medication – and this includes birth control. It’s recommended not to consume activated charcoal within 2 hours of taking medicine.
Activated charcoal in beauty products is a lot safer, and its ability to bind impurities and unwanted toxins can lead to your best skin; hair and teeth.
To test the trend and see if these products really work, we collected the best activated charcoal products available locally – from foods, to beauty masks, shampoos and even bubble baths. We then tried each one out to see how it worked, made us look and feel, delving deep into the activated charcoal world to give you The Ultimate Guide to Activated Charcoal Products.
ACTIVATED CHARCOAL IN FOOD AND DRINK
Theonista Activate Charcoal and Lemon Kombucha
The Theonista Activate Charcoal and Lemon Kombucha is made from activated charcoal from coconut shells, freshly pressed lemon juice and the Theonista organic green tea base. It’s more grey in colour than jet black and it’s the only Kombucha they tell you to shake before opening.
Word to the wise, after shaking, let it settle a bit before opening. I was too hasty and ended up having a Kombucha shower. They call it Black magic but it’s incredibly light on the charcoal taste – almost undetectable and more of a light refreshing drink. It tasted like Kombucha does – fermented tea or as Feige described it “fizzy apple juice”.
What I love
Theonista packages their Kombucha in 100% recyclable, non-BPA plastic bottles. Instead of labels, they print directly on the bottle, which reduces paper and glue usage. In fact everything about the way they source ingredients to the way they package their goods is carefully thought out to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
Kombucha lovers. Kombucha is an acquired taste, if you like it you’ll love the range from Theonista.
Theonista Activated Charcoal and Lemon Kombucha retails for R32
Bliss Juicery Detox Shots
These Bliss Juicery Detox shots consist of coconut water, activated charcoal and ginger. They come in a small glass jar that when shaken resembles a bottle of ink.
There’s something a little frightening about downing a dark black drink; so I suggest consuming it as you would a shot. In one gulp, with little thought to fact that what you’re gulping down what appears to be a ink. Taste wise, they are potent but not from the charcoal. The overwhelming taste is that of fresh ginger. The charcoal does however give it a bit of a chalky texture.
What I love
The fresh ginger taste which feels like it’s cleaning my insides.
Post indulgence and times when you’re feeling a bit blah and want to reset your body or diet.
Bliss shots retail for R20
Naturmade Activated Charcoal Charco Tabs
The Naturmade Activated Charcoal Charco Tabs are a pharmaceutical grade activated charcoal tablet. They have the highest activation (per mg) available in South Africa which means you have to use less of them for them to be effective. It also mitigates against possible side effects of activated charcoal usage like constipation.
They’re pending medical registration which means they’ll be the first product on the market here to be registered as medicine. That withstanding, they’re meant to be use for medicinal purposes i.e. When you need them and not every day. They’re used to treat stomach pain caused from excess gas, food intolerances, diarrhoea, bloating and indigestion. As well as poisoning and even hangovers.
They come in two different absorption levels and the dosage is 1-4 pills 3 times daily when needed. They look like tiny charcoal tablets and leave your hands with a bit of a black charcoal dust.
Feige wasn’t feeling well the other night and I gave her one to take. It doesn’t taste like anything – it’s much like taking any other tablet. An hour later she felt better and any bloat feeling was gone. There was a nap involved. She’s convinced it was the nap. I’m convinced it was the charcoal.
Naturmade Charco Tabs retail from R95 – R199
KURO-Bo Activated Charcoal water filter
Not technically a consumable, these KURO-Bo Activated Charcoal Water Filters filter your tap water to give you clean and pure drinking water. They’re made using the Japanese technique of baking hardwood in a kiln at high temperatures until it becomes carbonised. This makes the sticks incredibly porous and helps them adsorb and remove chemicals, toxins and bacteria from water. To activate my stick I boiled it for 10 minutes as per the instructions. This also helps get rid of any loose bits on the stick. As it boiled, the stick started “fizzing” and left the water a light black colour.
My plans on popping it into my glass water bottle stopped at the rim which was too small to accommodate the stick. Instead I popped it into a glass jug and refrigerated it for 6 hours to let it filter. To determine if it actually changes the way the water tastes, I poured two cups of water – one from the tap and one from the jug. As someone who’s never been too fussed with my water, so long as it’s clean, and generally opts for tap over bottled water, I admit that there was a difference in the taste of the water. I can’t put my finger on what it did but it did taste crisper and cleaner and Feige believes it removes the bitterness from water. The water was also sparkling clean – no charcoal residue anywhere.
What I love
Each stick comes with instructions not only on how to use it but how to recycle it once it’s finished. You can use it to keep veggies fresher for longer, remove bad smells from your fridge, in your garden and even in your braai. They also have a chart where you can keep track of your KURO-Bo stick’s lifespan. They need to be reactivated once a month and recycled after three. As someone who can’t remember when she put in a new pair of contacts this is extremely useful.
Everyday use to purify your tap water. If you live in an area where the tap water isn’t best for drinking, this can help solve that problem and save you money on buying bottled water.
KURO-Bo Activated Charcoal water filter retails for R240
ACTIVATED CHARCOAL IN BATH & BODY
Rose en Bos Charcoal and Lavender Foam Bath
This Rose en Bos charcoal and Lavender foam bath is SLS free, made from a special blend of botanical extract and soothing Lavender oil. It also contains activated charcoal which removes the impurities and pollution your skin is exposed to every day, and takes care of excess body odour and oils.
Like all the Rose en Bos products, it’s handcrafted in small batches in their Somerset West workshop.
It’s a lightly foaming bubble bath, but it still filled the bath with bubbles and although the mixture comes out a gel-like black, it gives you regular white bubbles. As someone who doesn’t love Lavender I was relieved that the smell wasn’t overpowering, and I actually like it. I definitely felt cleaner afterwards, whether it noticeably relaxed me is debatable.
What I love
The smell – it was very light and didn’t make me feel like I was bathing in a perfumery. The glass bottle it comes in is simple and pretty and looks great displayed in your bathroom.
Using after a long day for a dose of relaxation with cleaning power.
Rose en Bos charcoal and Lavender foam bath retails for R81
Ros en Bos Activated Charcoal Bar soap
This Rose en Bos activated bar soap is made from a base of coconut oil with activated charcoal to help clear and draw out impurities in your skin. It’s black in colour, incredibly moisturizing and has a nice mild smell. The charcoal gives the bar a bit of a graininess that was more noticeable on one side than the other. This gave the soap an exfoliating feel which was nice.
What I love
I liked the graininess – it wasn’t too harsh but worked well to exfoliate those rough places on your body like knees, elbows and feet. It also felt really gentle and moisturizing.
It’s made for troubled skin and I can see why. The gentleness of the bar won’t irritate sensitive skin and because it contains no chemicals, artificial colourants, fragrances, parabens or hardeners, it won’t cause a reaction.
Rose en Bos Activated Charcoal Soap retails for R39
Suki Suki Naturals Activated Charcoal Hair and Body Bar
Suki Suki Naturals is an Indie, Natural and African Hair care brand. Their products are designed for women of colour in mind and this hair and body bar is best suited for dry and curly hair. As someone who is very white and has hair that’s wavy and more oily than dry, I debated whether it was a product I could accurately review. But CEO and founder Linda Gieskes-Mwamba assured me that it can be used on all hair types and they encourage everyone to try them. And so I did.
The bar is handcrafted and contains activated charcoal to purify and pull toxins from the hair. It has marshmallow root to detangle and soften the hair – this is also what gives the bar an incredibly strong fragrance. Like the other bath soaps I tried, it had a graininess from the charcoal. While I liked this on my body; I didn’t like that roughness on my hair as it kept getting stuck and not going through smoothly. It worked better when I lathered in my hand and then used that to wash my hair; but I wasn’t mad about the way it made my hair feel afterwards. As a body soap I liked it. It has a good lather and works double duty – exfoliating and cleansing.
What I love
The packaging, I’m a sucker for pretty packaging and Suki Suki Naturals packages the bar in a lovely brown box which itself came in a cute brown carboard bag. I like the graininess of the bar when using it as a body soap, as it gently exfoliates.
The ingredients in the bar are meant to treat dandruff and sooth dry, itchy and red scalps. It would also be better for women of colour as it is made for their specific hair needs in mind.
Suki Suki Activated Charcoal Soap retails for R140
Hairy Eye Beard and Body Soap
The hair eye beard and body soap is an all-in-one soap made for men. The soap contains activated charcoal to get your beard squeaky clean and soft, while helping you control blemishes and oil on your body. Being a female who goes to much effort not to be hairy, instead of trying it I handed it to a decidedly hairier individual who also happened to be male for a proper test run. His feedback. “The bar has a really cool rustic feel to it and an interesting shape. The colour doesn’t faze me and I like the smell which wasn’t overly perfumed. It cleaned well leaving my skin feeling really nice and not dry afterwards”
What I love
Peter loved the cool shape of the bar – not your average rectangle soap and the way it felt on his skin and hair. “It’s a cool product”.
Men, the hairier the better.
Hairy Eye Beard and Body soap retails for R69
Kalyan Bamboo Charcoal Soap
The Kalyan Bamboo Charcoal Soap is handcrafted and contains a combination of vegetable oils and tee tree essential oils as well as charcoal. It’s a completely environmentally friendly product and is bio-degradable. It comes in a minimal paper packaging and the tea tree oil gives it a strong Tea Tree smell. It also gives it anti-fungal, anti-septic and anti-viral properties, making it great for troubled skin. Out of all the soap bars, this had the most even distribution of charcoal graininess – it was grainy throughout the whole bar and not only one side like the others. The smell was less strong once lathered and was barely detectable an hour later. It felt good on my skin and did double duty of exfoliating and cleansing
What I love
I love the evenness of the grains of charcoal which made exfoliating easier. It also has the most affordable price point of all the other bars, which makes it a greater starter product.
Sensitive or acne prone skin. Tea Tree Oil is known for being brilliant at keeping your skin clean and clear. If you suffer from bacne or other skin issues, this is a great buy.
Kalyan Bamboo Charcoal Soap retails for R28
Dr Organic Charcoal Body Wash
This charcoal body wash comes from the new Dr Organic Activated Charcoal range which has the biggest range of charcoal products. It combines bioactive extracts such as Aloe Vera Juice and Cucumber Fruit with charcoal to purify the skin and remove environmental pollutants from your skin leaving it completely refreshed. It has an incredibly strong herbal smell I wasn’t crazy about, wich I found throughout the entire Dr Organic range. It’s a jet black colour, which gives you some pause after being so accustomed to using washes that are different shades of white. It’s a bit thinner than your regular body wash and although it’s black and leaves the sponge with a slightly grey tinge it foams white and lathers well. It’s gentle, left my skin feeling good and the strong smell got much fainter once I had washed.
What I love
I loved that it was a simple non fuss cleanser that felt like it was cleaning as opposed to perfuming my body.
Keeping in your gym bag. Gyms are not the cleanest of places and the added charcoal helps remove impurities from your skin (like all that sweaty equipment you’ve been touching). As it’s in a gel form it’s easy to store in a bag and use for gym or travel.
Dr Organic Charcoal Body Wash retails for R189
Dr Organic Shampoo and Conditioner
The Dr Organic Activated Charcoal Shampoo is made to fight against urban pollution and the stress this places on the hair. Along with the activated charcoal it has Aloe Vera Juice, Rosewood Oil and Cinnamon Leaf. It works both on cleaning your hair and scalp. It’s jet black almost paint like and it feels almost wrong to be using something so dark as a cleanser. It’s thinner than my regular shampoo and while it foams, it doesn’t lather as thick as generic brands do; so I ended up using more than I normally would, this is because of the lack of SLS in organic shampoos and is actually better for your hair.
I used this together with the Dr Organic Activated Charcoal Conditioner which has Aloe Vera Juice and Argan Oil in addition to the charcoal. It has a slightly lighter colour than the shampoo but the consistency was the same as the shampoo (I used more than I normally do) and my hair felt immediately moisturized after.
Although I wasn’t a fan of the strong smell, it went away after my hair dried and left my hair feeling incredibly soft, not to mention that it dried really well and looked clean and shiny.
What I love
I like using shampoo and conditioner together and I prefer them to be the same brand and type so you get the full effects. They work great together and left my hair feeling really clean, shiny and it dried naturally with little tangles or frizz
Anyone who lives in an urban area or regularly sweats. It gives your hair a bit of a deeper clean than a regular shampoo and conditioner and is made to remove those pollutants found in city living.
The Dr Organic Activated Charcoal Shampoo and conditioner retail for R189
ACTIVATED CHARCOAL IN BEAUTY
Homespun Apothecary Himalayan & Activated Charcoal Mud Mask
The Homespun charcoal mud mask includes refining Himalayan mud powder and activated charcoal which is suited for oily and combination skin. It’s good for reducing inflammation, soothing and calming skin and removing dirt. It’s a dry powder you mix with either water, honey or yogurt. I mixed with water in the palm of my hand and applied using their vegan bamboo facial brush which is incredibly soft, applies well and I will never apply another face mask without it. It resembles mud and is brown in color with little black charcoal flecks visible. It dries within 15 minutes and you remove with warm water. As I was rinsing I noticed that the charcoal flecks gently exfoliated my skin; which left it feeling super clean.
What I love
I loved that it was easy to mix with water. A lot of powders I’ve previously used end up clumping when you add water. This went into a nice liquid consistency easily. Aside from the brush (which isn’t charcoal but amazing) the exfoliating effect of the charcoal help make it feel like I was really cleaning my face.
Oily to combination skin that is a bit sensitive or prone to inflammation. I’d recommend using it 1-2 times a week.
Homespun Apothecary Himalayan & Activated Charcoal Mud Mask retails for R105
Hey Gorgeous Activated Charcoal Detoxifying Cleanser
This facial cleanser from Hey Gorgeous contains Aloe juice, coconut oil, rosehip seed oil and activated charcoal for a deep but gentle clean. It has little charcoal “beads” which give you a very gentle exfoliation. It’s more of a grey colour with almost a moisturizer consistency and felt incredibly gentle on my skin. It left my skin feeling clean without feeling dry or tight. It has a nice and fresh smell – between a citrus and green smoothie.
What I love
I love the smell; it’s nice and fresh and I liked the gentleness of it. It’s the type of face wash you can use daily without irritating your skin.
It’s great for sensitive skin as it’s gentle. It’s also made to help with conditions like eczema, acne and rosacea as well as helping to control excess oiliness. It would make a great everyday cleanser. It also comes in a nice big bottle (250ml) so it won’t finish fast.
Hey Gorgeous Activated Charcoal Detoxifying Cleanser retails for R195
Hey Gorgeous Activated Charcoal Facial Scrub
The Hey Gorgeous Sugar Scrub is made with detoxifying activated charcoal and kaolin clay for a really deep cleanse. The charcoal and clay draw out impurities and dirt, while the botanical oils work to tone, soothe and hydrate for a radiant complexion.
It has that same nice and fresh smell that the cleanser has and is a thick sugary consistency which goes on easy. The grains are quite big and I found it a bit harsh on my skin. It’s something I would use occasionally and not daily, as I felt it would be too much for my skin. It left me feeling clean and scrubbed and doesn’t dry out your skin – thanks to the coconut powder which helps moisturize. It’s something I would even use it to exfoliate my body.
What I love
The smell is nice and fresh, and it really leaves you feeling very refreshed. Great for times you want a deeper cleanse.
A deep cleanse weekly or bi-weekly.
Hey Gorgeous Activated Charcoal Facial Scrub retails for R145
Skin Republic Bubble Purifying and Charcoal Face Mask Sheet
This special facial mask from Skin Republic is oxygenating to help cleanse your pores and starts to bubble when exposed to air. It has fruit acids to help brighten your skin and the sheet is made from activated charcoal. It’s easy enough to use, you rub the pack to activate bubbles and remove the face sheet. It’s a one size fits all with holes for your eyes, mouth and nose and starts to bubble immediately. I have a long and narrow face and found the mask a bit big for me. As it bubbled it got heavier and started slipping, and so I found myself adjusting it – next time I’d do it lying down. You keep it on for 10-15 minutes and then remove the mask, massage the bubble residue into your face and rinse off. I lasted just over 10 minutes and although I was told I look a fright in it (it’s super freaky looking) my skin felt so good afterwards. It was a bit tight, but nothing a little serum couldn’t fix.
What I love
It’s a really cool face mask. I loved the bubbles which feel really nice and gentle when you rub it into your skin. It also left my skin glowing.
A monthly pampering session or just before a big event
Skin Republic Bubble Purifying and Charcoal Face Mask Sheet retails for R49
Get it here
Skin Republic Charcoal Peel Off Face Mask
This Skin Republic charcoal mask is a peel off mask that removes blackheads and dirt from your skin’s pores. It comes in a resealable sachet that gives you 3 applications. The application was simple, just a matter of spreading the solution over my face and waiting 20-30 minutes for it to dry. It peels off easily. The smell was really nice, which was a huge change from the last peel off mask I tried. It can also be used on your neck, hands and décolletage.
What I love
The smell. Having something that you need to keep on your face for up to 30 minutes smell pleasant makes a huge difference. I also loved that it comes in a resealable sachet which means you don’t waste anything and can choose how much you apply on each application.
A bi-monthly facial detox.
The Skin Republic Charcoal Peel Off Face Mask retails for R60
Dr Organic Activated Purifying Charcoal Facial Wash
This Facial wash from Dr organic has Activated Charcoal to help absorb and remove impurities and toxins from the skin. The deep cleansing process is enhanced by the addition of Aloe Vera Juice and rejuvenating bioactive extracts such as Cucumber, Orange and Cinnamon Leaf. It’s black in colour and has the same strong smell the other Dr Organic products have. It’s more of a cream consistency; but I’m used to that and quite like it. It’s gentle enough to use every day and leaves your skin feeling fresh.
What I love
I love the creamy texture – it makes it feel more gentle and moisturizing
Everyday use, especially if you live in an urban area as its formulated to remove pollutants from your skin.
Dr Organic Activated Charcoal Facial Wash retails for R199
Dr Organic Activated Charcoal Face Scrub
This Facial scrub from Dr organic combines natural ingredients that work by eliminating the presence of dirt, oil and impurities from the skin. It also acts as a gentle exfoliator for a deeper clean. Like a lot of the products, washing my face with something black in colour was counter-intuitive at first but that passed quickly. It didn’t have a strong scent and the beads were small enough for a gentle exfoliation leaving my skin feeling really clean.
What I love
The feel of the scrub. It’s not harsh at all; but still feels like you’re getting in a deeper scrub than just a wash.
Nightly use. I prefer using scrubs at night as I find the exfoliation helps remove any makeup.
Dr Organic Activated Charcoal Facial scrub retails for R189
Dr Organic Activated Charcoal Face Mask
This Facial scrub from Dr organic works to remove oil and impurities from your skin; which is especially useful to combat the effects of pollution on your skin. It’s a dark grey colour and has a milder smell than the other Dr Organic products. It’s creamy and goes on easy. I used a thin layer and waited 2 minutes before washing it off. It’s a nice mask to do when you don’t have time to sit around for 15 minutes and leaves your skin feeling soft and clean.
What I love
It’s a quick and easy face mask, making it easier to use daily without having to dedicate a lot of time to it. I also love that it doesn’t leave your skin dry.
Nightly use, it’s a nice way to end your day especially during the week when you don’t have time to spend pampering. Apply it, brush your teeth and wash it off.
Dr Organic Activated Charcoal Facial mask retails for R189
ACTIVATED CHARCOAL IN ORAL HEALTH CARE
Olgani Detoxifying Charcoal Toothpaste
This Olgani Detoxifying Charcoal Toothpaste is a completely natural toothpaste made out of bentonite clay, sea salt, coconut shell, coconut oil and mint oils for freshness. I got the limited edition box which comes with a really nice wooden toothbrush with black bristles! The toothpaste squeezes out like a true black paste – it’s more paste, less gel-like than typical toothpaste. While it has a slight mint smell, you can’t really taste it. It doesn’t foam and turns your entire mouth black. It has an interesting taste and texture, almost salty and is definitely one of the harder products to adapt to. Once you’ve rinsed your mouth your teeth look clean and white and your mouth feels like you just got it professionally cleaned.
What I love
The way my mouth feels after. I don’t love the taste or texture of it; but it leaves your mouth and teeth feeling so much cleaner than regular toothpaste.
Olgani Detoxifying Charcoal Toothpaste retails for R110
Get it here
Pure Smile Activated Coconut Charcoal Powder
This activated coconut charcoal powder from Pure Smile is a whitening treatment. It’s made from organic coconut charcoal which has whitening properties and is a gentler way to get your teeth whiter. It not only helps removes stains; it also helps with bad breath and is gentle on your gums and teeth. The little tub lasts 2-3 months and although it comes with instructions I found them slightly confusing. You can either use it alone or along with toothpaste. I choose the latter. I wet my toothbrush, dipped it into the power topped with a squeeze of toothpaste and started brushing. It turns your mouth black but because I had the mint toothpaste, it didn’t taste weird. After a thorough rinse my teeth looked whiter, but that could have been because they were just covered in black powder. I’d have to use it regularly to note a real difference.
What I love
You can use it along with your toothpaste which makes it taste nicer and it’s very gentle on your gums, unlike traditional teeth bleachers.
A natural solution to whiter teeth especially if you have sensitive teeth or gums.
Pure Smile Activated Coconut Charcoal Powder retails for R390
Dr Organic Extra Whitening Charcoal Toothpaste
This new charcoal toothpaste from Dr Organic is formulated to not only cleanse and whiten your teeth but also to help prevent cavities. It has organic and natural extracts such as Icelandic Moss and Peppermint Oil which leave your mouth feeling really fresh. It’s the same consistency as a regular gel toothpaste, just black in colour and foams white just like a normal one does. It also has a very toothpaste mint flavour so aside from squeezing out black paste, it felt and tasted no different than any other toothpaste which I really liked and it made it easier to use.
What I love
It tastes and feels like regular toothpaste which makes it easy to use. It also leaves your mouth with that nice post-brush minty feel.
Everyday use, especially if you want to whiten your teeth naturally and gently.
Dr Organic Extra Whitening Charcoal Toothpaste retails for R159
Photography and styling by Feige Lewin.
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*The charcoal used for braaing is not safe for consumption and not the same as activated charcoal.