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Use of activated charcoal in cosmetics formulas gains momentum

Capable of absorbing a large quantity of impurities, this ingredient is used in teeth whitening and to control skin oiliness.

It is impossible to talk about charcoal without thinking about the charcoal used to fire up the grill on weekends. But not all charcoal is created equal nor is it destined to be used to keep the fire burning in a grill. Just like the charcoal used in grilling, activated charcoal is of vegetable origin. But the former is produced through the burning of hard wood, whereas the latter originates from cork or wood fragments.

Rana Saleh, dentist at Swiss company Megasmile

Rana Saleh, dentist at Swiss company Megasmile

The main difference is the porosity and particle size,” says Ana Carolina Cunha, research and development coordinator at Skinlab, a company dedicated to the outsourced production of cosmetics. Activated charcoal’s structure resembles that of a sponge, even when it has been ground into powder. “Because it is so porous, it has high absorption properties, making it ideal for use in the formulas of products that tackle oiliness or the removal of impurities. It also acts as a natural colorant.

In the skin care industry, this ingredient is already found in the formula of different types of cosmetics. “Activated charcoal promotes deeper skin cleansing, eliminating impurities that accumulate during the day and resulting in smaller pores,” says Fabiana Kim, marketing analyst at Kiss New York. Through its makeup and facial care brand - RK by Kiss - the company launched the new “Charcoal Detox” line in 2018, consisting of facial masks, exfoliants, makeup wipes and cleansing foams. “Brazilian consumers have gotten in on the activated charcoal trend and our products are big sellers,” she said.

Kim says that, since Brazilians generally have skin types ranging from mixed to oily, there is a lot of room for growth with the use of activated charcoal in the country’s beauty industry. In addition to the products from the RK by Kiss line, there are many other products, such as soaps, moisturizers, shampoos, micellar water and even sponges that use activated charcoal available in the domestic market. “It is totally possible and highly likely that this ingredient will be used in even more types of cosmetics”, she says.

Another sector where activated charcoal is making big waves is oral care. “It is the new teeth whitening darling, because its porous structure is capable of binding different substances, making it possible to remove even the hardest stains, such as those caused by coffee, nicotine and tea, without using any chemical additives,” says Rana Saleh, a dentist at Swiss company Megasmile. “This ingredient also has other features that help eliminate plaque and fight halitosis,” she explains.

Megasmile is known for its innovative toothbrush designs, which were developed in partnership with two Swiss universities and have bristles containing activated charcoal particles. “A large number of people use toothbrushes several times a day without giving them much thought. And it is this extremely mundane object that challenges us to develop an effective interaction between shapes, colors and texture,” says Saleh.

The Swiss manufacturer’s portfolio includes two toothbrushes with charcoal bristles, one of which uses sonic technology and claims to deliver white and polished teeth after just two weeks of use. According to Abdouni, activated charcoal can also be used in the formulas of toothpaste and tooth foam.

The growing trend of sustainable cosmetics with fewer chemical components is also likely to boost the use of activated charcoal in the personal care industry. “The demand for natural active ingredients just keeps on growing. We still do not have any concrete data, but all it takes is one look at store shelves to see a growing number of brands launching products that have activated charcoal in their formulas. Brazilians love trying out new products,” says Cunha.

Renata Martins

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