The Best Charcoal Cleansers

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Charcoal has becoming something of a hyped-up ingredient in recent years, and these days, it’s commonly found in cleansers and scrubs. Why? According to dermatologist Dr. Christine Choi Kim, who spoke to Elite Daily for this article, charcoal is used in skin care products based on the premise that charcoal binds to and removes unwanted oil, bacteria, and pollution from the surface of skin. The best charcoal cleanser for you will depend on your skin type and formula preference (i.e., a gel, a scrub, or even a solid stick), and you’ll find six great options to choose from ahead. But first, a few more insights from Dr. Kim on incorporating a charcoal face wash into your routine.

“Because charcoal can theoretically remove excess oil, those with oily skin would benefit the most from a charcoal cleanser,” says Dr. Kim. And though charcoal itself is inert and not allergenic, and is therefore typically well-tolerated by most skin types, it’s often combined with other ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and AHAs, which are more beneficial for oily and acne-prone skin. In other words, be cautious if you’ve got dry, sensitive skin, and if you’re in doubt about whether a charcoal cleanser is right for you, Dr. Kim suggests applying “a small amount to your inner forearm or the side of your neck” and then rinsing it off. “If you do not have any stinging, peeling, redness, or irritation, then try using [your charcoal facial cleanser] once or twice a week. If you have combination, oily, or acne- and blemish- prone skin, you may be able to use a charcoal cleanser more often,” she says.

To find the best charcoal cleanser for your skin, scroll on.

1. Doctor’s Pick: The Best Charcoal Cleanser With Salicylic Acid

For people with congested skin, Dr. Kim likes the affordable Yes To Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Facial Cleanser. “[It] combines charcoal with antioxidant-rich tomato extract and 1.0% salicylic acid for acne-prone skin,” she says. She also likes that the sulfate-free formula is vegan, cruelty-free, and made with 97% naturally derived ingredients. And for just just $10, you get a big 5-ounce bottle, so it’s a great value.

2. The Best Charcoal Cleanser With A Warming Sensation

boscia’s Detoxifying Black Charcoal Cleanser produces a warming sensation when it’s applied to your skin, and it’s made with brightening vitamin C and exfoliating glycolic acid to promote a smoother, clearer complexion. The gel formula is balanced out by moisturizing jojoba extract and glycerin so as not to leave your skin feeling stripped, and it’s sulfate-free, vegan, and cruelty-free as well. Charcoal powder rounds out the ingredients list for its deep-cleaning, oil-absorbing benefits.

3. The Best Charcoal Bar Soap

Designed for use on the face and body, this bar soap from Herbivore Botanicals is made with bamboo charcoal and tea tree oil to help keep oily skin balanced and clean. It’s also rich in coconut oil, olive oil, and vitamin E for nourishment, while kaolin clay provides even more purifying benefits. Because the formula is so simple — it doesn’t contain any sulfates, preservatives, or synthetic fragrance, or anything else really (aside from some bergamot essential oil and sustainable palm oil) — this should be a safe choice for skin that leans towards the sensitive side.

4. The Best Korean Charcoal Cleanser

If you, like so many others, swear by the magic of Korean beauty products, this affordable cleanser from one of Korea’s most popular brands, MEDIHEAL, is a great charcoal cleanser for oily, congested skin. Key ingredients include charcoal for absorbing oil; zinc for soothing; glycerin for moisture; and urea to promote smoother skin. It’s a satisfying, cream-to-foam formula that will leave your skin shine-free and squeaky clean, but note that it wouldn’t be the best choice for sensitive skin due to ingredients like fragrance and retinyl palmitate.

5. The Best For Travel

A great choice for travel and keeping in your gym bag for post-workout cleansing, this solid face wash from Oars + Alps poses no risk of spilling in your bag or getting confiscated by the TSA. Swipe the stick onto damp skin, rub it in with your fingers, and rinse — done! This works to absorb surface oil using silica and charcoal powder, but the sulfate- and alcohol-free formula won’t dry out your skin.

6. The Best Charcoal Face Scrub

If you prefer a face scrub, make sure to choose a gentle one, like this LilyAna Naturals Charcoal Face Scrub. Formulated with an aloe base, it uses sunflower oil, pumice, charcoal, and tea tree oil to nourish, clean, and smooth your skin (though it’d make a nice body or foot scrub as well). You don’t want to scrub your face with a physical exfoliant every day, though, so reserve this for once- or twice-weekly use.


Dr. Christine Choi Kim, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist