woman getting charcoal mask painted on her face

If you’ve spent time browsing through your social media channels, you may have seen a viral video or two of various women demonstrating the painful removal of black, tarry-looking face masks.

These black face masks are actually charcoal masks, made to cleanse pores and remove blackheads. In theory, they seem very similar to other types of face masks you’d find at your beauty store.

The reason charcoal masks have garnered so much attention on social media is that they’re apparently very painful to remove. This is unlike other types of face masks, which typically come off with a quick rinse or a gentle peel.

Charcoal masks have been demonstrated to be so painful that the reactions of the women attempting to remove these masks have been recorded and shared around the world.

woman with charcoal mask taking a selfie

Charcoal Masks: Why Use Them?

You may be thinking, if they’re so painful, why do people even use them?

Charcoal masks are typically applied to the face just like any other face mask, including on the forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. The charcoal masks are unique and attractive to many in that the activated charcoal in the masks is able to adsorb (not absorb) toxic materials and pollutants.

Adsorption is different than absorption in that the activated charcoal attracts particles to itself rather than simply absorbing them.

In fact, for many years, activated charcoal has been used in hospitals as an alternative to stomach pumping in certain cases of poisoning. Eventually, the beauty industry proposed that activated charcoal’s highly adsorbent capabilities could be used with the same effect on the skin.

a bowl and spoon full of charcoal powder

Now, don’t mistake the charcoal in charcoal masks for the charcoal you use for your barbecue. The charcoal in face masks has been activated at high temperatures, increasing the charcoal’s surface area and adsorption capabilities. The charcoal you use for grilling, on the other hand, has not been activated and often contains other substances that are toxic to humans.

Because activated charcoal works so well at getting toxic particles to adhere to it, charcoal masks have been used as an effective treatment for acne by cleansing pores, absorbing oil, and removing blackheads and dirt.

Are Charcoal Masks Harmful?

Perhaps the more important discussion is whether charcoal masks are a viable solution for your skin concerns.

As described, many of the charcoal masks on the market are incredibly painful to remove. Because activated charcoal is so adsorbent, it will not only adhere to your skin but the hair on your skin as well.

Its strict adhesion is what makes it difficult to peel off or wash away like other, more traditional face masks. Whether one is willing to go through this pain or repeat the process more than once, will most likely determine whether charcoal masks are viable for him or her.

woman peeling charcoal mask off her face

While charcoal masks have not been considered toxic and are considered safe to use for even sensitive skin types, there are arguments that stripping away the oils from the surface layer of the skin in such an aggressive way can be detrimental to the protective properties of the skin.

After all, the reason dirt and pollutants even get trapped in our skin in the first place is so that they do not penetrate further into the deeper layers of our skin. If one were to remove that protective barrier from the skin, some argue that the skin’s deeper layers would be too vulnerable to the particles that come in contact with it.

Before Using Charcoal Masks

If you’re considering trying a charcoal mask for yourself, it might be wise to consult a dermatologist to see if charcoal masks are the right choice for your skin concerns, or if an alternative solution may be better.

Also, if you do want to use a charcoal mask, be wary of DIY charcoal masks displayed on the web. While activated charcoal itself is typically not harmful to the skin, the other ingredients in these DIY masks, such as glue, can negatively affect the skin.


Mohammad-Khah, A., & Ansari, R. (2009). Activated Charcoal: Preparation, characterization, and Applications: A review article. International Journal of ChemTech Research, 1(4), Oct.-Dec. Retrieved February 1, 2018, from http://sphinxsai.com/CTVOL4/ct_pdf_vol_4/CT=10%20%20(859–864).pdf

What Is Activated Charcoal Good For? Benefits and Uses. (n.d.). Retrieved February 01, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/activated-charcoal#section7
Beauty, S. (n.d.). Charcoal Face Masks: Everything You Need To Know Before Trying Them. Retrieved February 01, 2018, from https://www.siobeauty.com/blogs/news/charcoal-face-masks
Experts weigh in: Is the DIY blackhead mask bad for your skin? (n.d.). Retrieved February 01, 2018, from http://www.buro247.sg/beauty/trends/experts-weigh-in-is-the-diy-blackhead-mask-is-bad.html
Born and raised in Southern California, Beeta has embraced a healthy lifestyle focused on farm-to-table cooking, natural products, and wellness routines. When she's not writing up recipes or discussing the latest natural living trends, Beeta enjoys spending time trying new restaurants, traveling with family and friends, and relaxing at home with her furry companion.