Activated Charcoal in Skincare: The Science

activated-charcoal-cleansing-mechanism

Activated charcoal skincare products are pretty cool. They’re black, they’re sciencey-sounding and they’re said to suck dirt out of your pores like a magnet – what’s not to like? The reality is a little more complex than that…

(If you’re after the video version of this post, keep scrolling! To make sure you don’t miss a video from me when it goes live, click here.)

What is activated charcoal?

Activated_Carbon
Source

 

Activated charcoal is carbon soot that’s been treated to give it a sponge-like structure, with lots of holes. If you zoom into activated charcoal, it’s very jaggedy, giving it a huge surface area. It’s estimated that 1 gram of activated charcoal has a surface area of 3000 square metres, which is the same as 3 Olympic swimming pools, 7 basketball courts or 230 car parking spaces.

Activated_Charcoal-microscope
Source

This gigantic surface area is particularly handy for soaking up substances. You can see how effective it can be for purifying water in the picture underneath, where activated charcoal’s grabbed onto all the red dye in the glass on the left (it can also be seen with the orange fizzy drink in the video).

Activated_carbon-red-dye-adsorption

In medicine, activated charcoal is mostly used in poisoning cases, where a large dose is fed to the patient alongside other treatments. A lot of the poison sticks to the charcoal instead of absorbing into the body.

Since it’s a default treatment for soaking up ACTUAL TOXINS in poisoning, lots of people eat/drink activated charcoal for “detox” purposes, which sounds like it could work (although if you read my other blog, you’ll know that detox is a scam). You might be wondering, how does activated charcoal tell the difference between good things and bad things? The answer is… it doesn’t.

How does activated charcoal work?

At a molecular level, things are sticky. It’s why the wax in a candle stays together as one big clump instead of splaying everywhere, and why you have to put in a whole heap of heat to get water molecules to separate and turn into steam. This stickiness is known as intermolecular forces – interactions that stick molecules together. Without them, everything would be a gas.

There are a few types of intermolecular force – the one that activated charcoal uses is called dispersion forces. Absolutely every substance has dispersion forces, whether it’s a vitamin or a poison.

Remember the large surface area that activated charcoal has? This means there’s a lot of space for things to stick to. And since everything can form dispersion forces, activated charcoal actually soaks up all sorts of things, including nutrients like vitamins, meaning you don’t get the full health benefits of your food.

Activated charcoal can stick to medications as well, if they’re still in your digestive system. This means that you might not be getting the right dose.

In a poisoning situation, you’re probably not worried about whether you get enough vitamins, but in everyday life it’s not such a good idea to prevent your body from taking up random nutrients and medications on a regular basis. So don’t make activated charcoal part of your regular diet!

Read more

Amperna Skincare Review: Actives for Sensitive Skin

Amperna Skincare Review

Amperna is an Australian skincare line developed for sensitive and problematic skin that’s still packed with actives that treat acne. A lot of anti-acne product lines are harsh, and even if they’re effective for a lot of people, they can make sensitive skin can freak out. You don’t really want to switch acne-prone skin for stinging, irritated skin.

Amperna’s founder Kiri Yanchenko was inspired by her own experience with sensitive acne-prone skin, and the lack of gentle but active skincare products designed for sensitive skin. Amperna’s products are suitable for any skin type, and have been tested on skin that’s prone to eczema, dermatitis, perioral dermatitis, rosacea and acne. It’s also Australian made and cruelty free, and all of the products come in convenient pump bottles.

The Amperna line currently has 5 products: cleanser, exfoliant, moisturiser, vitamin C serum and soothing serum. I tried them out over a period of 3 weeks – here’s what I thought of them!

Amperna Ultra Gentle Soothing Cleanser

Amperna Ultra Gentle Soothing Cleanser ($40 AUD for 125 mL) is a foaming gel cleanser. It has gentle surfactants (betaine, sodium lauroamphoacetate, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, cocamidopropyl betaine) and foams very lightly with water. It has a low, skin-friendly pH of around 5, which is important for avoiding long-term cleanser-induced irritation.

There are a few interesting actives in the cleanser:

  • Canadian willowherb extract, which has been found to kill acne bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) in vitro in manufacturer studies, and reduce redness from irritation and sunburn in manufacturer clinical studies. It’s also an antioxidant that soaks up free radical damage. The active compound is called oenothein B.
  • White willow bark extract, which contains salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliant (aka beta hydroxy acid or BHA), salicin which has some anti-inflammatory properties, and tannins, which are astringent.

Read more

Stratia Skin Review: Liquid Gold, Fortify, Rewind, Soft Touch AHA, Velvet Cleansing Milk

Stratia Skin Review: Liquid Gold, Rewind, Soft Touch AHA, Velvet Cleansing Milk, Fortify

If you’re a skincare nerd, you’ve probably heard of Stratia Skin – their products are all over Instagram skincare addicts’ shelves! Alli of Stratia heard about my hunt for mandelic acid products and kindly offered to send me her range, which was very convenient since Stratia is one of the brands that I’ve had a ridiculous number of requests to review.

Stratia is a Los Angeles-based indie skincare brand that’s formulated with effectiveness in mind. Alli Reed, the founder, has an excellent blog called The Acid Queen where she detailed her DIY adventures before setting up Stratia.

As an Australian, I often get really excited about products, then completely disappointed when I see the shipping rate. Not to worry this time! Stratia has an extremely generous $9.95 flat rate shipping worldwide.

There are currently 5 products: Liquid Gold, Fortify, Rewind, Soft Touch AHA and Velvet Cleansing Milk. All the products are unscented, and three are vegan (Fortify, Soft Touch AHA and Velvet Cleansing Milk). The site states specifically which ingredients in the other products are animal-derived and from what parts of the animal, which is a level of detail that’s rare and appreciated. Other skincare nerd details are there too, like active percentages and product pH.

Stratia Skin Review: Liquid Gold, Rewind, Soft Touch AHA, Velvet Cleansing Milk, Fortify

Onto the product reviews:

Stratia Liquid Gold

Liquid Gold ($24 USD for 60 mL) is the most hyped of Stratia’s products, and was one of the products in their first release. It’s also my favourite Stratia product so far, and landed in Beautypedia’s and Gothamista’s best of 2017 lists! It’s a moisturiser that contains a bunch of awesome ingredients to keep your skin in good shape, and protect it from harsh treatment.

Liquid Gold has 4% niacinamide, which is fantastic for helping maintain your skin’s barrier function, so it can trap moisture in better, and keep irritants out. It’s also had a bunch of other skin benefits too in clinical trials, like decreasing wrinkling, fading hyperpigmentation, reducing appearance of pores and decreasing skincare development.

Related post: The Ordinary Skincare Review Pt 2: Niacinamide + Zinc, Buffet

Liquid Gold also has ceramides and cholesterol, two of the components of the lipid matrix that surrounds the cells in your stratum corneum (the top protective layer of your skin). It also has oils in it, which contain fatty acids bound up in triglycerides. There’s some research that found that putting lipid matrix components on your skin in the wrong ratio could make it recover from harsh treatment (like washing with cleanser) slower, but from what I can tell the right ratio is here. There’s also research that found that oils can act like fatty acids in this specific circumstance, so it’s likely to work as promised.

I’ve found that Liquid Gold has been awesome at reducing irritation when I’ve gone too hard on the actives. I’ve recently started using tretinoin as well, and I’ve been using Liquid Gold to try to stave off the irritation (more on that in a later post!). Originally I planned to only use it on “recovery” days, but I’ve found that I end up using it almost every day. I sometimes mix it with Stratia’s face oil Fortify as well when my skin’s feeling particularly dry. I love that it comes in a handy pump bottle – it’s guaranteed that I’ll use a product more often if it comes in a pump. The cream itself is quite thick, so it takes a bit of pressure to dispense which means I never pump out a stupidly large amount and waste product.

Read more

Video: KraveBeauty Skincare Review (Kale-lalu-yAHA and Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser)

Video: KraveBeauty Skincare Review (Kale-lalu-yAHA and Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser)

Video: KraveBeauty Skincare Review (Kale-lalu-yAHA and Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser)

If you follow skincare YouTubers, you probably know of Liah Yoo, who does a lot of in-depth Korean skincare videos. She’s launched a line, KraveBeauty, and sent me their first two products to review! I’ve made a video for these – I haven’t done many product review videos yet, so let me know what you think and whether I should do more?

The two Krave products are Kale-lalu-yAHA and Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser.

Kale-lalu-yAHA ($25 USD for 200 mL) is a gentle glycolic acid-based exfoliant that has skin soothing ingredients and humectants in it – it’s similar in concept to Pixi Glow Tonic, with 5.25% glycolic acid and a pH of 3.5-4.0.

Read more