I Drank Charcoal For A Week & My Skin Liked It

Late on the night of June 25, I arrived back at my apartment from a 2-week jaunt through Wisconsin and Chicago, ready to drink some charcoal juice. Let me explain: I was dehydrated from hours on a cramped airplane, experiencing a mild but near-permanent hangover from the previous weeks of celebration, and bone-tired. My skin was crying out like a man lost in the desert, as skin has a tendency to do after weeks of traveling. And as I wearily unlocked my apartment, ordering takeout on my phone like the modern woman I am, I found a package of cloudy black health drinks waiting for me in a refrigerated box.

The timing could not have been more perfect. I’d agreed to drink charcoal-y drinks — to be more specific, the Activated Lemonade and Activated Greens drinks from Juice Generation — for two weeks, to see if the charcoal had any affect on my skin. Activated charcoal is extremely porous and is lauded for its ability to make things stick to it — toxins and icky things, yeah, but also other sorts of molecules and nutrients and so on. Its purported toxin-bashing abilities have health nuts and skin-care freaks alike jumping on the trend.

According to Juice Generation spokeswoman Emily Parr, "The millions of tiny pores in our superfine charcoal powder washes toxins out of your system for improved digestion and skin."

That night, I sucked down a bottle of the Activated Greens and flung myself into bed, feeling mildly purified and self-righteous. Did two weeks of drinking black juice out of recyclable plastic bottles turn me into Gisele? Read on to find out.

Days 1-3

Since I really hadn’t been treating my skin right while I was traveling — you try finding raw honey while hiking through Yellowstone!!!! JK, JK, I was in a major American city, but still, the thought of dropping $15 on a glorified hippie mask just didn’t seem very vacation-appropriate — I really focused on *~*pampering*~* my face back to health during these first few days. The drinks tasted great, I felt healthy, but I doubt they had any effect on my skin at this point. What I did notice, though, was that a return to my beloved routine — oil cleansing, raw honey masks, and the occasional aggressive green mud mask — was just what the dermatologist ordered.

Days 4-6

Life proceeded as normal. Nothing much to report. I was pretty happy that I was getting some sort of nutritional value in my diet from the juices, because you know when you get back from a trip… and the fridge is empty… and you write “go to Trader Joe’s!!!!!!” on your to-do list… and the days pass… and you’re still eating the sticky rice that you ordered on your first night back… and you’re wondering why the rice hasn’t gone bad yet… does that mean something is, like, chemical-y in there?

Days 7-9

Time for the BIG TWIST, guys. Right around here was the time I entered what we females call “hell week,” aka PMS-hood. If you’ve ever gone through this difficult and dangerous time as a lady, you know that it’s often accompanied by surprising delights, like rushes of irrational anger and breakouts!

Charcoal did not stop me from breaking out, because charcoal is not a deity. However, I was happily surprised to note that my skin recovered quickly. Like, really quickly. Was all this purifying carbon and ash speeding up my skin’s rejuvenative functions? Is rejuvenative a word?!

Days 10-12

I finished up the week dying of cramps and yet somehow still fairly clear-skinned. It's important to note that charcoal binds to nutrients and medications, along with toxins, so don’t drink it right before or a couple hours after taking Midol — or eating a large salad — because it will negate all that goodness.

In conclusion

My skin is clear-ish already, so I knew I wouldn’t see any sort of huge, transformative difference (unless the magic of charcoal somehow transposed Giselle’s face onto my body, which I must report did not happen). However, it definitely seemed to reduce the duration of breakouts, which I think is really cool. I’ll tentatively say that for someone who’s skin is really congested, a few weeks of charcoal might be worth considering — after the appropriate research, of course. As is unfortunately the case with most natural beauty products, there's not a lot of evidence that charcoal is your skin's next big savior — mostly just anecdotal reports, like this one — but if you're open to crunchy skincare and are tired of only chugging water, why not try something dark and cloudy for a change? (Plus more water!!! Always!)

Photos: Tori Telfer