Charcoal is making its rounds again not just in skincare, but also in hair products as well. An ingredient for clearing toxins, more brands are including charcoal in their formulas for cleansing the hair and scalp of impurities from the environment. We hear it, see it, and love using it, but what is charcoal, and is it really an asset in our hair care regimens?

10 charcoal s and body

What is charcoal?

Mostly pure carbon, charcoal is a certain kind of half-burnt wood, and the best charcoal comes from hard wood like beech or oak. The charcoal is made by cooking the wood in a low-oxygen environment. Archaeological evidence of charcoal production goes back around 30,000 years.

What is the difference between charcoal and activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is similar to regular charcoal but is made specifically for used in medicines to treat poisonings, reduce gas and cholesterol levels, and even to prevent hangovers. The regular charcoal is heated in the presence of a gas that causes the charcoal to create internal spaces or “pores” and that allows the charcoal to trap the chemicals, increasing its absorbing power.

Does charcoal really remove toxins?

I enlisted the help of scientific consultant Yolanda Anderson, M.Ed., RPhT to find out if charcoal does indeed remove toxins.

First of all, what are toxins?

“Toxins can be anything from pollution in the environment to medications that you take; even the foods you eat. Toxins lodge in your cells, soft tissues, and muscles, and overwhelm your entire immune system. It is a poisonous, non-biological substance (but sometimes proteins can be toxins) that causes disease when introduced in the body," says Anderson.

Does charcoal remove them?

"Activated charcoal, or activated carbon, has oxygen added to it to increase its porosity, thereby, adding to its surface area. More surface area allows for more contact between molecules, increasing the rate of reaction,” Anderson adds. “(Activated charcoal) is used to remove toxins in chemical reactions. Best example is using activated charcoal to filter fish tanks. You can also ingest activated charcoal as a supplement.”

So, activated charcoal does remove toxins, and toxins can be more than just environmental pollutants, or substances inside our bodies. Toxins can be in our hair, or on our scalp, so shampoos with activated charcoal serve a useful purpose. Here are ten shampoos + one DIY recipe with the toxin-destroying benefits of charcoal.

1. Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal +Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo

(sulfate-free, silicone-free, phthalate-free, paraben-free)

Using Binchotan charcoal, a charcoal traditionally used in Japanese cooking, this water-based shampoo will draw impurities from your hair and scalp. Peppermint and spearmint oils cool the scalp and reduce itchiness, which makes this the perfect choice for curlies with irritated and flaky scalp. It also includes biotin to strengthen your curls and coils. Briogeo has a dry charcoal shampoo, as well, and a few other charcoal infused products.

2. Apotheke Charcoal Shampoo

(paraben-free, silicon-free)

This New York-made charcoal shampoo is designed for any hair type, and is scented with only essential oils, which give it a fresh and citrusy scent. Activated charcoal will neutralize the acidity of your hair for added cleanliness.

3. HASK Charcoal with Citrus Oil Purifying Shampoo

(sulfate-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free)

A potent clarifying shampoo using the power of charcoal, lemon, and grapefruit oils to eliminate impurities on the hair and scalp. Water, cleansing agents, and glycerin form this powerful and effective shampoo, and it’s still gentle enough for everyday use. For those who need cleanliness on the go, HASK also makes a charcoal purifying dry shampoo.

4. Myth Bamboo Charcoal Detoxifying Shampoo

(paraben-free, silicone-free)

Made with DI (deionized, meaning all of its minerals have been removed) water, and bamboo charcoal, this detoxifying shampoo is potent at drawing out the dirt, toxins, and pollutants from your hair and scalp. This product contains 85% natural ingredients, and a handful of natural oils like ginger, lemongrass, and rosemary oil.

5. Herbal Essences Bio: Renew Detox Black Charcoal Shampoo

(paraben-free, silicone-free)

Quite a few curly girls either use or have used Herbal Essences as a part of their regimen at some point, and now they’re back with a new line featuring black charcoal. Harnessing the rejuvenating powers of black charcoal, aloe and active antioxidants, this shampoo detoxes hair and gently removes dirt and build-up. It is color-safe and rinses out easily, so you won’t have to worry about any leftover black residue.

6. SheaMoisture African Black Soap Deep Cleansing Shampoo

(paraben-free, sulfate-free, phthalate-free, silicone-free, sulfate-free)

SheaMoisture brings a soothing shampoo with this sulfate-free, deep cleansing shampoo. Charcoal powder, plantain enzymes, and tea tree oil work hard at relieving itching and irritation, and may be suited for curlies who suffer from eczema and psoriasis.

7. SheaMoisture Green Coconut & Activated Charcoal Shampoo

(sulfate-free, silicone-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free)

This line from SheaMoisture brings together green coconut and activated charcoal to remove dirt, oil, and product build-up effectively. Sulfate-free and great for all hair types, this gentle shampoo will moisturize, soothe, and stimulate scalp circulation for healthy hair.

8. Sort of Coal - Kuro Activated Charcoal Shampoo

(paraben-free, sulfate-free)

Better suited for oily and normal to thick hair types, this black shampoo cleanses your hair to get it clean, healthy, and lustrous, with the power of activated white charcoal powder. Handmade in Japan.

9. Yes To Charcoal Detoxifying & Deep Cleaning Charcoal Shampoo

(paraben-free, silicone-free)

This product can be used for all hair types, and works to cleanse your hair of any dirt, residual hair products, or other undesirables, to leave it shiny and smooth. It can be used on natural hair, and is safe for colored hair as well.

10. Kaia Naturals Overnight Dry Shampoo in Brunette

(paraben-free, sulfate-free, silicone-free)

This product uses detoxifying activated charcoal to absorb oil and sweat while you rest, letting you wake with clean, fresh curls. It is intended for overnight use, to be sprayed on your hair before you go to bed, and left in overnight. The overnight dry shampoo is available in brunette and blonde, and is also cruelty-free and vegan.

Please be aware of possible allergies. Consult your doctor if you think your body may have an allergic response to charcoal and charcoal products.

DIY: Turn your regular shampoo into a charcoal shampoo

Just open up a capsule of activated charcoal, and mix it in with a dollop of your favorite shampoo to get the toxin-ridding benefits of charcoal.

Are you on board with the charcoal trend, or do you use charcoal-infused hair products? If so, have you observed the benefits? Tell us your charcoal tales in the comments section below. And for even more activated charcoal beauty-talk, check out these trendy products.

This article was originally posted in 2016 and has been updated to include new products.