charcoal for hair

Photo by trumzz -- Getty Images

Briogeo founder Nancy Twine has always been a problem solver. She was researching scalp issues, which often are caused by problem buildup that can clog the hair follicle. She wanted to find an ingredient that could eliminate that buildup, along with the irritation, flakiness and itchiness that come with it. Binchotan charcoal, she discovered, had unique attributes that can remove buildup without the harsh ingredients.

It was important for me to create hair care products using gentle, effective, and detoxifying ingredients in place of harsh sulfates, which can strip the scalp and hair of hydration and natural oils, says Twine, who has integrated charcoal into Briogeo’s popular and growing Scalp Revival line.

Styling products, sweat, and natural sebum can build up on the scalp and hair overtime leading to clogged hair follicles, limp hair, scalp itchiness and irritation, and even hair loss. Charcoal helps to absorb deep-rooted impurities beyond what a standard shampoo can cleanse away. It is especially good for the scalp because it targets impurities at the root of the hair that can clog the hair follicle and cause scalp issues.

Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made from bone char, coconut shells, peat, petroleum coke, coal, olive pits or sawdust. The charcoal is "activated" by processing it at very high temperatures that changes its internal structure, reducing the size of its pores and increasing its surface area. This results in a charcoal that is more porous than regular charcoal. It has a negative charge, meaning when used in a product it attracts positively charged molecules, as in any toxins or dirt.

Because of its porous, purifying properties, activated charcoal is found in a wide variety of health and beauty products, from face masks to toothpastes. “The National Poison Control Center even encourages parents to keep charcoal powder in the home to help counteract absorption of accidental toxin consumption by children - so the performance of charcoal is real!" Twine says.

Over the past year, it’s become one of the hottest ingredients in haircare products, with such brands as SheaMoisture, Dove, Huetiful and Kenra all launching charcoal haircare collections.

“We saw that charcoal was a trend in skincare products to pull out impurities and detoxify,” says Samantha Georgakopoulos, marketing manager at Inspired Beauty Brands, which recently launched the Hask Charcoal & Citrus Oil collection. “We then thought, ‘How do we bring this ingredient into hair care to provide the same benefits as it does in skincare.’”

Here are some of the top reason for its popularity:

  1. It’s a powerhouse detoxifier: Activated charcoal is known to act as a magnet which attracts and then removes impurities from your hair and scalp. Activated charcoal can absorb up to 1000 times its weight in impurities, says Ashley LeRoy, senor brand manager for Kenra, which recently introduced its Kenra Platinum and Detox & Deflect System. It is also great post-swimming to get rid of any/all chlorine that’s messed with your hair, its natural texture and its color. 
  1. It pumps up the volume: If you’re carrying around enough dirt and oil, your hair will start to sag and regular shampooing may not be getting it all out. In fact, hair can gain roughly 4 percent of its own weight in build-up from scalp oils, pollution and dry shampoo. Regular shampoos remove surface dirt, but activated charcoal will pull out even more.
  1. It soothes the scalp: Charcoal soothes itchy, irritated, and flaky scalps and hydrates the scalp to prevent dryness. “We can’t forget to treat our scalp with just as much importance/highlighting specific beauty routines as we do our skin,” says Georgakopoulos.
  1. It helps products will work better: “Removing buildup from the hair allows for better absorption of key nutrients within hair treatments and enhances the overall shine of the health and hair,” Twine says.
  1. It’s good for all hair textures: Most charcoal shampoos or treatments can be used on any hair type without drying out strands or messing with color. For best results, you might find that you only need to use charcoal shampoo once a week or maybe even every other week, depending on your hair type and the amount of styling products you use. “Giving your hair and scalp a regular detoxifying cleanse can prevent excessive buildup and the need for everyday shampooing,” Twine says.

Some charcoal products to try

Have you tried charcoal products on your hair yet? Let us know what you think of them in the comments.