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Charcoal on your face

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Activated carbon is the hot new ingredient for glowing good looks, but does it work?

There was a time when charcoal was something you associated with rudimentary stoves as fuel. Since the earliest times, it has been used for a variety of purposes, including to create artworks and in medicine; one of its most important uses has been as a metallurgical fuel.

Suddenly, in the beauty business, we are hearing about charcoal everywhere. Charcoal is made from coal, wood, and other substances and becomes ‘activated charcoal’ when it is subjected to high temperatures combined with a gas or activating agent that expand its surface area. Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is being used for a variety of purposes, including whitening teeth and dealing with symptoms of indigestion. In the beauty business, it’s the hot new trend; it is said to absorb toxins from the body.

Among the most visible uses today is the charcoal face mask. You can buy it in tubes at the chemist but too much can dry out the skin and such things are always best done professionally.

VLCC, founded by Vandana Luthra in 1989, launched its 7X Ultra whitening and brightening charcoal facial last month. The Charcoal Detox Facial is designed to clean out deep skin impurities and make skin evenly toned, while reducing the appearance of blackheads, promising a smooth moisturised, brightened and glowing skin. VLCC says the facial is packed with charcoal extract, soybean, lemon oil, mulberry extract and glucose.

Always sceptical, we visited the VLCC Centre at Worli to check out these claims. Could charcoal really leave the skin looking and feeling so good? We’d read some contradictory claims about the wonders of this magic ingredient, particularly when consumed in various forms of food and drink, and we weren’t sure if charcoal could really make a difference in the beauty game.

The VLCC centres that this writer has visited—and there are several of them in the city—have always proved to be warm and welcoming, with friendly staff who take the time to answer personal queries. The Worli centre was no different, with its range of services from slimming to skin tightening to hair rejuvenation and a salon.

So what’s so special about the charcoal facial, we asked Dr Sheetal Pashte, who has been with VLCC for nine years.  She told us it was a seven-step procedure that took more than an hour. “Activated charcoal has the natural property of absorbing toxins from open pores,” she said. “We don’t recommend it for clients with excessively dry skin but it gives very good results when the skin is oily.” Her definition of excessively dry skin is when it takes two or three hours for oil build-up after one has washed one’s face, assuming that no other lotions or creams have been used afterwards.

What it involves

The 7X Ultra Rejuvenating Charcoal Facial, which is powered by activated charcoal, also has Vitamin C for skin lightening and brightening, Vitamin A for smoothening and tightening, Vitamin E to restore sun-damaged skin, rose flower water to restore ph Balance, Laminaria Extract for deep pore cleansing and reducing acne and sea algae to boost stem cell reproduction.

The seven-step procedure begins with a washing foam for deep cleansing and then moves on to an astringent lotion. “The cleansing regime even at home,” says Dr Pashte, “should always involve cleanser, toner and then moisturiser. Many people don’t use toner, but it is essential to close the pores in order to protect the skin from pollution and restore the Ph. balance.”

The third step involves an exfoliant cream, a gel-based peel to removes dead skin cells and promote renewal. “Unless this is done, the products will not penetrate,” Dr Pashte says, adding that everyone has a dead skin layer as our skin ages daily. Then it’s time for the serum, a decongesting ampoule that restores ph balance and regulates the sebum secretion, applied on to the skin in a tapping motion until it is absorbed. Next comes the calming gel to soothe your skin. All this is done before the charcoal mask is applied. “Our mask is in powder form and mixed into a paste. It is then applied on the skin and left to dry,” Dr Pashte explains. The bonus: you will be so relaxed by then, you may end up catching a quick nap! The final step is an algae peel-off mask.

If the skin is acne-prone or there are other blemishes such as blackheads, Dr Pashte recommends weekly treatments. Isn’t that too much for the skin? After all, most experts recommend facials no more than once a month. “Steam cannot be given more than once a month,” Dr Pashte responds. “If the treatments are done weekly, we don’t use steam every time.”

Does it work?

The mean man in your life may joke that of course such a treatment will work—first they will put black charcoal on your face; then they will clean it off and say, ‘See, aren’t you looking cleaner?’

The fact is, however, that after the treatment, several people (including the aforesaid mean man!) then commented that the face was, indeed, glowing (one hesitates to use the word ‘fairer’ because fairness should never be a criterion of beauty).

The price

The launch price of  Rs 3999 may at first seem a little steep, but you would probably spend more on a spa treatment and this seven-step procedure does involve a host of goodies being used on your skin, which make it worth it. Dr Pashte points out that VLCC has an offer (as it does for many of its services); if you buy five such facials, you get two sessions free. Now that’s a good deal, if you ask us!

“The cleansing regime even at home should always involve cleanser, toner and then moisturiser. Many people don’t use toner, but it is essential to close the pores in order to protect the skin from pollution and restore the Ph. balance.”

-Dr Sheetal Pashte

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