Charcoal is one of those wonder materials that has always been with us in various guises, from barbecue fuel to artists' sketching material, water filtration to a deodorising agent. But what exactly makes it a wonder material and different from any other? The answer is in its chemical structure. Activated charcoal, to use its correct name, is simply charcoal that has been treated with oxygen. It has a molecule shape that is extremely convoluted. In short, this makes it an extremely porous material that readily absorbs oils, impurities and poisons from any of the surroundings it comes into contact with.

What has this got to do with a charcoal face mask?

Can a material so ready to absorb grease, dirt and poisons (it is routinely used in hospitals) have the same effect on skin? In a word, yes. The theory is that the charcoal acts like a magnet to attract and absorb dirt and oil. So, it doesn't merely wash it away, it actually forms a chemical bond with the pollutant, which, quite simply, no longer has any independent existence; it becomes part of the charcoal, which is then washed away.

Many skin care experts have recognised the almost miraculous properties of charcoal and have included it in their formulas. In the context of a charcoal face mask, the process works in a completely different way from a traditional mask, which simply tightens the skin and sticks to any loose impurities. As a result, for people with oily skin prone to blackheads and spots, this really is a revolutionary material that absorbs grease, excess sebum, dirt and any build-up of dead skin cells in the pores. In combination with salicylic acid, which simply dissolves excess sebum and even dissolves the pore-blocking plugs that can happen as a result, its effectiveness is remarkable. In a specialist product like Pure Active Intensive Charcoal, the combination of these two ingredients with the antioxidant power of blueberries makes a charcoal face mask pack a formidable punch in the battle against excess sebum and blackheads. It leaves skin feeling fresh and clean with pores minimised and shine reduced. Even better, it doesn't leave your skin feeling parched and tight after the treatment, unlike some face masks that make you want to rush for the moisturiser.

You could even have a go at making a DIY charcoal face mask, but do bear in mind that although it is easy to rinse off skin and non-porous surfaces, it can be a bit messy and stain other things. Also, be careful not to use anything metal in the preparation, as the charcoal can draw toxins out of the metal. The ingredients can be a little tricky to come by as well, but you can probably find activated charcoal in a local health food shop. Simply, open a couple of capsules of charcoal and mix with a teaspoon of aloe vera gel or juice and another teaspoon of rose or plain water. Mix the ingredients, spread in a thin film over your face and leave for about 10 minutes to dry.

For the busy man or woman who wants the benefits of a charcoal face mask without too much fiddling, fuss and ingredient-hunting, ready-made is probably the way to go. Either way, it works!

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