Oh, Charcoal. Are You Dirty? Clean? Both? Neither?

Activated charcoal, carbon that's been treated to increase its absorbency, isn't new. It's been used in hospital emergency rooms for years to treat alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses. It works by attaching to toxins in the stomach and absorbing them before the bloodstream can.

“Activated charcoal has been around in the medical profession for hundreds and hundreds of years,” said Diana Howard, vice president for research and development at Dermalogica. “They use it when someone ingests poison. Most ambulances carry it.”

The theory behind including activated charcoal in beauty products is similar: It'll act like a magnet to attract and absorb dirt and oil. And the experts say that theory holds water. "When dirt and oil in your pores come in contact with the carbon, they stick to it and then get washed away when you rinse," cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson explained to Allure.

Charcoal has been a huge trend in skincare lately and it’s definitely an ingredient that lives up to the hype.

Carbon needs to come in physical contact with impurities in order to soak them up, so the longer a product sits on your skin, the more effective it's going to be. That's why Wilson recommends getting your activated charcoal in a mask, like this one. "The longer it's left on, the better," she says. It's especially useful if you live in a city, where your skin is constantly bombarded with pollutants. 

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that, in these selfie-crazed times, the novelty of a face caked in a gray mask is social-media-genic — just check the hashtag #charcoalmask on Instagram.

Although it seems like yet another fad that will go out of style in a week, charcoal has actually been used in Japanese beauty for years and you probably know that Asian skincare tends to be 10 years ahead of the market in its technology. It’s also been used as a detoxifier since the days of ancient Egypt and India, making this an ingredient that has stood the test of time.

Charcoal helps to tighten up your pores, which you can feel after it’s been on your skin, as well as help to manage inflammation, a major source of aging. Charcoal cannot only help to purify your skin, but also keep it looking young and healthy.