Difference Between Charcoal vs. Bentonite Clay vs. Activated Charcoal

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More people are turning to organic skincare products. One popular trend for facial cleansing I’ve seen is the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay. However, I’ve noticed people mixing it up with similar products like charcoal and activated charcoal. So, if you see a video trying to mix both Aztec Clay and charcoal, you’ll have a few people confusing the terms.

We’re here to put that to rest. Here are the differences between bentonite clay, charcoal, and activated charcoal.

Bentonite Clay

Bentonite is a natural clay formed from weathered volcanic ash near a source of water, so it has a light to dark gray appearance. There are various types of bentonite depending on the dominant element, so you may find Sodium bentonite, Potassium bentonite, Calcium bentonite, or other forms.


Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay (and other bentonite products used for skincare) is made of natural calcium bentonite clay. It has a fine, soft texture that, when mixed with water, becomes very absorbent and turns into a paste. For thousands of years, people have used bentonite clay to remove skin impurities, toxins, and have even used it as medicine. However, just like brushing your teeth with salt, there is no scientific evidence that proves the benefits and risks of bentonite clay in humans.

Bentonite gets its name from Fort Benton, Wyoming, the largest source. However, you can still find bentonite in other parts of the world. Aside from cosmetic purposes, there are those who believe that bentonite can serve medical purposes by removing toxins from the body.

How to Use Bentonite in Skin Care

Whether you buy the Aztec Secret Clay or any other bentonite mask product, the application is fairly the same. You can buy Aztec Secret or other bentonite clay products in places that sell organic cosmetics or online.

Mix one part of bentonite clay with one part water or apple cider vinegar and mix until you form a paste. Apple cider vinegar is said to have benefits on your skin, but if you can’t stand the smell, you can use water.

Before applying, make sure your face is free of any dirt and makeup by using a makeup remover (you can also remove makeup without makeup remover) and washing your face with soap and water.

Once you’ve mixed your paste, apply it on your face with your hands or with a clean makeup brush. You can leave it between 15 to 20 minutes. During this time, the clay will start to dry and you may find it difficult to move your face muscles – this is normal and should be no cause for worry.

You might also start to feel the clay squeezing and tightening your skin. This is also normal, but if you don’t feel comfortable or it feels too painful for you, you can remove it after 15 minutes. To remove, simply wash your face with water until all the clay is gone.

Bentonite clay removes all the oil and impurities on your face. However, you should only using bentonite clay rarely, maybe once or twice a month. Some of that oil may be keeping your skin moisturized. Removing too much oil may either dry out your skin or cause your skin to produce more oil and give you oilier skin. After using, apply moisturizer to your skin and then lip balm or chapstick to your lips to keep your face moisturized.


Both charcoal and activated charcoal are derived from carbon, but they have very big differences in terms of skincare. One has absorbent features that make it useful in removing impurities, while the other is useful in cooking and other chemical purposes, but not necessarily skincare.

Charcoal is carbon residue made from partially burning wood and other organic materials. It’s been used for thousands of years, with evidence of charcoal being used as early as 30,000 BC. Charcoal burns hotter than wood because it is already dehydrated, which means that less energy is spent evaporating moisture and more in raising the temperature.

Because of its composition and features, charcoal has multiple uses. Its most popular uses include cooking and for purposes that require high temperatures. Outside of fire, it’s used for water and air filtration because of its porous capabilities.

How to Use Charcoal in Skin Care

You should NOT be using charcoal in your skincare routine. Prior to being burned, charcoal can contain varying amounts of sulfur, arsenic, and other carcinogens. Not only would it do nothing to help your skin, but it could also cause short- and long-term effects on your skin.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal (or activated carbon) on the other hand is charcoal that has been heated to a very high temperature. When charcoal has been heated, the elements bound to the carbon atoms are released, making the remaining carbon free to absorb more than charcoal can. And because these harmful elements can be removed, it becomes suitable for medical uses.

woman holding charcoal mask
Source: Pexels

Activated charcoal has been used to remove toxins where there is no antidote. In the 19th century, “charcoal biscuits” were sold in England as a way of solving gastrointestinal issues. However, activated charcoal needed to be consumed immediately after the poison was ingested before it spreads out to the rest of the body.

Aside from intestinal issues, it was also believed to treat kidney problems, flatulence, skin conditions, and teeth whitening. While there are some evidences that attest to activated charcoal’s medical and cosmetic properties, there’s not enough studies to prove that activated charcoal is indeed beneficial to the body.

How to Use Activated Charcoal in Skin Care

It’s believed that activated charcoal’s properties can extend to absorbing skin impurities. This is why activated charcoal is used as a face mask similar to the way you would with bentonite clay. You can buy activated charcoal powder in cosmetics stores, organic stores, or online.

Mix one part activated charcoal water with water, honey, or apple cider vinegar. Because activated charcoal and water doesn’t have a paste-like consistency as bentonite clay and water, it won’t be as thick when it’s spread on your face. Use your hands or a clean makeup brush.

Keep it for 20 to 30 minutes. You can also place this mixture on your armpits if you want to whiten it. Rinse after. Repeat occasionally, depending on how oily or dry your skin in.

So, to recap: bentonite clay comes from weathered volcanic ash, charcoal comes from burned organic material, and activated charcoal comes from charcoal highly heated. While it’s not a good idea to use charcoal as a skincare product, bentonite clay and activated charcoal may have some results.

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