Activated Charcoal Shampoo Revived My Curls

Charcoal shampoo
A week-long diary.

A simple scroll through your Instagram feed will likely reveal one of 2018’s hottest health trends: activated charcoal. Said to help rid the body of toxins, the inky stuff has made its way into nutrition supplements, cold-pressed juices, even lattés. The cosmetics industry quickly followed suit, offering up everything from black toothpaste to purifying face masks—and more recently, shampoo and conditioner. Made from heating woody substances like oak or bamboo to high temperatures, its porous structure attracts and removes excess oils and dirt from hair like a magnet, explains Dr. Jeni Thomas, Principle Scientist for Pantene’s charcoal range, over email. Harnessing charcoal to power cleanse both strands and scalp, niche brands like BriogeoAmikaIGK and Drybar are giving clarifying shampoos a run for their money—with the promise of less stripping. I set about testing the newer drugstore versions on my chaotic hair—thin, dry and wavy on its best days, puffy and frizzy on its worst—for an entire week. Then something not advertised on the bottle happened. Curls.


It’s hair-washing night but an email just landed in my inbox informing me that I’ve scored free tickets to RZA live-scoring ‘The 36th Chamber of Shoalin’ at the Royal Cinema. Despite the two-hour wait in line in 40-degree humidex, I forgo a bath and pass out the second I’m home. My sweaty hair will have to wait.


I hop in the shower and reach for Pantene Charcoal Shampoo Purifying Root Wash and Renewing Cream Rinse. The smell, I determine, resembles the all-in-one Axe my partner uses. A small drop produces a lather that covers my entire head. My hair doesn’t normally hold the scent of shampoo for very long so I’m surprised when the signature whiff radiates off my air-dried locks. Victory! My hair also feels as soft as it does clean. The piece de resistance? I’m noticing some serious curls. Okay, only in certain places. Still, fully-formed curls are few and far between for me.


I don’t know if it’s global warming or something hormonal, but lately I’ve been having to wash my hair every other day instead of my usual twice a week. This time, I notice that my next-day-hair still feels squeaky cleanInteresting. My partner and I are out for buck-a-shuck oysters when a pal compliments the way my hair smells. Goodbye pre-Pantene life.


I glance in the mirror sometime around mid-day, and realize I still don’t need to wash my hair. I’m also detecting a healthy amount of bounce. Magic.


I can still get away without washing my hair, but indulge in Herbal Essences Black Charcoal Shampoo and White Charcoal Conditioner to compare results. Both brands have no parabens, dyes or silicones, but the Herbal Essences is also free from gluten and mineral oils. Upon opening the lid, a familiar scent washes over me: strong, intoxicating, semi-masculine. Pantene! Also like Pantene, this one leaves my hair without tangles. My hair is light and feels cleansed of all imaginable impurities. I hardly towel dry before I see curls starting to form, so I decide to go with it and air dry for the second time this week. (Though afterward, I notice it does feel a touch dry.)


Curls still intact, I reach out to Dr. Jeni Thomas to find out what’s up with the bonus benefit. “It’s the nutrients, like the antioxidants in the shampoo and the creamy hydrators in the conditioning rinse, that help to give you more control over your hair,” she tells me.


I awaken to another lather-less day, and start thinking about all the ways in which I’ll use my new-found freedom.

Like this story on the beautifying power of charcoal? Check this one out about honey’s sweet sweet benefits for your skin.

Photo: Emily Wraith