I knew what ingredients I had on hand and wanted to use, so I did some digging and found someone else had already tried pretty much the exact same recipe I wanted to try. The internet is a magical place.
Charcoal works as a binder. The microscopic surface of charcoal is pitted and has tons of pores. If it's taken internally, it traps toxins in the pores, but charcoal isn't absorbed by the body. This is why it is taken for food poisoning and drug overdoses. If it's taken before the toxins are absorbed into the bloodstream, the charcoal will bind to them and exit with your bodily waste, taking the toxins with it.
The idea with using charcoal on the skin is that toxins and acne causing bacteria on the skin will bind to the charcoal and be washed away.
The main purpose of gelatin in this recipe is to hold the other ingredients together so they peel off like they're supposed to. Some recipes use Elmer's or another kind of glue. In middle school, I enjoyed covering my fingertips with Elmer's and peeling it off when it dried as much as the next bored kid, but now that I know what kind of ingredients are in it, there's no way I'd put that stuff anywhere near my face. My skin only seems to get more sensitive as I get older.
The molecules in gelatin are too large to be absorbed in the skin, so it's not going to help much, but it isn't going to hurt you either, because gelatin is great for the skin when taken internally.
Collagen (found in unprocessed gelatin) is one of the things that give skin its structure. You may have seen it on the labels of other skincare products (which looks good, but is mostly useless since it's just too big to absorb). When your body slows collagen production, your skin begins to wrinkle and sag.
The best way to get more collagen in your skin is through your diet, not by applying it to your skin. But that said, using gelatin as a base won't hurt your skin, as it's much gentler than an artificial peel off face mask.
Bentonite clay draws out toxins by taking on a charge. Anyone who's taken a chemistry class knows that ions take on positive, neutral, and negative charges. Ever heard the phrase "opposites attract"? This is not as true in the dating world as people would lead you to believe, but it is especially true in chemistry. In its natural form, bentonite clay has a negative charge, and many heavy metals and and toxins have a positive charge. This makes it extremely easy for the two to bind together.
Bentonite clay deserves its own page due to the healing properties it shows. It speeds healing of skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and poison ivy. It's used in toothpastes and detox baths. And it's increasingly used in beauty products.
I've used bentonite clay as a face mask by itself or with apple cider vinegar multiple times. It's full of minerals like magnesium, potassium, silica, and calcium which it deposits on your skin and absorbs oil. I usually mix it with lavender and melaleuca essental oils (which are both great for the skin) because ACV has a pretty intense smell, especially when it's right on your face.
I recommend using bentonite clay at bedtime, or on a day you don't plan on going out at all. There are 3 phases to a clay face mask. The first phase, while the clay is damp, your skin is absorbing the nutrients from the clay. Once it starts to dry, it draws the blood to your face. This is good, because your blood carries oxygen and nutrients from the inside, but it can be surprising and a little uncomfortable if you're not expecting this result. The first time I did a clay mask, I didn't know to expect that and was extremely concerned when my face stayed very red for about half an hour. However, you want to avoid the third phase, when the clay dries out completely, and draws moisture from your skin.
Don't make my mistake. With a clay mask, you want to wash it off before it dries all the way. While writing this page, I researched clay masks, and found (a skin care specialist) that supports all the things I learned the hard way about clay face masks.
In this particular charcoal peel-off mask, the clay is mixed with gelatin, so it's okay to let it dry. It will pull moisture from the gelatin, drying out the mask, not your face, and you can peel it off.
Note: You shouldn't use metal utensils to mix this face mask. The positive charge of metal would neutralize the clay, completely cancelling out its drawing properties. You'd essentially just be putting dirt on your face. You can use glass or plastic safely.
A few tips:
This mask will likely pull out some hair on your face. You might want to spot check to make sure it doesn't hurt too bad.
In that vein, avoid your eyebrows unless you want to accidentally pluck them out. Trust me, no one thinks that's attractive. Did you see the celebrities without eyebrows meme that circulated the internet last year? Don't let that be you.
I didn't have any blackheads to be pulled out, so I was slightly underwhelmed on that score. But it did pull some dirt and dead skin. My face was soft and clean after. I forgot to take a picture once the redness was gone, but I will upload one soon.