For all of skin care's futuristic new gadgets—motorized brushes that wash your face, souped-up razors that run like a Tesla—there are a handful of old-fashioned remedies worth keeping around. Case in point: charcoal, a centuries-old, unapologetically simple grime fighter with a knack for eliminating impurities, odors, and bacteria. Ancient Hindus purified water with it, Hippocrates used it to treat anthrax in 400 B.C., and now grooming brands are touting its benefits.

"Activated charcoal, which is what's in skin-care products, is treated with oxygen, opening up millions of tiny holes that act like magnets for junk," explains dermatologist Soheil Simzar, M.D., of Ava MD in Los Angeles. "But it's different from regular soap because it won't leave your skin stripped and tight." (The chemical structure of carbon in charcoal latches on to pollutants, dirt, and excess oil but not skin's natural sebum.) Below, three products that are making the most of the black stuff.

The Shampoo
Sort of Coal Kuro Shampoo

A gentle Danish cleanser with activated charcoal derived from Japanese oak branches.

The All-in-One Face Towel
Binchotan Scrub Towel

Morihata's cotton-polyester facial cloth boasts soft knitted ribs spun with extra-finely ground Binchotan charcoal.

The Toothbrush
Yumaki Chairo Kame Faux-Tortoiseshell Brush

This Japanese brand packs charcoal's odor-absorbing properties into soft nylon bristles (the ergonomic grip's not bad, either).

• • •