Believe it or not, activated charcoal is everywhere. Whether you are strolling down the beauty aisle in a local supermarket or browsing online, you'd have probably noticed that activated carbon products have practically taken over the beauty and health market.
You’ll be surprised to know that activated charcoal was once considered as the universal antidote,  and today, it continues to be endorsed as a potent natural treatment. From activated charcoal powder, cubes and granules through to activated charcoal tablets, pills and facial pads, this magic ingredient is found in almost all the possible forms.
While this magic ingredient is enjoying the modern moment, it has already been used as a medicinal property for centuries. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese have all used it for various reasons. However, before you jump on the bandwagon, let’s ponder deeper to know everything about the activated charcoal.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a fine, odourless, black power that is derived by superheating natural sources of carbon, such as sawdust, coconut shells, bone char, petroleum coke, coal or peat. By processing at very high temperatures, the internal structure of the charcoal is changed while increasing the surface area and reducing the size of its pores. As a result, the charcoal is “activated”.
Here, you need to keep in mind that activated charcoal is not the charcoal that you use to light your barbecue. While both are made from the same products, charcoal briquettes contain additional toxic substances and have not been “activated” at high temperature. Moreover, it is more porous than compared to regular charcoal.
How Does Activated Charcoal Work?
As we have seen above, activated charcoal powder is made by superheating natural sources of carbon. The toxin-absorbing properties of this magic ingredient have a wide range of cosmetic and medicinal properties, though none are scientifically proven .
Whether you need to get rid of chemicals, toxins or oils, activated charcoal being extremely absorbent can help as it traps the toxins and chemicals in the gut whilst preventing them from being absorbed into the body.  The porous texture of the activated charcoal also has a negative electrical charge which attracts all the positively charged molecules, such as gases and toxins.
Since activated charcoal isn't absorbed by the body, the contaminants bound to its surface leave the body in faeces. It is also popularly known as “Black Magic”, where black stands for its colour and magic stands for its ability to remedy all kinds of ailments, from germs to parasites.
Activated Charcoal – How Nature’s Magnet Helps In Detoxifying Your Body
From chemicals in the water we drink and pesticides on our food to exposure to mould, there are several environmental factors that create a toxic load in our body. To add to the list, many of us suffer from chronic illness, making us more vulnerable to these factors. This is where activated charcoal can jump in and lessen the toxic burden on our body.
Cleansing the GI (Gastrointestinal) tract becomes extremely important in order to support overall health and wellness. Activated charcoal can be used to help promote a healthy digestive tract by alleviating all the toxins. Removing these harmful toxins from the systems provides relief to joint pain, increases energy, boosts physical and mental health and much more.
Moreover, there are numerous activated carbon tablets for bloating which helps in alleviating uncomfortable gas and bloating by binding the by-products in the food responsible for causing gas and discomfort.
How To Use?
Activated charcoal is a potent detoxifier. There are numerous ways to use activated charcoal for body detoxification. Let’s take a look:
- Activated Charcoal Capsules – There are several easy-to-swallow supplements available on the market today. Taking charcoal pills before a meal helps clear your digestive system whilst boosting metabolism.
- Activated Charcoal Drinks – Have you ever thought of having charcoal lemonade? You can add the activated charcoal powder to your glass of water or favourite juice and make it your delicious detox drink.
- Activated Charcoal Detox Bath – All you need to do is add activated charcoal to your bathing water and enhance the detox results by using an exfoliating sponge for face and body.
Other Important Uses & Benefits Of Activated Carbon
1. Teeth Whitening
Do you have stained teeth? Don’t worry. Activated charcoal can help to whiten the teeth. Moreover, it changes the pH balance in the mouth which helps in promoting good oral health while preventing cavities, gum diseases and bad breath.
As activated charcoal is effective in adsorbing microscopic tidbits and plaque responsible for staining teeth, it helps to whiten teeth. It is not only cost-effective but also a natural solution for a bright and confident smile.
How To Use?
The market is flooded with activated charcoal toothpastes. You can give it a try! Else, you can wet a toothbrush and dip into activated charcoal powder. Brush normally while paying special attention to areas showing the stains. Rinse your mouth well.
2. Water Filtration
Water is a basic necessity of wellbeing. Unfortunately, normal tap water is toxic and loaded with toxins, chemicals and fluoride. Don’t worry., using activated charcoal can help clean the water, alleviating all the impurities and making it safe for drinking purposes. However, it doesn’t trap any hard-water minerals, bacteria or viruses.
How To Use?
Nowadays, there are many activated carbon water filters found in the market for you to choose from. Simply, bring it home and install it to enjoy pure drinking water which is also a good way to stay hydrated.
3. Skin & Body Care
The effectiveness of activated charcoal isn’t limited here. You’ll be surprised to know that it can do wonders for your skin when used in homemade face masks. It is used in drawing microparticles such as dust, toxins, chemicals, and dirt, making the surface of your skin look cleaner and smoother. Moreover, it is also used in deodorants nowadays. Activated charcoal may absorb unpleasant smells and fatal gases, making it ideal for deodorising shoes, underarms and refrigerators. What’s more, just like guarana benefits for skin , activated charcoal is used to treat skin infections as well.
As activated charcoal may have an antibacterial effect, it helps in absorbing dangerous germs from injuries. It also helps in alleviating discomfort caused by insect bites, snake bites, rashes from poison oak or poison ivy, by preventing the poisons from being absorbed into the body.
How To Use?
- To treat acne: You need to mix one capsule of activated charcoal with two teaspoons of aloe vera gel. Apply it gently all over the face. Once dry, rinse it off thoroughly.
- To treat a bee sting or mosquito bite: Mix a capsule of activated charcoal with half tsp. of coconut oil. Apply it on the affected area. Reapply it every 30 minutes until discomfort and itching is settled.
Undoubtedly, ageing is a natural life process. But our hectic lifestyles can expose us to various toxins, leading to premature ageing. This is where activated charcoal can help. It helps in flushing most of the toxins and chemicals out of the body while benefiting major body organs. It not only helps prevent cellular damage to liver and kidneys but also aids in supporting healthy adrenal glands.
How To Use?
All you need to do is ensure that you positively take an activated charcoal pill after exposure to heavy metals, inorganic food or to any other toxin. However, doses of activated charcoal may vary from person to person.
Is Activated Charcoal Safe?
Usually, in most of the cases, activated charcoal is considered to be safe. There are infrequent side effects and is rarely severe.
Some of the most common side effects of activated charcoal are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Black Stools
The situation can be different when it is used as an emergency antidote for poison. There is a possibility of it travelling into the lungs and not in the stomach, particularly when a receiver vomits or is semi-conscious or drowsy. To avoid such risk, it is highly recommended to give the activated charcoal only to a fully conscious person.
Will like to add here that activated charcoal may lessen the absorption of certain medications. Thus if you are either pregnant, nursing or on any medications, it is highly recommended to consult a healthcare professional prior to taking it.
Important FAQs Related To Activated Charcoal
1. What’s the difference between “activated charcoal” and “activated carbon”?
Many people have a misconception that activated charcoal is different from activated carbon. But that’s not the case. Both of these terms are interchangeable. “Activated charcoal” is a more general term whereas "activated carbon" is widely used in the industrial sector. “Activated coal” is also used by many people.
2. For what can I use activated charcoal?
Being a highly versatile product, it can be used for water filtration, cleansing, detoxification and to treat various ailments. It is also highly beneficial in treating excessive gas and bloating. As it is attractive to very minute particles, it can be widely used for the cleansing and detoxification of products, including fridge water filter, scrubs, deodorisers, cleaners and much more. You can also try adding it in your food and juices to detox your body of toxins.
3. For how long does activated charcoal last? Does it expire?
When stored properly in an airtight container, activated charcoal can last for a lifetime. However, when it comes in contact with the environment, activated carbon can absorb several environmental pollutants. There isn't any such expiration limit, however, certain arbitrary governmental regulations may require an end date as a maximum.
4. Is it food grade?
Yes, it is considered GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe). However, many manufacturers go a step ahead and have their products certified under different organisations.
5. Can I eat it?
Yes, you absolutely can! Nowadays, many people consume activated charcoal tablets or pills to help settle their digestive issues and detoxify the body. They also use it as a part of a body cleanse. However, it is highly recommended to check with a doctor before consuming it.
It can also interfere with medications, so kindly avoid taking activated carbon at the same time as medicines.
Activated charcoal is a superfood withstanding a wide range of uses since centuries. Surprisingly, it may also have the potential to treat poisoning, intestinal gas, lower cholesterol, promote kidney function and reduce gas. However, studies supporting these benefits tend to be weak. Also, several other benefits associated with activated charcoal aren't supported by science. Do keep this in mind while giving it a try. But it is worth a try!
- National Center for Biotechnology Information (PMCID: PMC4767212), Mar 2016
- National Center for Biotechnology Information (PMID: 25455049), Jan 2015
- MedlinePlus - Health Information from the National Library of Medicine