What is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a black odorless powder that has multiple uses for your body and skin. It really shines as a powerful detoxifier and can also help with common digestive complaints.
Though it may not sound healthy to be ingesting charcoal, the activated kind is much different than what you would put in a charcoal grill. It's completely safe for internal use and is even used in hospitals and emergency rooms.
Here's more about what activated charcoal is, plus its top benefits and uses.
Activated charcoal is charcoal that has gone through a specific treatment at high temperatures. Essentially, this treatment makes the charcoal more porous and increases its surface area.
This unique structure of many tiny pores is what allows charcoal to grab hold of different particles, including toxins and the active ingredients in certain drugs.
Despite its dark black color, activated charcoal is odorless and has little to no flavor. It comes in the form of a very fine black powder that can be added to food and drink or put into capsules.
The base material of activated charcoal varies.
In most cases, the origin isn't clearly indicated, but it's frequently made from vegetable peat, coal, or wood. Coconut charcoal and bamboo charcoal are two examples where the source is clearly listed and are good options if you want to make sure your activated charcoal comes from plant materials.
What are the Benefits of Activated Charcoal?
Emergency Anti-Poison Treatment
If you want to know how powerful activated charcoal is, just look at how it's used in a real-life setting: for emergency poisoning cases.
Since early on in the 1800s, activated charcoal has been used as an emergency treatment for certain types of overdoses. This includes both the accidental and purposeful ingesting of prescription or OTC medications like sedatives, aspirin, barbiturates, antidepressants, and more. (1)
However, it's important to note that charcoal doesn't work for every type of poisoning, and it needs to be given in the right amount usually within an hour of the overdose/poisoning. (2)
Still, when used by a professional, charcoal can save someone's life in the case of an overdose by both keeping the drug from being absorbed and getting it out of the body quickly. (3)
Hopefully, you won't ever need to experience using activated charcoal as an emergency poison remedy, but you can still benefit from its natural detoxifying ability.
When activated charcoal enters your system, it doesn't get digested or absorbed by your body. Instead, it passes right through and is able to pick toxins and gases on its way by.
It does this through a process known as adsorption (not to be confused with absorption). Basically, charcoal binds to certain substances and holds onto them with its porous surface. This has the effect of carrying potentially harmful toxins all the way out of your body instead of allowing them to be stored in tissues.
Because activated charcoal doesn't appear to be as effective for heavy metals, you may want to take it with cleansing herbs for a full detox.
Cleansing for Your Digestion
One specific way to use the detoxifying power of activated charcoal is for indigestion.
Digestive upset or poor digestion can be coming from accumulated toxins in your digestive tract. In this case, activated charcoal can help by removing those toxins and even harmful bacteria like E. coli. Research has also shown that charcoal does not adsorb very strongly to beneficial gut bacteria, leaving them largely in place. (4)
Because it adsorbs gases as well as toxins, charcoal can help to relieve gas and bloating and may even prevent gas when taken before a meal. You can take it on its own for this effect or combine it with a gas-relieving herb like fennel- as in these Gas & Bloating capsules. (5)
Activated charcoal is a natural deodorizer and is much better for your health than chemical air fresheners. It actually gets rid of unpleasant odors, rather than simply masking them, much like baking soda.
You can use it in your refrigerator, for pet odors, and to freshen up your car. The powder is a little messy for this purpose, but companies have started to make charcoal disks that can easily be hung up and even air purifying bags.
One of the top cosmetic uses for activated charcoal is to whiten teeth and help prevent new stains from forming.
No clinical trials have tested the effectiveness of charcoal toothpaste (which has become very popular), but it's believed to work by binding to and removing particles that cause stains. It also has a slightly abrasive nature that helps to polish your teeth without irritating your gums.
Because the amount of charcoal in toothpaste formulations is very small, you may get better effects by simply using charcoal powder on your toothbrush a few times a week.
Cleanses Skin & Pulls Out Toxins
Activated charcoal has many potential uses in skincare.
Due to its detoxifying effects, it can help to cleanse skin and draw out toxins from insect bites or rashes. It may also help remove excess skin oil and could reduce breakouts associated with oily skin.
Charcoal even acts as a very mild exfoliator and has no documented cases of causing allergic reactions or skin irritation, which makes it excellent for sensitive skin.
How to Use Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal powder has many uses around the home to cleanse, deodorize, and soothe digestion. Here are 5 top ideas to get you started:
- Drink for Inner Cleansing- You can mix activated charcoal with water or juice and drink on an empty stomach to help your body detox. Only a small amount is needed to make a difference, with recommendations in the range of 500-1000 mg or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon.
- Take Capsules for Gas- Activated charcoal capsules or tablets are an even easier way to take this remedy. Take 1-2 capsules (dosages should be on the box) with a full glass of water to relieve gas and bloating. For prevention, take the capsules about 60-90 minutes before a meal.
- Charcoal Face Mask- To help your skin detox and get rid of excess oil, make a mask by combining activated charcoal with ingredients like water, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, and honey. Use jojoba or almond oil for a more nourishing face mask, or add something like tea tree essential oil to fight acne.
- Brightening Tooth Powder- For brighter teeth, you don't necessarily need to go out and buy a charcoal toothpaste. Instead, simply dip your toothbrush into activated charcoal powder (or sprinkle it on top) and brush your teeth. Or mix the powder with enough water to form a paste and use it to brush 2-3 times a week.
Paste for Bug Bites- For a simple bug bite remedy, combine charcoal powder with coconut oil, dab on your bite, and cover with a bandage. The charcoal should help to pull toxins out of the bite and make your skin less itchy. You can also add bentonite clay for more drawing power and lavender or tea tree oil for itch-stopping power.
What are the side effects of Activated Charcoal?
Generally speaking, activated charcoal is very safe to use, although large amounts of it can make your stomach upset or cause constipation. To avoid digestive slowing or constipation, always take charcoal with 1-2 glasses of water to help flush it through your system.
Also, keep in mind that charcoal can bind to beneficial medications and supplements. For this reason, it's best to take it on an empty stomach and at least 60-90 minutes before or after a meal or taking medication.
Can you Detox with Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a good way to naturally and safely help your body with detoxification. It can also be very beneficial for you skin, pulling out toxins and cleansing your pores.
If you haven't tried this interesting black powder yet, now might be the time to add it to your arsenal!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.