Black is .. well the new black – when it comes to health and beauty, that is! Activated charcoal, has been making an appearance everywhere from juice bars to the cosmetic counter. If you’ve seen it around and want to learn more about what the hype is about, we’ve got you covered with this guide.
What is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal isn’t the same as the charcoal you use in your braai. It’s typically made from carbonized wood or coconut shells that have been oxidized at an exceptionally high temperature. Heating charcoal causes it to expand and become more porous.
In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, activated charcoal has been used to treat accidental poisonings and drug overdoses. Why? Because of its ability to adsorb toxins and poisons. Because activated charcoal is so porous it can adsorb a considerable amount, when administered properly, in appropriate doses.
You might be thinking you just saw a typo, but I did in fact mean adsorb (with a d, not a b). Adsorb means “to bind to” rather than “to absorb.” Activated charcoal binds to toxins to help prevent them from being absorbed from your stomach into your body.
Where Will You Find Activated Charcoal?
Outside of the Emergency Room, you’ll find activated charcoal at your local health store— often sold in capsules, powder, or as a liquid. You may also see it popping up in juice bars where it’s being touted for helping to neutralize gas and as a way to “detox.”
Cosmetically, activated charcoal is being used in soaps, cleansers and face masks that are sold as products that help to soak up excess oils and draw out impurities from your skin. It’s also used in some natural toothpastes to help brighten your pearly whites.
Activated charcoal can also be found in water filtration systems—for you or your fishy friends.
Charcoal, Huh, What is it Good For? Absolutely… everything? That might not necessarily be true.
Some natural health practitioners believe that small doses (under 500mg) of activated charcoal are effective at promoting overall well-being and improving the appearance of hair, skin and nails. (Large doses should be administered only by a health care practitioner in a supervised setting).
I believe in the power of natural remedies and while I don’t use it every day, I do use activated charcoal (mixed with French green clay) as a homemade face mask. From time to time, I also use it as a digestive aid mixed with lemon juice, maple syrup and bentonite clay and as a part of my teeth cleaning regimen.
That being said, there’s no evidence that activated charcoal should be used outside of clinical applications for poison and alcohol overdoses. Will it detox accidental poison when administered properly? Yes. Does it adsorb excess oil from the skin when used topically? Maybe. Will it rid you of last night’s pizza? Absolutely not.
Is It for You?
Even though you’re seeing it everywhere that doesn’t mean activated charcoal is meant to be taken as a daily supplement—or that it’s right for you.
Consult with your doctor or health care practitioner about appropriate use of activated charcoal. If you are already using activated charcoal, please follow the guidelines and adhere to the contraindications listed on your bottle, especially if you are taking medications (because activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption and metabolism of other medications and supplements you are taking).