Indeed, activated charcoal may just be the next big must-have health and wellness staple.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
If you hear "charcoal" and think "grill", think again; this is a different type of charcoal, made by burning a material that contains carbon (like coconut shells, certain types of wood, or coal) in such a way that creates thousands and thousands of tiny holes in it. The resulting product has a surface area that's much larger than you'd think. In fact, a gram of activated charcoal can have a surface area of around 32,000 square feet!1
This gives it an incredible ability to bind to other substances, making it an effective purifier, both industrially and in medicine. It's also a mild abrasive, which is one reason it's sometimes found in beauty products.
Surprising Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal's binding abilities make it a favorite for industrial cleaning processes, winemaking, and even environmental remediation, so you might be surprised to learn that it's also gentle enough to use in and on your body. This makes it an amazing asset for everything from medical procedures to hygiene practices.
For instance, did you know that activated charcoal can...
1. Save your life.
Healthcare professionals regularly use activated charcoal to treat people who've ingested poison or consumed too much alcohol. It can actually act like a magnet to certain poisons and to some of the chemicals in alcohol, neutralizing them and preventing the digestive system from absorbing them.2. Medical professionals also sometimes use it to "clean" the blood of people who have ingested poison or whose kidneys and liver can't remove toxins from the body the way they should by removing the blood from the body, passing it through a machine that has a charcoal filter, and then putting it back in.3
2. Help with a hangover.
You might see some supplements saying that activated charcoal powder can absorb alcohol and therefore prevent a hangover, but this isn't technically correct. While activated charcoal doesn't absorb alcohol, it does adsorb some of the components in it (meaning it prevents your body from absorbing them.)4 This includes certain congeners, which are components in alcoholic beverages other than alcohol, like tannins, esters, and acetone. Since your body's reaction to congeners is one of the main reasons drinking too much makes you feel bad the next morning, taking activated charcoal can help sidestep that part of the process.5
3. Whiten your teeth.
The first time you brush with an activated charcoal teeth whitening toothpaste, you might think you've made a huge mistake, but hold on. Seeing a mouthful of black teeth might look off putting, but the benefits of activated charcoal for teeth are worth it. Activated charcoal actually acts as a gentle abrasive, safely removing surface stains on your teeth without damaging your enamel. Its magnet-like traits come into play here too: once the charcoal loosens the molecules causing the stains, it binds to them, removing them from your mouth when you spit and rinse.
4. Give your skin and hair a deep clean.
Activated charcoal traps unwanted substances on the surface of your skin, including fungi, dirt, and inhospitable bacteria, giving the good guys in your skin microbiome a chance to restore balance to your skin. It also plays a role in reducing the impact of free radicals in the body, which steal electrons from your skin cells, damaging them and making your skin look older.
The same thing goes for your hair: activated charcoal's powers of adsorption mean that it can bind to stuff you'd rather not have in your hair or on your scalp, like product build up, excess dead skin cells, or even fungi! While you don't really need it for every day, it goes make a good deep cleansing option, especially if you use a lot of product on your hair.
5. Soothe stomach troubles.
Have you ever eaten burnt toast to settle your stomach? Activated charcoal works on the same principle. It can neutralize substances that can leave your stomach upset, especially those that can leave you bloated and gassy.6 And if a little bit of gas does stick around, chances are it won't be quite as embarrassing as normal––activated charcoal may bind to hydrogen sulfide, which causes that "rotten egg" smell.7
6. Help your body process toxins.
Our modern Western culture exposes us to unprecedented levels of pollution, heavy metals, and heavily modified foods. While your body generally does a good job of processing and removing toxins, constant exposure can lead to a buildup of substances that you really don't want to keep around. Activated charcoal has gained tremendous popularity in numerous cleanse and detox protocols because of its ability to give your body a little extra help in removing things like mycotoxins, unwanted bacteria, and heavy metals by binding to them and neutralizing them until they can pass through your digestive system.
How to Use Activated Charcoal Safely
Like many other powerful cleansers, activated charcoal comes with a caveat: make sure that you're not consuming it back to back with other supplements. Remember, it binds to things passing through your digestive system really well, so it can reduce the effectiveness of other supplements or medications you're taking, including birth control. But as long as you're not taking excessive amounts of activated charcoal or taking it within a couple of hours or other supplements, you should be okay.
Do be sure to drink a lot of water whenever you're consuming activated charcoal, since it can sometimes leave you less hydrated than you'd like. (This doesn't apply if you're using it to brush your teeth or on your skin and hair, since it doesn't have the potential to bind to nutrients and liquid the same way––although staying hydrated is always a good idea!)
Finally, make sure you're choosing activated charcoal that comes from a safe, natural source. For instance, our Activated Charcoal Probiotic Toothpaste contains the absolute safest charcoal for teeth—organic activated coconut charcoal is not only an effective whitener, it's also safe enough to eat!
With so many benefits, activated charcoal definitely lives up to its hype. So the next time you need to deep clean your hair, settle your stomach, or polish those pearly whites, give it a try! Who knows? It could just become your next bathroom cabinet staple.
1. Dillon, E.C., Wilton, J.H., Barlow, J.C., Watson, W. A. (1989). Large Surface Area Activated Charcoal and the Inhibition of Aspirin Absorption. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 18(5). doi:10.1016/S0196-0644(89)80841-8.
2. Derlet, R.W. (1986). Activated Charcoal—Past, Present and Future. The Western Journal of Medicine, 145(4).
3. Pilapil, M., Petersen, J. (2009). Efficacy of Hemodialysis and Charcoal Hemoperfusion in Carbamazepine Overdose. Clinical Toxicology, 46(4). doi: 10.1080/15563650701264300
4. Wiese, J.G., Shlipak, M.G., Browner, W.S. (2000). The Alcohol Hangover. Annals of Internal Medicine, 132(11). doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-132-11-200006060-00008
5. Damrau, F., Liddy, E. (1960). Hangovers and Whisky Congeners: Comparison of Whisky with Vodka. Journal of the National Medical Association, 52(4).
6. Jain, N.K., Patel, V.P., Pitchumoni, C.S. (1986). Efficacy of Activated Charcoal in Reducing Intestinal Gas: a Double-blind Clinical Trial. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 81(7).
7. Danzl, D.F. (1992). Flatology. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 10(1). doi: 10.1016/0736-4679(92)90015-L
Rachel Allen is a writer at Hyperbiotics who's absolutely obsessed with learning about how our bodies work. She's fascinated by the latest research on bacteria and the role they play in health, and loves to help others learn about how probiotics can help the body get back in balance. For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.