What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is essentially burnt wood. It is usually made from burning wood with dirt which helps decrease the amount of oxygen available. Activated charcoal is porous and is able to absorb other carbon molecules, these pores help activated charcoal “trap” other compounds.

Activated charcoal and poisoning

Activated charcoal is used in the emergency treatment to treat certain cases of poisoning.  It helps prevent the poison from being absorbed into the body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, activated charcoal should not be used for alkalis (lye) and strong acids, iron, boric acid, lithium, petroleum products (e.g., cleaning fluid, coal oil, fuel oil, gasoline, kerosene, paint thinner), or alcohols have been swallowed, since it will not prevent these poisons from being absorbed into the body.Activated charcoal has not been shown to be effective in relieving diarrhea and intestinal gas.

Products that have activated charcoal

Water filters such as Brita.

Personal care products such as facial cleansers, face masks and tooth paste.

Foods such as lemonade and ice cream.

What does science say about activated charcoals ability to detox the body?

According to Science Based Medicine,

“Despite the marketing hype, activated charcoal has no ability to suck out the toxic chemicals from the rest of your body. ”

“There’s no evidence to demonstrate that the everyday consumption of activated charcoal is either beneficial or helpful in any way.”

According to Web MD there is insufficient evidence for

Decreasing cholesterol levels.

Prevention of gallbladder disease in pregnancy.

Treatment of a hangover.

Decrease gas

  • Consumer Reports did mention a small study of less than 300 people. The results showed that some participants did benefit from activated charcoal. Larger studies are needed to help support this finding.

Skin care and activated charcoal

I did a literature search and could not find documentation that supported any benefits when the using activated charcoal in skin care.

According to Consumer reports,

“Activated-charcoal face washes and creams often have product labels promising to clear up acne and clarify the skin by removing toxins from your pores. But there’s no published evidence, says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a dermatologist at Skincare Doctors in Boston, to suggest this works, either. ”

Activated charcoal and toothpaste

According to Colgate, Back in ancient Roman times, people were using powdered charcoal as an ingredient in their toothpastes. Recipes for homemade toothpastes that date to the 19th century also feature charcoal as a key ingredient.”

I reached out to a fellow physician Dr Paris Sabo from Dr. Brite for additional information. Dr Brite offers organic/vegan teeth whitening products.

Dr Sabo stated that,

We use less that 0.25% Activated charcoal in our oral care formulation.  In fact we tell all our supporters, customers and buyers not to use pure activated charcoal as it tends to “tattoo” the gums. We make our oral care using a synergistic mix of ingredients with Coconut Oil, Vitamin C, Neem, Kaolin Clay, Calcium and activated charcoal.”

The American Dental Association suggests limiting the use of abrasive ingredients such as baking soda and activated charcoal, “Using materials that are too abrasive on your teeth can actually make them look more yellow. Enamel is what you’re looking to whiten, but if you’re using a scrub that is too rough, you can actually wear it away. When that happens, the next layer of your tooth can become exposed – a softer, yellow tissue called dentin.”

According to Consumer Reports, “There are no published studies on activated charcoal used for whitening, for example; one unpublished experiment presented at a dentistry conference noted that “fine black charcoal powder” could actually become embedded in cracks or small holes in the teeth—doing the opposite of whitening.”

Medication use and activated charcoal

According to web MD

“Activated charcoal absorbs substances in the stomach and intestines. Taking activated charcoal along with medications taken by mouth can decrease how much medicine your body absorbs, and decrease the effectiveness of your medication. To prevent this interaction, take activated charcoal at least one hour after medications you take by mouth.”

Activated charcoal and vitamins

Charcoal may decrease vitamin absorption.

Activated charcoal side effects

Environmental Working Group gives charcoal a overall low hazard score

Side effects of activated charcoal include,

Black stools

Black gums


According to Consumer Reports

What do you think of activated charcoal?

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