Activated charcoal benefits have been touted as real game-changers for their ability to detoxify our skin, alleviate drug poisoning, and cleanse our digestive system.
I remember a few years back when activated charcoal was so trendy that I could hardly spend a week without seeing it being featured as the star ingredient of many new face masks that were being launched.
Mind you, the trendy ingredient did not just steal the hearts of beauty aficionados. The wellness industry also fervently embraced activated charcoal, since the multifaceted natural remedy has so many powerful properties that rival some of the most advanced proprietary ingredients in the market.
From emergency poison relief to sorting you out when you have diarrhoea or you are battling with high cholesterol levels, activated charcoal’s versatility is astounding. The black powder has become a staple in so many people’s bathroom cupboards.
So, if you are wondering whether the enduring hype around activated charcoal benefits is worth it, or whether it’s simply another beauty and wellness fad that has been going on for centuries, scroll down to find out more.
This post contains independently selected affiliate links. If you buy something, we may earn an affiliate commission. See our disclosures here to find out more.
What is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal derives from different natural sources, and the best source of this natural remedy are coconut shells.
To obtain the dark, flavourless, and odourless form of activated charcoal that is sold as a fine black powder or added to supplements and many products, activated charcoal is processed with oxygen at high temperatures to make it more porous and increase its surface area (1, 2).
Thanks to its high level of porosity, activated charcoal releases a negative charge that allows the natural remedy to effectively extract toxins and various substances from our bodies and many surfaces. This process is known as adsorption (this is different from absorption).
Activated charcoal powder that has been used since ancient times to treat various ailments.
Today, many people use it at home and in hospitals as an emergency remedy to counter the effects of drug poisoning in specific circumstances or to assist with toxins release (3).
Still not in love with that little darling of nature? Here are some benefits associated with activated charcoal that your skin, your home, and your digestive system will thank you for.
Benefits and Uses of Activated Charcoal
Helps Detoxify Skin
Activated charcoal has deep-cleansing properties that many people struggling with pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, or oily skin may find particularly helpful. Adding a charcoal cleanser or face mask as part of your regular skincare routine is a great way to draw out impurities from your skin, unclog and tighten your pores, helping to prevent acne breakouts.
Regular use of an exfoliating skincare product containing activated charcoal together with AHA, BHA, and PHA exfoliants in the ingredients list can help shed dead skin cells over time to reveal a smoother, glowy, and toned skin. This makes it easier for other skincare ingredients to deeply penetrate and nourish your skin.
Alleviates Poisoning and Toxin Ingestion
In the event of an accidental consumption of toxic substances such as a washing-up liquid, soap, pesticides, or bleach, activated charcoal may be beneficial in minimising the dangerous effects of these chemicals in your body.
Likewise, it can also counter the side effects of a prescription drug overdose such as sedatives, aspirin, or acetaminophen (3).
Activated charchoal’s ability to bind a wide range of over-the-counter drugs helps to alleviate their toxic effects on the body, making them less potent by preventing your body from absorbing them (2, 4). It also helps your body get rid of already absorbed drugs much faster (5, 6).
A number of clinical studies have demonstrated that taking 50 to 100 grams of activated charcoal within 5 minutes of consuming a prescription drug, may reduce the absorption of that drug by up to 74% in an adult (2,3).
Activated charcoal is said to be most effective when you take it within an hour following poisoning or a drug overdose.
So, if you end up in a hospital after poisoning or a drug overdose, a healthcare professional might suggest giving you the right dosage of activated charcoal based on your unique circumstances to trap these toxins, preventing them from penetrating your bloodstream .
However, you need to bear in mind that activated charcoal is ineffective in some cases of poisoning. For example, if the poison you have taken contains potassium, acid, lithium, iron, or heavy metals, activated charcoal may be unhelpful in such cases (2, 4, 7).
A qualified healthcare professional will be able to advise on the best course of action on a case-by-case basis.
Helps Relieves Intestinal Gas and Bloating
If you are constantly struggling with gas and bloating, activated charcoal may offer some relief. Activated charcoal works by trapping gas and toxins produced during digestion, reducing bloating and promoting a more comfortable gut environment.
A study indicates that consuming activated charcoal 8 hours before doing an abdominal ultrasound significantly reduces the amount of gas in your gut, which helps to get a higher image quality of the ultrasound (8). Further research is needed to support these initial findings.
Take a little bit of activated charcoal with plenty of water after your meal to ease the flow of nutrients in your digestive system, and let the natural remedy work its magic.
Remember to use activated charcoal only occasionally to avoid interfering with your body’s absorption of the nourishing foods and liquids you need to maintain a healthy diet.
Cleanses your Digestive System
If you have a delicate digestive system, occasional use of a small dose of activated charcoal powder once or twice per week may help you remove toxins from your body.
Bouts of diarrhoea, constipation, and associated abdominal discomfort and pain such as irritable bowel syndrome that regularly disrupt your health and wellbeing may become less recurrent with weekly consumption of activated charcoal.
A 2018 clinical study suggests that activated charcoal may be helpful in treating diarrhoea given its ability to attract and remove toxins from the gastrointestinal tract (9). It prevents your digestive system from absorbing adverse bacteria and substances by adsorbing them on the porous surface of its particles.
May Support Cholesterol Management
Activated charcoal may be helpful in reducing bad cholesterol levels in your body by preventing their absorption in the digestive tract.
Some in vitro clinical studies that were carried out in 1980’s indicate that activated charcoal may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels by attaching its small particles to cholesterol and cholesterol-containing bile acids in the gut, preventing them from being absorbed.
A 1986 clinical study with 7 patients demonstrated that consuming 24 grams of activated charcoal each day over 4 weeks helped reduce all bad cholesterol levels by 25% while increasing good cholesterol by 8% (10). More recent large scale study is needed to establish this benefit conclusively.
May Promote Kidney Function
Activated charcoal may assist in promoting a healthy kidney function by helping to eliminate waste products your kidneys need to filter out of your bloodstream (11).
This may be helpful to people suffering from chronic disease, whose damaged kidneys make it more difficult for them to expel excess urea, bacteria, and other toxins from their bodies.
Healthy kidneys help purify your blood from urea and unwanted substances that can damage or weaken your immune system, making you more resistant to diseases.
Activated charcoal particles may adsorb urea and other dangerous substances, helping your body eliminate them.
Urea and other toxins can pass from your blood into your gut via a mechanism known as diffusion. They subsequently get expelled from your body in stool (6).
Aids Water Filtration
Many people commonly use activated charcoal to purify drinking water. The home remedy may help filter water by getting rid of bacteria, oils, and various pollutants without disrupting the water’s taste and pH level (14). Now you understand why some water filtering systems make use of activated charcoal
Is Activated Charcoal Actually Safe?
Activated charcoal is definitely safe to use, depending on the quality of the product that you buy. However, there are a few cases when the natural remedy can be detrimental to your body.
Activated charcoal may limit the absorption of many medications and nutrients that your body needs to maintain a healthy immune system (2). Make sure to keep activated charcoal powder or supplements away from your medications.
In some cases, activated charcoal can cause vomiting, particularly if you take a product containing sorbitol at the same time (15).
Activated charcoal can also lead to bowel blockages, if you are on antimuscarinic or opioid medications and have a medical history of gut motility disorders, or receive emergency treatment for poisoning under the multiple-dose activated charcoal (MDAC) protocol (15).
You should also avoid taking activated charcoal if you have a history of gut blockage, bleeding,or holes as recommended by the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT) (15).
Activated charcoal can also travel to your lungs rather than your stomach in cases where medical professionals use the natural remedy as an emergency antidote against poisoning (2, 15, 7). In this type of situation, you may feel drowsy or may want to throw up, especially if you are semiconscious. Healthcare professionals generally treat patients with activated charcoal for emergency toxins removal when they are fully conscious.
How to Add Activated Charcoal into your Wellness Routine
If you fancy trying out activated charcoal to jazz up your beauty or wellness regimen, the best option is to start small.
Grab a face mask, a cleanser or any other exfoliating product containing the multipurpose ingredient, and give it a go for a few days to see how your skin adjusts to it.
The purists can go for the activated charcoal powder that they can use in different ways to top up a DIY face mask or mix with juice or water to detox their digestive system as and when needed. A powder supplement in a capsule form is also a great option to consider for a more sensible way to add activated charcoal into your wellness treatments.
Always, stick to the recommended dosage instructions on your product label. Keep the product expiration date on the packaging in mind, since activated charcoal in the product formula may lose its effectiveness beyond that time
If you experience drug poisoning, you are better off reaching out for medical help straight away. Healthcare professionals will be able to assist with the right dosage of activated charcoal for your case if it is the appropriate emergency remedy to use for you.