How the activated charcoal trend came about & 5 popular uses

If you haven’t noticed many of your regular products turning a peculiar shade of grey-black yet, let us be the first to tell you, your friend’s toothpaste isn’t going off – they’re just testing out the new activated charcoal trend. Everything from body scrubs, face masks and oral hygiene products are offering activated charcoal variations so you can benefit from this natural ingredient’s super powers. But what are its powers and where did they suddenly come from? Here’s the grit on charcoal’s not-so-new secret weapon and 5 ways you can benefit from it in your day to day life.

How the activated charcoal trend came about

The absorption or ‘entrapping’ properties of activated charcoal are nothing new.

Its medical properties have been known for quite some time. Hippocrates (c400BC) and Pliny the Elder (AD50) both noted its efficacy in treating ailments like vertigo, anthrax poisoning and even absorbing unpleasant odours from rotting wounds. But how does it do this?

Basically, charcoal is a byproduct of slow burnt peat, coal, wood and coconut shell (the not so great kind is a by product of petroleum). By heating common charcoal in the presence of a gas, the charcoal develops myriad small, low volume pores with lots of internal spaces. This increases its ratio of surface area absorption rate helping to “trap” chemicals, up to 1000 times its weight. And so the charcoal becomes active or activated.

In modern industry and health treatment, it’s used largely as a filtration for purifying everything from air, water to alcohol filtration and of course its medicinal uses in toxin absorption. While the benefits of activated charcoal are nothing new, its appearance in the wellness and beauty scene is an innovative extension of its absorption properties.

How you can benefit from the activated charcoal trend

There are a host of wonderful and seemingly effective uses for activated charcoal. Here some trending products that make good use of the beneficial properties of this age-old natural by-product.

1. For detoxing the body

In medicine, activated charcoal is primarily used as a treatment for absorbing poison and drug overdose because of its ability to bind the harmful compounds travelling through the gastro intestinal tract before they can reach the bloodstream. Even my vet recommends I keep a bottle of charcoal tabs on hand in case my over curious retriever gobbles up some or other less than savoury forest find or, god forbid, gets into my midnight chocolate stash (poisonous for dogs).

So, when it comes to detoxing, ie. removing toxins, it’s effective in absorbing gut-disturbing pesticides hitching a ride on foods consumed. But it’s not going to infuse you with health, what’s it’s going to do is bind to and remove what’s in your gut.

NB to Note:  Several sources indicate that activated charcoal will also bind to other compounds in the gut. So, if you’re taking prescription medication or taking it with your vitamins, it could render them ineffective. Best be aware when and how you ingest it.

Cleansing Tonic: Added into the already gut healthy kombucha, this tonic’s added dose of activated charcoal not only adds probiotics but is said to clear your gut of unwanted toxins too.

“Super light and refreshing. My favourite detox drink!” – Luna

All round absorber: This powder can be used internally for general detoxes or used for masks and tooth whitening, and seems to help for curing tummy bugs too.

“I have been pleasantly surprised by this product multi-functional abilities. I have used this alone by drinking it after a heavy night of drinking and woke up fresh. I have also used it in conjunction with Nature’s Choice Bentonite Clay as a face mask and it worked well for me. I also gave some to my partner who had been suffering from heartburn, which eased the pain. This is a must have for every household!” – Lwazi

2. For cleansing your skin

Because activated charcoal can bind to toxins in the gut, its absorption ability befits a similar theory when it comes to topical beauty products.

Acne treatment:  It’s intended to act as a magnet, attracting and absorb oil and dirt. Experts say that theory is substantiated. “When dirt and oil in your pores come in contact with the carbon, they stick to it and then get washed away when you rinse it off,” explains cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson.

 “This product is so amazing!! pretty good for clogged pores & blackheads” – Shandré

Drawing ointment: In terms of drawing out acne impurities, it may depend on person to person, but for drawing out poisons from stings, thorns, and splinters, a drawing salve is most certainly a super handy use of charcoal.

“Works like a charm for splinters, pimples, boils, insect bites and much more. One of those products that boost my ‘supermom’ status every time!” – Robyn

3. For absorbing odours

This activated charcoal soap gets much love for its ability to reduce body odour. In theory, it makes sense, but again, its efficacy depends from person to person’s sweat gland production.

“This is great- helps a lot with body odour. I have gone completely roll-on free. I wish the harsh beads were a little less so that I can lather the bar all over my body. Works well as a face wash too.” – Kaylah

4. For cleaner teeth and gums

Oil pulling: 
This is a popular body detoxifier in Ayurvedic health and since your mouth houses a host of germs, it would make sense that an oil pulling product with charcoal ingredients would be a good bet for binding the germy buggers before they enter your system.

“I have tried this. The whitening boost is amazing.” – James

Tooth brushing: When it comes to cleaning teeth, activated charcoal is said to not only absorb plaque causing bacteria but also whiten tooth enamel by gently polishing off and attracting the bad stuff and disappearing down the drain rather than hiding in the nooks of your teeth and gums.

“The best (natural) toothpaste on the market I’ve found so far. It is very refined and feels like it really cleans my teeth – and it whitens them too.” – Elizabeth

5. For cleaner drinking water

Water filter: KuroBo recently shared self-funded empirical studies in collaboration with A.L. Abbott stating that their product “removes bacteria (namely e.Coli) from drinking water in 60 minutes. To contextualise, drinking water must have a 0 count per 100ml of water to be drinkable.” In just one hour, this charcoal filtration stick took spiked water down from a count of 99 per 100ml to 0. So this one’s benefits are a no brainer if tasty, healthier water is your aim.

“Wow, this stick actually works!!! It has transformed the taste of our ‘chlorine treated’ tap water tremendously.” – Mimi

In the US and Europe activated charcoal is already cropping up in trendy pizzerias, ice cream parlors and hangover curing coffee shops. One can’t help but wonder if a new wave of kitchen counter cleaners and sock inserts might make their appearance as this trend grows in popularity.

So, are you a lover or dubious spectator of the charcoal revolution cropping up in all your products? Share your experience in the comments below and give your verdict on whether you think the dark trend is here to stay.

  • Oriole
    Posted at 10:48h, 16 September Reply

    I use a face mask made of bentonite clay, activated charcoal, and apple cider vinegar once a week, and the difference it has made to my skin is noticeable.

  • Jessica Stafford
    Posted at 11:54h, 07 June Reply

    Activated charcoal is a naturally refined version of charcoal – you know the dark stuff you find in the fire after it’s burned out. It goes through a natural process to purify it and increase the natural abilities of it to cleanse and detoxify that make it suitable for health and beauty products. Visit my blog to know more

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