These days, activated charcoal is everywhere. You can put it on your face, wash your scalp with it, and even drink it. But all beauty products are not created equal, and that includes charcoal powder, creams, and other products.
Of course, you want the safest and healthiest products to use on your skin, teeth, and hair. But to determine whether activated charcoal is safe and effective, you need to look at how it works, and how it will interact with your skin.
What is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal isn’t ordinary charcoal, and it’s certainly different from the briquettes you may use in your barbecue!
When activated charcoal is processed, it ends up more porous than regular charcoal. This makes it useful for absorbing things you don’t want in your body, like toxins.1
Because activated charcoal is absorbent but can’t be digested, it has been used as an antidote to poison and other unwanted toxins for hundreds of years. It is a common ingredient in emergency rooms and poison control centers.2
Charcoal, and products that contain it, may help keep your kidneys healthy, reduce certain causes of body odor, and help to lower cholesterol.3-5
Now, you want to be certain you’re using the right kind of activated charcoal products, so make sure that the labels of your beauty products list “activated charcoal” as an ingredient. Activated charcoal is different from regular charcoal.
Charcoal Face Masks
Who isn’t fascinated by those videos where people use activated charcoal masks to clear out their pores? But when it comes to activated charcoal masks for your skin, you want to make sure the products you buy will work the way they’re supposed to.
Activated charcoal can kill bacteria. If you apply it as a face mask, it may help zap harmful bacteria on your skin, including bacteria that cause pimples and blemishes.6
Little research has been done to determine if a face mask containing charcoal can really clear impurities from your skin. For the most reliable results, mix your charcoal products with other clarifying products for a gentle exfoliate.7
Some do-it-yourself home face mask recipes suggest you mix activated charcoal powder with glue. These can strip off your top layer of skin cells plus helpful oils that moisturize and keep your face healthy. Rather than making your own, buy charcoal masks from the store.8
When it comes to cleaning oil out of your pores, activated charcoal is a great beauty tool. If you’re looking for a new beauty tool to add to your skin care routine, consider including charcoal products to help exfoliate and refresh your face.
Brushing Your Teeth with Charcoal
Who doesn’t want a brighter, whiter smile? It may sound strange to apply black charcoal to your teeth to make them whiter, but many toothpastes and other tooth products now boast activated charcoal as an ingredient.
Activated charcoal is more abrasive than the ingredients found in toothpaste. That means that if you brush with charcoal, or with a toothpaste that contains charcoal, you could brush away more plaque. The downside is that more abrasive products, like charcoal, may damage your tooth’s enamel.9
You can purchase toothpaste that contains activated charcoal, or you can make your own by mixing charcoal powder with your regular toothpaste, or with another mouth-cleaning product, like coconut oil, which reduces tooth decay.10
To get the best results from activated charcoal, look for a toothpaste that also meets the recommendations from the American Dental Association.11
When it comes to your smile, you don’t want to mess around. That’s why activated charcoal-based tooth whitening products are best used in moderation.
Benefits of Washing Your Hair with Charcoal
Activated charcoal is even showing up as a popular ingredient in shampoos. While it might not do much for your strands, it could help your scalp when you wash with it.
Because activated charcoal is so absorbent, it can help to remove oil, dirt, dandruff, and other impurities or toxins from your hair and scalp.
Activated charcoal does not damage hair, so you can use it without having to worry about its negative effects on your tresses.12
Although activated charcoal is great at absorbing many things, it can’t absorb some kinds of bacteria and viruses. Make sure that you have a balanced set of hair care products to ensure your hair is healthy and clean.13
Since the skin on your scalp is delicate (like the skin on your face), you may want to approach activated charcoal shampoos with the same caution you apply to charcoal masks. Be choosy with which products you buy.
Should You Eat or Drink Charcoal?
A charcoal-black ice cream cone or lemonade might make for a striking Instagram photo, but before you consume activated charcoal, read up on how ingested charcoal changes your body.
Ingesting activated charcoal can result in unwanted and sometimes dangerous side effects. It can lead to nausea or vomiting, or difficulty breathing. You’re more likely to have a negative reaction if you take activated charcoal multiple times.14
Activated charcoal doesn’t differentiate between “good” drugs or “bad” drugs. That’s why, if you’re taking medication, you should avoid activated charcoal, which may absorb necessary or helpful chemicals from your digestive system.15
While activated charcoal has been suggested as an alcohol poisoning remedy, it’s not typically used because it doesn’t absorb alcohol well.16
You may be at a higher risk of dehydration if you eat activated charcoal.17 This is especially true if you’re also ingesting a laxative as part of a cleanse.18
While it may be tempting to use activated charcoal as a get-thin-quick diet plan or hangover remedy, but there are far safer ways to care for your body. A healthy diet and lots of exercise remain the safest and most effective ways to care for yourself.
Live Your Life with Just a Little Charcoal
Activated charcoal has so many uses and potential health benefits. But as with any ingredient, you need to proceed with caution. AC might have great skin-cleansing and hair-cleansing properties, but it can also mess up your gut if you consume it.
Be thoughtful about the products you purchase and remember, whatever claims you’ve heard about charcoal products or trends you may want to jump on, nothing is more important than your health and well-being.
And, if you’re still not sure about using activated charcoal, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor first.