A relatively unknown (although certainly growing in popularity) substance, activated charcoal is a natural living lovers dream. With both health and beauty benefits, as well as a number of uses in the home, it’s something that every family should have.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Charcoal is made from coal, wood, or other substances. It becomes “activated charcoal” when high temperatures are combined with an activating agent to expand its surface area. As it burns hotter, charcoal is considered superior to wood, and so, historically, it became the fuel utilized to smelt ores, with its earliest recorded use dating all the way back to 3750 BC.
The Egyptians and Sumerians produced charcoal for the reduction of copper, zinc and tin ores in the manufacture of bronze. It also happened that the Egyptian discovered a completely unrelated aspect of charcoal – it could be used as a preservative. Posts scorched black by fire, when used for construction along the River Nile, were found not to rot when buried in moist soils. Without realizing it, these ancient people began to capitalize on charcoal’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties. That early innovation to preserve wood from rotting in wet situations continued down through the centuries, as other uses were discovered.
The first recorded use of charcoal for medicinal purposes comes from Egyptian papyri around 1500 BC, when they appeared to have used activated charcoal to absorb unpleasant odors from putrefying wounds. Around 400 BC, Hippocrates, recorded using it for treating a wide range of ailments, including vertigo, anthrax, chlorosis and epilepsy. Centuries later, in 1830, a professor drank a lethal dose of strychnine in front of his colleagues at the French Academy of Medicine – because he took the deadly poison with activated charcoal, he lived to tell the tale.
10 Brilliant Uses For Activated Charcoal
1. Poison Antidote
Today, the most well-known use of activated charcoal is as an antidote. It works by trapping chemicals and toxins in its millions of tiny pores. It doesn’t actually absorb toxins, its effectiveness is due to a chemical process known as adsorption, which is the reaction of elements like chemicals, toxins, and nutrients that are soaked up and assimilated in the bloodstream. It does this before chemicals and poisons can cause bodily harm. In fact, some emergency rooms use large doses of the stuff to counteract some types of poisoning. Activated charcoal, which is a fine, black powder that’s tasteless and odorless, has been estimated to reduce poisonous substances by as much as 60% – working through the entire length of the stomach as well as the small and large intestines. Research has shown that it’s often more effective than stomach pumping.
The porous surface of activated charcoal has a negative electric charge that causes positive charged toxins and gas to bond with it. While the nooks and crannies in activated charcoal are made through a heating process, this is NOT the type of charcoal that’s used in a barbecue grill – that type is filled with chemicals and toxins, and should never be consumed.
While activated charcoal may sound like something that doesn’t belong in or on your body either, there are many reasons it does, primarily due to its detoxifying effects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), rates it as a Category I, “safe and effective” for acute toxic poisoning, and it’s listed in the U.S. homeopathic pharmacopeia as having “marked absorptive power of gases”. A 1981 study, reported in Prevention magazine, confirmed what Native Americans have believed for centuries – it cuts down on the amount of gas produced by beans and other gas-producing foods, as well as absorbing the excess gas and bacteria that form the gas.
2. Relieve gas and bloating
One of the best uses for activated charcoal that’s frequently overlooked is to take it to relieve stomach discomforts like gas and bloating, thanks to its ability to bind gas-causing by-products in foods. It can be taken in the form of a pill, powder or liquid – if you take it in powder form, it should be blended in a non-acidic juice, but most recommended taking it in capsule or tablet form for this purpose. The dosage generally advised is two capsules in between meals. These Purest Vantage Activated Charcoal Capsules are regarded as one of the best options.
A 1986 study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, showed that activated charcoal was able to prevent intestinal gas following a typical gas-producing meal, so if you know ahead of time you might experience issues, you can take it as a preventive measure too. Take 500 milligrams an hour before a gas-producing meal, with at least 12 ounces of water. Follow with another glass of water immediately after, which helps the charcoal get into your system where it’s able to bind with gas-producing elements.
3. Eliminating tooth stains
If your teeth have stains from things like wine, coffee or tea, you may be tempted to shell out money for professional teeth whitening methods. But considering how expensive those can be, you might want to try activated charcoal instead. That’s because it actually helps whiten teeth by absorbing plaque and microscopic compounds that can stain them. Plus, it promotes better oral health by preventing gum disease, bad breath, and cavities as it changes the pH balance in the mouth. It may not be a pretty process, but it does work.
Using activated charcoal will temporarily make your teeth and mouth very black, it has the same effect as it does when it’s ingested: it pulls toxins from the mouth and removes stains. The black will wash away quickly, leaving your teeth clean and smooth as if you’ve just had a professional cleaning, and after doing this a few times, they’ll be noticeably whiter too.
Here’s how to do it. (You can use your regular toothbrush, but you may want to have a second one as the activated charcoal can discolor the bristles).
- Mix some activated charcoal powder with enough water to achieve a consistency that’s thick enough so that it will stay on your toothbrush. If you don’t have the powder, you can empty 1 to 2 capsules instead.
- Dip your toothbrush into the mixture, and then gently brush your teeth with it. Alternatively, you can combine the activated charcoal with a natural toothpaste and brush like you usually would.
- Leave the paste on your teeth for about 3 minutes, and then thoroughly rinse.
Keep in mind that activated charcoal will only work on surface stains that it can bind to, like those from coffee, tea and wine, and not natural discolorations in your teeth.
4. Cure a hangover
While activated charcoal doesn’t absorb alcohol, it does help speed removal of other toxins from the body that contribute to alcohol poisoning, and those horrible hangovers that come with imbibing too much. As alcohol is rarely consumed in its pure form, with things like mixers often including artificial sweeteners, chemicals are other substances, activated charcoal can help remove those toxins to cure a hangover. If you take activated charcoal with alcohol, some studies have shown that it can significantly reduce blood alcohol concentrations. Princeton University’s First Aider’s Guide to Alcohol notes that activated charcoal is administered in some situations related to alcohol too, such as when an individual shows signs of acute alcohol poisoning or is unconscious.
While scientific research has not backed up the claims that activated charcoal can relieve hangover symptoms, many people swear by it, so it’s certainly worth a try, although abstaining or limiting yourself is still the best way to avoid a hangover in the first place.
5. Cleansing from the effects of toxic mold
Mold is everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. It’s something that’s been on our planet for millions of years as it grows wherever there is moisture. But if you’re exposed to a damp, moldy environment for too long, such as in your home, molds can cause a number of problems, including skin irritation, nasal stuffiness, an irritated throat, coughing or wheezing and asthma symptoms in those who have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mold can even live in your body, causing serious problems like decreased brain functioning, a weakened immune system, depression, heart disease, vomiting, or even kidney and liver failure. Mold is found both indoors and outdoors. It can enter your home through windows, vents, open doorways, and heating and air conditioning systems. Mold in the air outside can also attach itself to pets, clothing, shoes, and bags, and be carried indoors. Homes that have flooded, or those with small leaks in the walls or under a sub-floor, are especially subject to mold. If there is poor ventilation, especially in places like a bathroom, laundry room or basement, the risk of mold growth is high.
If there is mold that’s visible in your home, it’s important to remove it by wearing gloves and a protective mask to prevent inhalation and then scrubbing it with a substance like tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar or baking soda. It is also a good practice to air out your home weekly for at least an hour, opening the curtains and bringing the sunshine in as the sun’s rays can kill pathogens like mold and dry out accumulated dampness. Pay careful attention when it comes to areas like laundry rooms and bathrooms that are very prone to dampness. If you’ve noticed symptoms of toxic mold, as mentioned, it’s also important to detox using activated charcoal.
Take one activated charcoal capsule just before bedtime, to soak up the effects of mycotoxins, and continue to do so until symptoms subside. If they continue to linger, be sure to visit your healthcare provider.
6. Filtering water impurities
You may have noticed that many water filtration systems use activated charcoal to help eliminate impurities in the water, as it traps solvents, industrial waste, pesticides and other chemicals. While it doesn’t trap hard water minerals, bacteria or viruses, systems that use activated carbon filters, AKA activated charcoal, can remove some fluoride from your water. Avoiding this substance, and detoxing, helps support your immune system, oral health, and your kidneys and liver.
You probably know that most tap water comes laden with toxins, chemicals, and fluoride, things you don’t want to ingest a whole lot of, which is why activated charcoal filters can be so beneficial to your health. Not only is pure water essential for all body systems, but by drinking 8 to 10 glasses a day, it will help ensure that your organs work as they should while also soothing the digestive tract, fighting fatigue and providing lubrication to tissues and joints.
7. Promote a healthier digestive system
If there are toxins in your digestive tract, it can lead to oxidative damage, a weaker immune system, allergic reactions and other health problems. But by eliminating these toxins with activated charcoal, you can boost your energy levels, improve mental function and relieve joint pain. As there are so many toxins in our environment, from the chemicals in the water we drink to pesticides on foods and pollutants in the air, it’s important to routinely detox the digestive tract for good overall health and wellness.
To detox with activated charcoal, you’ll need to follow a few steps. The first step is to take 10 grams of activated charcoal about an hour and a half before each meal, for two days. During this cleansing period, consume only organic fruits and veggies, wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats. If you become constipated, that’s a sign that you’re becoming dehydrated, so be sure to up your water intake, ideally drinking a 12-ounce glass of warm or room temperature water with a squeeze of organic lemon and a bit of raw honey every 30 minutes until constipation has subsided.
8. Clear your complexion
Activated charcoal uses extend far beyond internal applications. You can also use it as a face “detox” to clear up acne and encourage a more beautiful complexion. In fact, it’s an excellent cheap alternative to pricey face masks.
To make it, all you need is:
- The powder of 1 capsule of activated charcoal
- 2 tsp aloe vera gel (here’s how to make your own)
- 2 drops tea tree oil
Mix all of the ingredients well and then gently smooth it across your face. Allow the mixture to dry, and then rinse it off. The activated charcoal will bind with any environmental toxins and dirt that contribute to acne. You can also use this as a spot treatment for breakouts.
9. Prevent premature aging
Activated charcoal can also be used as an anti-aging treatment as it can help support healthy adrenal glands as well as prevent cellular damage to the liver and kidneys. As it’s so important to cleansing toxins and chemicals from your body on a regular basis, this may be one of the most essential things you can add to your regular health and beauty routine. Detoxing with activated charcoal helps cleanse the body inside and out by helping it flush out chemicals and toxins that lead to damage.
The toxic load just about everyone is exposed to on a day-to-day basis in our cars, in the workplace, in our homes, food, water, air, and so on, can contribute to premature aging, which is why we need to eliminate them, or we increase the risk of illness, disease, and signs of aging like wrinkles and age spots.
To use activated charcoal to prevent premature aging, simply take two capsules each day following exposure to toxins, like those found in non-organic foods, or eating a heavy meal. It will help improve overall health and well-being, reduce problems like brain fog, improve the health of your digestive tract and support healthier liver and kidney function.
10. Treat bug bites
Activated charcoal is also an excellent remedy for bug bites, be it a bee sting, mosquito bite, fire ant bite, spider bite or what have you. If you’re stung by a bee or bit by a mosquito, simply mix a capsule of the activated charcoal with a half teaspoon of coconut oil. Dab the mixture onto the affected area, reapplying it once every half hour until the discomfort and/or itching is gone. As activated charcoal tends to stain anything and everything nearby, be sure to wrap up the area using a bandage.
If you’ve been bitten by a spider, like a brown recluse or black widow, use a larger bandage and more activated charcoal to help prevent tissue damage before you can get to a doctor. To do so, create a wrap using material that’s large enough to go around the affected area twice. Dab the coconut oil/activated charcoal onto the fabric and then wrap it up and secure it with bandages. Reapply every two to three hours and rinse well each time in between applications.
Are There Any Activated Charcoal Side Effects?
Activated charcoal is generally considered safe for most people, but internal use of activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of nutrients and supplements, and may interfere with some prescription medications. A full list of drug interactions with activated charcoal is listed here on Mayo Clinic.
Where Can I Buy Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal comes in many forms, but the most common is in capsule form. When purchasing activated charcoal capsules, it’s important to look for a product that is made from coconut shells and one that has no nasty additives, fillers or sweeteners. These 100% Pure Activated Charcoal Capsules from Purest Vantage meets all of the above criteria and is one of the best reviewed products on Amazon.
For teeth whitening, this Active Wow Activated Charcoal Teeth Whitening Powder is the most popular.