Activated charcoal—made from wood, peat, or coconut shells treated to increase its absorbency—is no new kid on the detox block. For years its been used in hospital emergency rooms to treat medication overdoses and poisoning. Charcoal clings to toxins, or substances such as aspirin, and prevents the body from absorbing it. Despite the myths, however, charcoal does not bind to alcohol—and is therefore not the hangover remedy it’s touted to be. (Hint: drinking a lot of water is about as good as it gets for hangover relief.)
Because activated charcoal is not absorbed by the body—it stays in the digestive tract—combining activated charcoal with green juice can actually make the drink less healthy. Just like with toxins, the charcoal binds to the nutrients and phytochemicals from fruit and vegetables and hijacks the body’s ability to absorb them. Same caveat applies to many prescription drugs—charcoal’s propensity to bind may make medication less effective if taken at the same time.
However, charcoal may be just the ticket for gas, bloating and stomachaches. One study found symptoms of bloating and abdominal cramps due to gas were significantly reduced by activated charcoal.*
Even though charcoal may not be the best choice for hangovers or juices, it’s ability to draw out toxins makes it a great beauty ingredient. Charcoal cleansers, masks, scrubs, soaps, shampoos and even toothpaste make perfect sense, as the charcoal acts like a magnet, drawing out dirt and oil.
Curious about charcoal—but also a little trepidatious? Here are three products with activated charcoal well worth trying:
1. Facial mask
In derma E’s Purifying 2-in-1 Charcoal Mask, the activated charcoal draws out toxins from skin’s pores to the surface, where they can be cleansed away.
2. DIY toothpaste
Charcoal is also used to whiten teeth and clean teeth. Dip your clean, wet toothbrush into some powdered charcoal (you can open up a capsule) or dump a capsule of charcoal on the toothbrush.
The same qualities that make charcoal great for teeth and skin make it a prime ingredient for hair care. There are many charcoal-based shampoos on the market, or you can try this easy shampoo hack: just open three charcoal capsules and add to your regular shampoo. You may notice your hair feels extra clean and has more volume.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.