As a beauty editor and skin-care junkie, I’m obsessed with trying almost anything that might beautify me, and that includes activated charcoal. In fact, I’ve used this strange-sounding product to help keep my oily skin under control for years.
Lately, I’ve noticed that loads of people have been brushing their teeth with activated charcoal in an effort to make their pearly whites shine bright. It might sound counter-intuitive, but the theory is that charcoal’s absorbent quality might be able pull out stains.
My teeth aren’t super-stained by any means, but they could definitely use a little brightening. I’d tried an at-home teeth-whitening device a while ago, but the peroxide gel I had to put on my teeth tasted really sour and burned my lips. Plus, sitting there with a tray in my mouth for a half hour each day (as drool rolled down my chin) was pretty uncomfortable.
So, with a newfound hope for my chompers, I set out to scrub-a-dub-dub with charcoal for two weeks straight to see what would happen.
The day before I started using the activated charcoal, I mentioned to a doctor friend of mine that I’d be doing this, and he warned me that this would be verrrrry messy. (Like I should expect my whole entire mouth to turn black.) Hmm. I started to stress myself out—what if I couldn’t wash all of it off before I had to go to work? Would I be walking around with a black tongue and lips all day?
Still, I was ready to commit. Only, how the heck was I supposed to brush my teeth with activated charcoal, anyway? The answer: Just twist open an activated charcoal capsule, sprinkle it onto your wet toothbrush, and brush with the black stuff for approximately two to three minutes (which, I realized was a whole lot longer than I thought).
As my friend predicted, things got real messy—and right from the start. When I twisted the charcoal capsule open, black powder got everywhere, including under my nails
I brushed my teeth as I normally would, and did my best to keep at it for the next few minutes by counting to 60 in my head, then counting to 60 again, and again one final time. I watched myself in the mirror as my teeth—and my tongue—turned completely black. I looked undeniably creepy.
Luckily, the charcoal didn’t have much of a taste—at worst, I’d describe it as chalky. After three minutes, I spit tons of black into the sink, rinsed off my toothbrush, washed the charcoal off my hands, and started scrubbing my teeth and tongue.”
I was able to get most of the charcoal off, but my tongue still had a grayish tint. So, I gargled with a little water and then used a different toothbrush to brush my teeth and tongue with some regular ol’ toothpaste.
Finally, when my mouth was back to looking normal, I used a bleach wipe to clean the black splotches in my sink before getting dressed for work. In total, the process took me about seven minutes.
Related: Shop oral care products, from rinses to pastes to lip treatments.
Whew. I would have this whole procedure to look forward to that night—and the next 13 mornings and nights after that.
Two weeks passed without any major mishaps—although I did accidentally spit some charcoal onto one of my pajama tops, which happened to be white. At least it used to be white.
Lessons learned: Don’t wear white while handling charcoal powder, and lay a paper towel down on the bathroom counter when preparing your toothbrush.
I definitely got better at twisting open the supplements as the two weeks went on, so I made less and less of a mess in my bathroom each day. Win! But I did have to adjust my routine to make room for this extra step. I’m not a morning person by any means—really, I hit snooze at least three times—so forcing myself to get out of bed a little earlier to do this and still make it to the office on time was tough. And if I stayed out late, I’d end up skipping out on washing my face in order to brush my teeth with the charcoal before crashing for the night. Sacrifices.
My teeth were noticeably whiter at the end of this two-week experiment than they were at the beginning—or even at the midpoint. While my chompers didn’t have the look of peroxide-treated teeth, I was happy to test out a fairly easy DIY method that didn’t have a gross aftertaste.
Sure, I made a mess—in my bathroom and in my mouth—but it was worth it. Would I do it again? Absolutely. On Halloween.
Related: My Magic Mud activated charcoal toothpaste is flying off the shelves.