Essentially, activated charcoal is charcoal that’s been heated to a very high temperature to make it more porous. The idea is that the many pores that are produced during this process make it possible for the activated charcoal to absorb all the nasties that might be floating around in your body and on your skin.
According to Brian Tanzer, Manager of Scientific Affairs at The Vitamin Shoppe, AC was originally used in emergency rooms to address toxicity issues related to poisoning and overdoses. “Activated charcoal can bind to toxins, reducing their absorption into the body,” Tanzer explains. “It carries a negative charge and traps positively-charged molecules that are potentially toxic.”
But activated charcoal has applications outside of the hospital, too—like in your bathroom! Here are the many ways lovers of AC use it for health and lifestyle purposes:
1. On your skin
Beauty aisles are lined with cutely packaged products starring activated charcoal, including soaps, face masks, skin peels, and more—and it’s not just a marketing gimmick: AC has skin-cleansing properties, according to research. Just note that it can also absorb good things, like the oils your skin actually needs, so always use a moisturizer afterward.
2. As a deodorant
While there’s no specific research on how activated charcoal can combat general body odor or sweating, beauty bloggers swear by it. And, a 2008 study from the Indian Journal of Dermatology found that AC may cause a reduction in odors associated with skin blistering. So it’s probably not a bad idea to test out a deodorant that lists AC as an ingredient. You can also make your own, if you’re the DIY type.
Follow this tried-and-true recipe from blogger French Pixie. You’ll need just a few ingredients:
- 1 teaspoon activated charcoal
- 1/2 cup arrowroot
- 2 to 4 tablespoons baking soda
- 1/4 cup liquid coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons magnesium oil
- 1 tablespoon witch hazel
3. Hangover preventer
Had one-too-many the night before? Good news: AC may help. According to a study in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association, there is some strong evidence linking alcohol poisoning reduction to activated charcoal. The Bulletproof Coffee blog recommends taking an AC supplement after or while drinking to help prevent hangover symptoms.
4. Teeth whitener
For anyone who prefers natural oral care, AC users have touted it for its teeth-whitening and surface stain-removing qualities. You can use a charcoal toothpaste, or powder like My Magic Mud’s Tooth Whitening Powder, but it’s also easy enough to pop open a capsule and just rub it onto your toothbrush with water.
Just be warned: It can be quite messy. RIP bathroom sink.
5. Gas reducer
Tanzer says AC may also be used for tummy troubles: “As a dietary supplement it is used to address some issues related to GI health, such as occasional digestive discomfort—and particularly gas that results from the digestion of food in the GI tract.”
Plus, a study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that it may also reduce abdominal cramps and bloating. If you want to support a healthy tummy, the Vitamin Shoppe’s activated charcoal capsules can be taken after or during meals to help keep the flatulence at bay.
One note: Activated charcoal can interfere with the efficacy of some medications, so if you’re taking anything regularly, you should speak with a healthcare provider before going all in.