Activated charcoal is having a moment in the food, beauty and supplement industries right now. We’re seeing it in lemonade mixes, juices, toothpaste, face masks, and even food items like donuts, coconut ice cream and more!
While the idea of consuming and using a pitch-black powder seems intimidating — don’t shy away just yet! Learning how to use activated charcoal is simple, and once you give it a try, you’ll probably never look back.
What is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon or coconut ash, has been a staple in hospitals for centuries. Hospitals use activated charcoal to prevent poisons and lethal overdoses of drugs from being absorbed by the body. It is able to do so because of its super adsorbent properties, allowing it to bind to molecules, ions, or atoms.
As a side note here: activated charcoal adsorbs toxins – it doesn’t absorb. When something gets absorbed into the body, nutrients, chemicals, toxins and other elements get soaked up and assimilated into the blood stream. When something gets adsorbed (like when charcoal adsorbs mold or poison), a chemical reaction occurs where elements bind to a surface. Then, when we go to the bathroom, these elements are released from our body instead of being absorbed.
Activated carbon is made by heating carbon-rich materials like wood, peat, coconut shells, or sawdust to very high temperatures (1). This ‘activation’ process strips the charcoal of previously absorbed molecules and frees up bonding sites again. It also helps reduce the size of the pores in the charcoal, making more holes in each molecule and increasing surface area overall.
Because of the way it is manufactured, one teaspoon of activated charcoal has more surface area than a football field (2)!
Due to these powerful toxin-clearing properties, activated charcoal has become a favorite by many to help detox the body and clear up certain health conditions (like hangovers and food poisoning).
But there’s more to it than just that. In fact, Ayurvedic and Eastern medicine practitioners have been using this super-adsorbent supplement for years to help whiten teeth and cleanse toxic mold spores from the body.
Benefits of Activated Charcoal
Before we take a look at how to use activated charcoal for different cleansing purposes, I want to go over the benefits. You’ll want to make sure you drink plenty of water (3-4 liters of water) throughout the day if you’re supplementing with the capsules, tablets or powders. This will ensure you don’t get too dehydrated, and will also aid in quick removal of toxins and other compounds that the charcoal adsorbs.
Here are 8 ways you can use activated charcoal to benefit your body and home:
1. Whole Body Detox
As mentioned throughout the article so far, activated charcoal is a great detox supplement. By assisting the liver, kidneys and digestive tract (our major detox organs), activated carbon can inadvertently assist with eliminating joint pain, increasing energy and improving mental function.
One study found that activated charcoal can actually help protect your body from the side effects of antibiotics, and even aid the fight against antibiotic resistance. As you might already know, antibiotics do some serious damage to our microbiome, which can lead to all sort of nasty health complications down the road (like leaky gut and associated chronic health disorders).
By messing with the balance of microorganisms in a person’s body, antibiotics can cause long term changes, triggering outcomes like obesity, allergies and eczema.
The team of scientists that investigated the role of activated charcoal and antibiotics coated tiny pieces of activated charcoal with a special covering. They did those so that the protective covering would make it through the harsh acid of the stomach and eventually break down by the time it reaches the large intestine (which hosts a rich ecosystem of beneficial bacteria).
The team found that nearly 90 percent of beneficial gut bacteria were protected by their super-encapsulated activated charcoal product. They also found that the supplement “mopped up” the antibiotic in the large intestine (after fecal examination).
Activated charcoal is also great for removing the toxic burden of pesticide and herbicide buildup in the body. It has been used for many years to remove organic contaminants from waste waters and in water purification systems (3). So if you consume a lot of conventional food products with high concentrations of pesticides and herbicides, you should consider supplementing with activated charcoal to assist in their removal.
2. Whitens Teeth
I’ve been using activated charcoal to help whiten and clean my teeth for about three years now, and the results are astounding! Instead of using toxic bleach strips in your mouth like those manufactured by Crest, opt for activated charcoal instead.
Not only does activated charcoal help whiten the teeth, but it balances the pH in the mouth, thereby preventing cavities, bad breath and gum disease. It works by adsorbing plaque and microscopic food matter that would otherwise stain the teeth.
Check out the toothpaste recipe I use with activated charcoal here. It’s enamel-building, whitening, and will save you lots of money on toothpaste! Plus, it’s eco-friendly, and doesn’t generate tubes of toothpaste being thrown out each month.
3. Cleanses Toxic Mold Spores
Mold is a problem that can wreak havoc on your home and your health – especially when it comes to black mold. Fortunately, activated charcoal can help.
Due to its super adsorbent properties, activated charcoal is a miracle worker for ridding the body, and your home of toxic mold spores. While it doesn’t necessarily kill the mold itself, it does kill the mycotoxins that the mold creates (the toxins that create health problems).
Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain moulds and are known to trigger inflammation, oxidative stress and inflammatory reactions in both human and animal studies (4, 5). They have also been found to be associated with air found in water-damaged indoor environments (for instance, if you’ve ever had a flood in your house, you could very well be breathing in mycotoxins and other mold spores).
Sequestering agents like activated charcoal have been widely studied for their beneficial effects against mycotoxins. In one study that investigated over fourteen absorbent materials, activated charcoal was the only material that effectively bound and produced a significant reduction in intestinal mycotoxin absorption (6).
Another study found activated charcoal to be more effective than clay (another sequestering agent) for absorption of mycotoxins (7).
While you can use activated charcoal to help your body rid itself of mold mycotoxins, it is important to get rid of the source so that your body isn’t constantly inflamed by the threat of mold. If you do have black mold in your house, or you suspect you do, get your home checked out by a professional and get the air tested in your home for mold. If you’re experiencing symptoms like wheezing, rashes, watery eyes, coughing or headaches that aren’t explained in other ways, you should definitely get your home evaluated for mold spore levels (even if you can’t see visible mold anywhere).
4. Alleviates Gas & Bloating
Can’t get relief for your stomach pain? Activated charcoal can soothe your symptoms and help get things settled. It works by binding to the gas-causing byproducts in foods that cause discomfort, while also binding to the acids that cause indigestion, reflux, and bloating.
A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that activated carbon reduced symptoms of bloating and abdominal cramps following a typical gas-producing meal.
Charcoal has even been found to help with symptoms caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), reflux and other stomach ailments like ulcers (8). Mechanistically, it helps absorb substances implicated in the pathogenesis of IBS like bacterial toxins and bile acids.
5. Helps Promote Kidney Function
Activated charcoal may also help promote kidney function by reducing the number of toxic waste products that the kidneys have to filter. This makes it good for anyone whose kidneys are not functioning at an optimal state (such as those with chronic kidney disease (CKD), where the kidneys can no longer properly filter waste products).
The adsorbent properties of charcoal actually have the ability to bind to urea and other toxins, helping your body eliminate them without requiring work of the kidneys (9).
In humans, activated charcoal has been found to improve kidney function in those suffering from CKD (10, 11). One study found that activated carbon supplements can help lower blood levels of urea and other waste products in those with end-stage kidney disease (12).
6. Emergency Toxin Removal
The toxin-binding properties of activated charcoal have made it a staple in many hospitals. In many cases, charcoal is used in emergency situations for ridding poisons from the body (like drug overdoses).
It has been found to treat prescription drug overdoses, as well as overdoses of over-the-counter medications like aspirin, acetaminophen and sedatives (13, 14). It is also effective for opium or cocaine overdose.
Studies have shown that when 50-100 grams (not milligrams!) of activated charcoal is taken within 5 minutes of drug ingestion, it may reduce drug absorption in adults by up to 74% (15). Around 10 to 25 grams for children will work similarly.
The key to taking activated charcoal for drug poisoning is that it must be taken within an hour of ingestion of the toxicating substance. Activated charcoal is only 50% effective when taken 30 minutes after drug ingestion, and 20% if it’s taken three hours after the drug overdose (16).
In the event of a poisoning, call 911 immediately.
7. Reduces High Cholesterol
Studies have shown that activated charcoal may also help reduce cholesterol levels. This is because it has the ability to bind cholesterol and cholesterol-containing bile acids in the gut, preventing the body from absorbing them (17).
In one study, total cholesterol decreased by 25% and “bad” LDL cholesterol decreased by 41%. HDL or “good” cholesterol increased by 8 percent. This all happened in just four weeks after supplementing with 24 grams of activated charcoal per day. Study participants took three doses of eight grams each for the period of the study (18).
In another study, taking 4-32 grams of activated charcoal daily helped reduce total and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 29-41% in those with high cholesterol (19).
8. Reduce Acne & Improve Skin Health
Putting charcoal on your face might not seem glamorous, but its proven to have many beauty benefits when used both externally and internally.
Throughout the day, toxins from air that meets our face clogs our pores. When your pores aren’t clear, neither is your complexion. When used in a face mask, activated charcoal binds to first and helps pull it out of your pores, making them appear smaller. It can also help pull unwanted excess oils from your skin, leaving it smooth.
Environmental toxins and dirt are also major contributors to acne, so making a face mask out of activated charcoal is recommended for those who deal with persistent acne and other skin problems.
Activated charcoal also works internally, too. By binding to toxins in the body and lowering toxic load on the liver and kidneys (two major detox organs, which when compromised, can trigger bad skin), charcoal can help clear up blemishes, psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
How to Use Activated Charcoal
Learning how to use activated charcoal for all the benefits it provides will surely make it a staple in your medicine cabinet. Here are just a few ways you can use this supplement:
Digestion: for digestive cleansing, take 10 grams of activated charcoal 90 minutes prior to each meal for two days. If you’re experiencing a lot of constipation, you are very likely not drinking enough water. Make sure you drink at least 3-4 liters of water a day when taking any activated carbon product.
Whiten Teeth: to naturally whiten your teeth, either make my toothpaste recipe here, or invest in some fine activated charcoal powder. If you decide to make my toothpaste, use as you would regular toothpaste. If you are just investing in the powder and brushing with a different toothpaste, brush your teeth first with charcoal powder (dip a freshly water-dipped tooth brush into the powder and brush). Once finished, swish your mouth with your water and spit. Then, follow up with your regular toothpaste. If you’re using the powder method, for best results, brush with the powder 2-3 times per week. If you have crowns, caps or porcelain veneers, the charcoal may stain them.
Mold: there are lots of ways you can use activated carbon to rid your home and body from mold. The first thing you should do is take measures to get rid of the black mold (whether that is remodeling or re-caulking the bathroom – that is number one). Next, you’ll want to supplement with activated charcoal to help rid your body of mold mycotoxins. You can take 1-2 capsules of activated charcoal (500-1,000 mg) two hours before you eat, or two hours after you eat, every day until symptoms start subsiding. You can also use activated charcoal bags around the house to purify the air in your living quarters.
Gas and Bloating: to alleviate gas and bloating, take 500 milligrams of activated charcoal 1-2 hours before a typical gas-producing meal, with a full glass of water. Drink one more full glass immediately after to ensure the charcoal gets into your system before you eat.
Kidneys: for those dealing with CKD or other kidney-related issues, taking 30 grams per day helps lessen the toxic load on kidneys. Make sure to drink plenty of water after taking activated charcoal, and take it on an empty stomach, at least 2 hours prior to meals.
Emergency Poison Removal: call 911 immediately if you have been poisoned. Based off studies, activated charcoal works for over-dose of acetaminophen, aspirin, cocoaine, opium and morphine. For adults, the amount is 50-100 grams (not milligrams) of charcoal, whereas for children, the proper dosing is 10-25 grams.
Cholesterol: as mentioned above, 24 grams of activated charcoal is what would be required to help lower cholesterol levels. Study participants took it for a month, taking 8 grams three times per day for a total of 24 grams per day.
Skin Health: for external applications, mix one capsule of activated charcoal (about 500mg) with two teaspoons fresh aloe vera jelly. Apply to the skin, and then let dry. Rinse off, and moisturize with jojoba oil. Internally, you can take a couple capsules (500-1000mg) of activated charcoal on an empty stomach to help detox the body and reduce toxic load (which can manifest as poor skin health).
Best Activated Charcoal Powders
Activated charcoal is made from a variety of sources, but for using it internally, it’s important to select activated charcoal made from coconut shells or other natural sources like identified wood species that have ultra-fine grains.
Many activated charcoal powders also have added ingredients like artificial sweeteners or other fillers to make them more palatable. These should be avoided. If you need to make it taste better, you can make your own activated charcoal lemonade, which many people prefer over the plain charcoal.
I personally use Sagano Raw Activated Charcoal made from organic coconut, but there are many other great brands out there like Gold Mountain Beauty Coconut Activated Charcoal Powder or Schizandu Certified Food Grade Activated Coconut Charcoal Powder.
Activated Charcoal Side Effects
Using activated charcoal as suggested above is generally quite safe. However, you should always make sure you don’t have any underlying health conditions first that might otherwise interact with how charcoal is utilized by the body.
If you have any medical conditions like intestinal bleeding or blockages, holes in the intestines, chronic dehydration, slow digestion or recent abdominal surgery, they may affect how activated charcoal reacts in your body (source).
Activated charcoal can also interfere with prescription medication. For drugs that don’t interfere with charcoal, you should take it 90 to two hours prior to taking supplements, meals and prescription medication. Potential adverse interactions with the following drugs can occur:
- Glycopyrronium Tosylate
- Morphine Sulfate Liposome
- Mycophenolic Acid
- Secretin Human