Activated Charcoal: Hype or Hero?

Activated charcoal, it’s everywhere!  Proclaimed as the new miracle cure for issues related to skin and hair; teeth whitening and internal cleansing, but are all of these claims really true?  Drug store counters are groaning under the weight of skin care products containing activated charcoal, from cleansers to masques; so I thought I’d do a little digging and see what the fuss was all about. Is it commercial advertising hype or the new health and beauty hero it claims to be?

First of all I had to take a minute and figure out exactly what it is, and here’s what I found.  Activated charcoal is similar to common charcoal; it’s made from peat, coal, wood, coconut shell, or petroleum. What makes it different from standard charcoal is that it is heated in the presence of a gas that causes the charcoal to develop lots of internal spaces or pores which in turn enables it to absorb a variety of substances such as chemicals, minerals and a variety of organic and inorganic material.

Many health practitioners tout the use of activated charcoal as a miracle cleanser and detoxifier for weight loss and improved health. The fact that it is highly absorbent has led many to believe it is also naturally selective of toxins in the body when consumed, however this is only partially true. Activated charcoal is not selective at all; it absorbs the good as well as the bad. Fortunately this active absorption only last for a limited amount of time; the time it takes to make it from one end of the digestive track to the other.

In hospitals and medical emergencies activated charcoal is administered orally to treat a variety of issues from flatulence and high cholesterol to some types of poisonings, over consumption of alcohol and occasionally to assist pregnant women with bile flow issues. It is not recommended for anyone taking prescription medication as it reduces the efficacy of the medication and is known to cause constipation. It is not to be taken in conjunction with syrup of ipecac due to their combined, reactive natures.

In summary, in a medical emergency activated charcoal may just save your life when administered under control conditions by a medical professional.  As a supplemental remedy for over the counter health however, it fails to shine as a true health hero.

But wait! We aren’t done yet!

Other claims for the benefits of activated charcoal include hair care, skin care and teeth whitening. With that in mind, I set about the process of making an unholy mess of my kitchen and bathroom as I opened up a package of gel caps and the charcoal hit the proverbial fan.

First I tried it as an additive to regular shampoo (I mixed in roughly ½ tsp. to the normal amount of shampoo I would typically use). Without a long and drawn out account, it acted very similarly to commercial residue lifters such as Neutrogena. My initial impression was that it was effective. Like commercial residue lifters, I wouldn’t suggest you use it any more than once or twice per week.

On to tooth whitening!

Various posts have suggested creating a thick paste of activated charcoal and water and dabbing the paste onto the teeth and letting it sit for 3 to 5 minutes, 2 to 3 times per week after regular tooth brushing. With no discernible taste the only unpleasant part of the experience was the gritty texture. {Please note that the accidental swallowing of such a small amount of activated charcoal won’t have any adverse effects). My general impression was that it DID whiten and brighten my teeth noticeably.

Last but not least was skin care. In this instance I created a face masque using 2 tbsp. of diatomaceous earth, 1 tsp. honey, 1 tsp. activated charcoal powder and created a thick slurry by adding small amounts of distilled water until the mixture was spreadable without being runny. Avoiding the sensitive skin around the eyes, I applied the whole mixture in layers to my face and allowed it to dry for approximately 15 minutes. The results? I’m pretty impressed! My skin felt clean and smooth with a noticeable reduction in pore size, (which is important to women as we hit our ‘mature phase’ of life!)  I wouldn’t use this anymore than once a week due to its drying nature but it was effective in removing surface oils which, whereas essential  for the development of healthy skin, can run amuck and lead to acne if not kept in check from time to time.

Whereas activated charcoal may be more hype than hero on the natural health and cleanse front, my initial impression is that it comes out a hero where beauty is concerned.

For more information on the medical usage, interactions and precautions of Activated Charcoal please check out the links below for a comprehensive overview.  Before taking any over the counter remedy or attempting any ‘fad find’, consult your doctor or a qualified medical professional.

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-269-activated%20charcoal.aspx?activeingredientid=269

http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/charcoal-activated-oral-route/description/drg-20070087

If you have a suggestion for a Hype or Hero review, please send them to cdbelisle1@gmail.com and we’ll check’em out!

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