Nutritional dietary elements often become fashionable trends across health and beauty industries. Coconut oil, for example, became incredibly popular in the 2010's as a beauty product and supposed super food. One of this year's most popular new ingredients is activated charcoal – from face masks, to toothpaste, to lemonade, to ice cream – charcoal is a highlighted component used for its aesthetic and health properties.
So what exactly is activated charcoal, and what are its benefits?
The medical use of activated charcoal
Activated charcoal differs from the kind of charcoal you may buy in briquettes to start up your barbecue. While both products are made of carbon, activated charcoal is treated with oxygen to make it more porous. As such, activated charcoal is able to absorb other materials. It's used in water filtration systems, for example, to strain out chemicals and toxins to make the water more potable.
Activated charcoal's porous absorbency has also made it a staple in emergency rooms for years. It's used to help the detox process for patients who have ingested poisons or overdosed on a medication, according to the National Capital Polson Center.
Additionally, due to its absorbent properties, activated charcoal is often an ingredient in over-the-counter dietary cleanses (though you shouldn't try to detox from an overdose with over-the-counter charcoal products). It's important to note, however, that charcoal does not differentiate between healthy and unhealthy chemicals – if you take prescription medications, taking activated charcoal or eating foods with activated charcoal added could absorb them and make them less effective. (Health benefits aside, many food products, like the black ice cream pictured above, incorporate small amounts of activated charcoal powder to provide a black coloration.)
Activated charcoal as a beauty product
The binding, detoxifying properties of activated charcoal aren't just used for medical purposes. A wide range of beauty products incorporate activated charcoal to help purify skin.
"When dirt and oil in your pores come in contact with the carbon, they stick to it and then get washed away when you rinse," cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson told Allure. Soaps, masks and facial washes that include activated charcoal are very popular on the market today.
"Beauty products incorporate activated charcoal to help purify skin."
It's also been used a teeth whitener for generations, but according to The Pharmaceutical Journal, no studies have proved that activated charcoal teeth whitening toothpaste is any more effective for oral health than traditional toothpaste and enamel protections. In fact, the journal warns that using charcoal on the teeth could cause particles to build up in crevices or dental work, creating black lines that negate the aesthetic goals of using the product in the first place.
Activated charcoal has proven medical uses and can be a beneficial ingredient in many beauty products, but it's important to discuss with your doctor before adding activated charcoal to your diet or utilizing it as a supplement. Together, you and your healthcare provider can ensure that it won't offset any other medications that you're taking and that it's right for you.
For more information on the activated charcoal product we carry, click here.