One of the big buzzwords in the health & beauty space lately has been “charcoal”. So first, what is this stuff? Excuse my use of Wikipedia here, but activated charcoal “is a form of carbon processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for adsorption or chemical reactions.” Click on that word “adsorption”, it has a slightly different meaning than absorption, which we will come back to. Activated charcoal has been used medically for substance overdoses or some types of poisoning. It is delivered orally to the patient to hopefully bind whatever toxin is in the body, to keep it from being absorbed. The side effects for this treatment are unsurprisingly (or maybe surprising to you?) not fun – vomiting, black stools, and constipation to name a few. It really makes you wonder how a substance like this got so popular. Lately, charcoal is in everything from masks & skin care, to teeth whitening products, to juices, and even ice cream. This post is driven mainly by curiosity, but I’m going to dig into what is charcoal, and the effectiveness of its every day uses.
First, we will talk about charcoal juices. You’ve probably seen them on your instagram feed, or pinterest. They look like this black elixir. It is said that drinking charcoal juice improves your skin, keeping it fresh and glowing. It’ll help improve your breath, help with digestion, reduce hangovers, all by drawing out any other toxins in your body.
Unfortunately, some of this is simply physiologically untrue. We’ll go back to that word, adsorption. The stuff binds other stuff in your stomach, keeping it from being absorbed into your bloodstream. It doesn’t draw stuff out that you have already eaten and absorbed, it has to be bioavailable for it to bind. If you are in the hangover stage after a long night of partying, sorry kid, you have already absorbed that alcohol. Even if you still have alcohol in your system, it it doesn’t really bind to charcoal well anyway. This charcoal juice isn’t going to help. In fact, it may even hurt your hangover, because charcoal doesn’t necessarily discriminate what it binds. Just like taking antibiotics kills both bad AND some good bacteria in your gut, the charcoal may be binding and keeping you from absorbing the other good stuff in your juice. As far as ridding your body of toxins and impurities, believe it or not, you’ve already got something that does an excellent job – your liver. Just treat your body well, keep it nourished and hydrated, and save your 6-10 bucks for an expensive coffee rather than one of these juices.
Next on my list, is charcoal skin care. There are charcoal soaps, masks, and scrubs all out on the market promising to soothe irritated skin, reduce pore size and treat acne entirely. I’ll admit, even I have gotten caught up in this, with my very own charcoal mud mask AND nose strips. The same idea exists for the skin: the charcoal will bind to the dirt and grime on your face and body, and get washed away. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any clinical evidence that using charcoal laced products are any more effective than your normal soaps or skin care products. Thats not to say they aren’t effective, there just isn’t the clinical evidence that they are more effective. If these products work for you, don’t let me stop you from using them! So whats the draw to these midnight black soaps? Many of us like the idea of fewer chemicals on your skin and a more homeopathic remedy to acne (me included). However, activated charcoal is not a naturally occurring substance – its man made in a lab by taking carbon sources (such as bamboo, coconut husk or other types of wood, peat or coal) and either putting them through a physical activation process (heating them up) or a chemical process to get it. While of course dermatologists agree it doesn’t seem to cause harm to the skin, it kindof makes it seem less enticing to put on your skin in the first place.
What about teeth whitening? Dentists are saying to stay away, mostly because they aren’t sure how abrasive activated charcoal may be in the long term. Most of the before and after photos you see may be deceiving. Your teeth may look whiter, because your gums are angry, red, and inflamed. Scrubbing your teeth with the activated charcoal grit could ruin your enamel, making them more prone to staining. In addition, the small pieces can get stuck and engrained into the natural grooves and crevices of your teeth, making them look less white after all. Best to see a professional or use dentist approved whitening products if you are going for a brighter smile.
WHAT ABOUT FOOD?! Hey, whatever floats your boat.
Hope this post cleared some things up if you have always wondered about this charcoal trend, it sure did for me!
Did you like this post? What should I research next?