Is Activated Charcoal Really The Miracle It’s Made Out To Be?

There's two sides to every health trend
There's two sides to every health trend

Activated charcoal has been used in the emergency treatment of certain kinds of poisoning for years. The powder is mixed with water and ingested to prevent the poison from being absorbed from the stomach into the body, so it’s used for both accidental poisonings and overdoses. Activated charcoal has become quite the trend in the last couple years, showing up in everything from toothpaste and body wash to ice cream and hamburger buns.

Due to its traditional use as a way to block absorption of poisons, it’s only natural that activated charcoal would be eventually earn a reputation as a kind of detox miracle. Some people swear by charcoal pills as a hangover cure because instead of your body absorbing those three extra gin and tonics, the charcoal will take care of it and you’ll wake up the next morning feeling as if you had stopped at two drinks like you planned.

There are still a few things to keep in mind if you’re going to try activated charcoal pills as a hangover cure. Most importantly, if you’re taking any other medication, the charcoal could block it from being absorbed properly as well. It can also block the absorption of key nutrients you need to actually start to recover from your night of binge drinking. Sometimes the best hangover cure is just hydration, sleep, and a nutritious meal or two.

Activated charcoal in food, like the black ice cream or hamburger buns that are all over Instagram will have the same effects, so eat with caution if you have any medications that you’d actually like to keep doing what they’re supposed to do.

While actually ingesting activated charcoal has its pros and cons, using it as a cleanser might actually be pretty effective. Look for a brand with as few additives as possible so you know you’re getting the full benefits of the charcoal’s ability to draw out dirt and toxins. Dermalogica makes a quality clay charcoal mask, Dr. Jart+ has a popular sheet mask and LUSH’s Dark Angels face and body cleanser is a good option for acne-prone skin.

Teeth whitening and banishing bad breath are two more popular super powers of activated charcoal, but according to Global News, there’s no scientific evidence to show that it works better than regular toothpaste. In fact, since the powder can be abrasive, it might actually harm your gums and the enamel of your teeth. If you’re still interested in trying it, check with your dentist first.

The popularity of activated charcoal, like with any beauty or health-related trend, should be taken with a grain of salt. Do your own research before jumping on the bandwagon and look for quality products, not just companies that seem to have thrown something together in order to capitalize on a fad that happens to look good in an Instagram photo.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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