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Written by Alison Mooradian   
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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Activated Charcoal Benefits

Charcoal, it’s what you use for making BBQs, right?! Well, that’s not where charcoal use ends. Lately, I’ve been spotting face sponges, juices, and supplements sporting the words “activated charcoal” on their labels. Activated charcoal has long been used as a detoxifier, and its health benefits are beginning to be noticed in the United States.

Activated Charcoal Overview

Wood Charcoali
Activated charcoal is a powerful natural material that can absorb toxins. In the form of a powder, it can be ingested or used superficially.1 There are two main types of activated charcoal: steam-activated and chemical-activated. To make steam-activated charcoal, first the coconut shell or coal is heated to create char. Then, the char is put in a furnace heated to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit and is activated by the steam in the furnace. This process removes the volatile compounds in the char and leaves a carbon skeleton. Once the activated charcoal cools, it is washed with either water or acid to remove the soluble ash. Steam-activated charcoal is mostly made in industrial settings because of the high-temperature furnace required.2

Chemical-activated charcoal typically uses wood-based coal. Similar to steam-activated charcoal, this type of activated charcoal is first heated at temperatures ranging between 840 and 1650 degrees Fahrenheit. The charcoal is then rinsed with phosphoric acid. This method uses less heat and time than the steam-activated charcoal method.3

Activated Charcoal History

Charcoal’s earliest documented use is 3750 B.C.E. in Ancient Egypt. Since charcoal burns hotter than wood, the Egyptians used it to reduce copper, zinc, and tin ores to make bronze. The Egyptians also discovered that charcoal did not rot, like wood did, even in wet conditions. Thus, the Egyptians used charcoal in their embalming rituals, burying their deceased in layers of charcoal and sand to preserve them.4

In 1500 B.C.E., there is mention of charcoal for medicinal purposes in Egyptian texts. The uses included removing odors from wounds and the intestinal tract. Many centuries later, charcoal was also recorded as being used for epilepsy, chlorosis, and vertigo. Because of charcoal’s preservative properties, for many centuries drinking water on ships was stored in charred wooden barrels.5 The process of activating charcoal was honed from 1870 to 1920. Since then, charcoal has been used as an antidote for poisons and drug overdoses to intestinal disorders.6

Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal has some impressive features. For instance, it can reduce the absorption of poisonous substances up to 60%. It does this by binding to the poisonous chemicals and therefore preventing them from being digested. The toxin is then eliminated when the person has a bowel movement.7


Activated charcoal can be used internally or externally. In addition to being used in extreme situations in hospitals, there are day-to-day benefits:
  1. Improved complexion activated charcoal used externally on your skin help draw dirt and toxins out of your pores. This in turn makes your pores appear smaller, since dirt makes pores look bigger. It can also treat acne.8
  2. Heal cuts and bites activated charcoal used externally on cuts and bites can speed up their healing. It will also help reduce the swelling.9
  3. Rid hair of toxins just like on your skin, activated charcoal can pull dirt and toxins from your scalp when applied topically. Another bonus of using activated charcoal on your hair is that it removes dirt and product residue; your weighed down hair will now feel lighter and have more volume.10
  4. Improved scalp activated charcoal can help treat and soothe dandruff, red, oily, and itchy scalps.11
  5. Whiten teeth by sprinkling activated charcoal powder on your toothbrush once or twice per week, you can whiten your teeth. Just be sure to stop if you feel your teeth getting too sensitive, because that could mean the enamel is wearing down.12
  6. Reducing gas taken internally, activated charcoal can help relieve gas and an upset stomach. However, it should only be used occasionally to relieve these symptoms, not every day.13

Since activated charcoal can cause mild constipation, it should not be taken regularly for long periods of time. It may also cause nausea, intestinal obstruction, and intestinal perforation. You should always consult a doctor before using a new type of supplement, especially in a life-threatening situation. If you use activated charcoal and experience tightness of chest, swelling, rashes, or hives, seek medical attention.14 Do not take activated charcoal within two hours of taking vitamins or medications because it will prevent your body from absorbing them.15

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 March 2017 )