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Activated charcoal has been part of my natural medicine cabinet for years, but now it is showing up in beauty magazines and DIY websites for its many other uses!
Activated charcoal is one of those rare areas where ancient traditional medicine and today’s medical literature agree. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine used this sooty, jet-black powder for thousands of years. (Its first recorded use dates back to 1550 BC.) It is also well established in medical literature as a powerful antidote that adsorbs most organic toxins, chemicals, and poisons before they can harm the body.
Interest in activated charcoal grew in 1831 when a French Academy of Medicine professor famously drank a lethal dose of strychnine and did not suffer any ill effects … all because he combined it with activated charcoal.
Oddly enough, I also brush my teeth with it … so there are other reasons to have activated charcoal around!
What Is Activated Charcoal?
It is important to know right from the get-go that activated charcoal is not the same thing as charcoal for your grill or charred wood from the fire. Please don’t try to substitute or make your own!
Activated charcoal consists of some substance—usually bamboo, wood, coal, or my preference, coconut shell charcoal—burned without oxygen to create char. The char is then heated to a high temperature and exposed to certain gases through a multi-step process to make it extremely porous. This is the “activation” part of the process.
Once activated, the increased surface area of the molecules can bind powerfully to any substance. This process of adsorption (not to be confused with absorption) is what makes charcoal so powerful. True activated charcoal is odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic.
Benefits of Activated Charcoal Use
There are 3 main benefits to having activated charcoal in a healthy mama’s bag of tricks:
1. Poison and Toxin Remedy
Studies show that activated charcoal may be the most effective GI tract decontaminant available. It can adsorb up to 50-60% of unwanted substances in the stomach and intestines when taken quickly after ingestion. It can even have a positive effect as long as two hours after ingestion!
In fact, emergency rooms routinely administer large doses of activated charcoal for certain types of poisoning. Unlike ipecac syrup or stomach pumping, activated charcoal binds with and removes much of the offending substance even after it enters the bloodstream.
Of course, anyone who experiences poisoning or exposure to toxic substances should absolutely contact a poison control center or hospital immediately and follow any instructions they have. I know of cases where a poison center instructed someone to administer charcoal at home and then follow up in the ER.
Proof of activated charcoal’s power to purify? It’s routinely used in water and air filters for just that function!
2. Oral Care
The same properties that make charcoal beneficial for removing harmful substances in the digestive system also make it beneficial for oral health as well. It doesn’t neutralize toxins, but rather binds them to the many tiny pores on its surface.
When used in toothpastes, powders, and oral health rinses, it can bind to bacteria and other harmful substances and remove them from the mouth. Many people like using it in this way because it also binds to substances that stain the teeth and can whiten the teeth in only a few uses.
3. Beauty Ingredient
Activated charcoal is showing up in many beauty products lately too. This is because it is effective at removing bacteria, chemicals, dirt, and build-up on the skin. Check out all the beauty uses below or try mixing it into a face wash or scrub. (Don’t worry … it washes off!)
Activated Charcoal Uses for Home & Beauty
I keep activated charcoal on hand in case any of the kids ever accidentally ingest any household toxins or chemicals, though we also do our best to keep anything toxic out of the house completely. Thankfully, we haven’t yet had to use it for that purpose!
I find myself turning to charcoal almost daily for other uses though:
1. To Whiten Teeth Naturally
This is the first beauty use for charcoal that I tried, and it worked wonderfully!
Read all about my charcoal teeth whitening experiment here but the method is simple. Just dip a wet toothbrush in a high quality charcoal and brush gently. Alternately, you can swish with charcoal water by mixing 1/2 teaspoon of charcoal into a small amount of water.
Charcoal is mildly abrasive so be gentle and don’t do this more than once or twice a week!
2. In Toothpaste
Similarly, charcoal can be used in toothpastes and tooth powders to get the same effect. I wouldn’t use these daily, since they are abrasive, but adding a little charcoal to a homemade toothpaste or DIY tooth powder a couple times a week can whiten and freshen the teeth.
My pre-made Wellnesse charcoal toothpaste has clean ingredients and works really well!
3. As a Face Mask or Cleanser
I love using charcoal on my skin. Fair warning, it looks a little bizarre to paint this stuff all over your face, but it does wash off and leaves skin super soft!
For a mask: Easily make your own mask with this simple recipe or buy a high quality pre-made natural mask like this one.
As a cleanser: Mix 1/2 teaspoon of activated charcoal powder into a face wash and scrub skin gently. Rinse well and pat dry.
4. In Shampoo
Charcoal has been showing up in shampoos for the same reason people love it in facial products. It removes build up and impurities. The easiest way to try this is to add a tiny amount (1/2 teaspoon) to shampoo before washing hair. Scrub gently and wash out.
I’ve yet to find a pre-made shampoo with good ingredients so just add to a natural shampoo that you like! I’ve added charcoal to this natural shampoo with good results.
5. Clean the Air
Charcoal’s porous structure makes it great at removing odors, harmful chemicals and allergens from the air. This is why you’ll often find charcoal in air purifying products. These charcoal bags are the easiest way to use charcoal to clean the air in a home. They last for years and can be recharged by putting them in the sun once a month or so.
6. Purify Water
Activated charcoal also helps remove contaminants from water. It is used in the Berkey system that our family used for years and even in most water pitcher systems. The 14-stage filter we have now also uses charcoal to filter water.
7. Relieve Bug Bites
I use charcoal in my drawing salve for its ability to draw out irritants. This recipe is also great for applying to bug bites to relieve itching and pain! But charcoal alone can also help draw out venom.
In one scary episode, I used charcoal to treat a spider bite on my son’s leg after we had confirmation that it was likely a brown recluse bite. Our doctor confirmed that the conventional approach is “wait and see.” I wasn’t comfortable with this, especially since my son was uncomfortable. A mix of charcoal and baking soda helped draw the toxin out, and he healed with no long-term scarring.
8. Help an Upset Stomach
I give my kids these charcoal gummies whenever they complain of a bad upset stomach. The chewy texture and natural fruit flavor helps the medicine go down, and activated charcoal goes to work absorbing and neutralizing the substances causing the trouble.
Is Activated Charcoal Safe?
Activated charcoal is not known to be toxic, though it should not be taken within two hours of vitamins or medications because it will keep the body from adsorbing them. I personally would not take charcoal on a regular basis and would only use as needed.
As with any substance, you should always check with a doctor or medical professional before internal use, especially in an emergency or life-threatening situation or if there is any other underlying health problem.
Remember, activated charcoal is NOT the same thing as the ashes from burning wood or other fires at home, so please don’t try to use those type of ashes for these or any other uses!
I also don’t recommend activated charcoal-infused food or drinks. Charcoal can bind to the nutrients in food or drinks, making these less nourishing rather than enhancing them. The one exception? Charcoal cocktails are getting more popular, and since alcohol is a toxin anyway, these may be worth trying. In fact some experts recommend charcoal as a hangover remedy.
Where to Get Activated Charcoal
I keep this brand of activated charcoal on hand because it is made from coconut shells and is the most pure source I’ve personally found. I store it in a glass jar and usually keep it on the bathroom sink since we typically just use it for teeth.
Fair warning: Activated charcoal is EXTREMELY messy if spilled. It will easily wash out of a sink or bathroom counter but isn’t so easy to get out of rough surfaces like tile grout (don’t ask how I know). I recommend keeping this out of the reach of children or messy pets for that reason!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Ever used activated charcoal? What did you use it for? Share below!
Discussion (262 Comments)
It would be interesting to know how to prepare activated charcoal for use. Do I mix it with jam or add to drinking water, what?
i brushed twice this week with activated charcoal and now my teeth ache..is that normal?
I’ve used it both for an internal cleanse and for wounds. My easy way for internal use is to fill an espresso cup with water, add a teaspoon of activated charcoal, let it sink in and stir. Drink it with an espresso straw and avoid any black stains on the lips.
I’ve sprinkled it on open wounds. It helps form a good scab and pulls infections out. I fixed a major dog bite that normally would have had stitches, using butterfly bandages, charcoal and hydrogen peroxide when I would change the outer gauze bandage. Healed with almost no scar and saved probably $600 in doctoring costs.
The link to Amazon’s activated charcoal listing isn’t working. Do you have a brand that you recommend for deodorizing?
This brand is great for internal: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CF3NBF6/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00CF3NBF6&linkCode=as2&tag=wellnessmama-20 but any are ok for regular deodorizing
Where can I find activated charcoal. Is there a store you can buy it at?
Most health food online stores or land based too. Online: Amazon or Vitacost. Good luck!
I currently have used it for making my own mascarra and I am now trying it in my toothpast concoction. I like the idea of a whitener that isn’t a chemical. I am also going to try a facemask recipe that uses it. Definitly worth keeping around.
Was the mascara good quality? (Didn’t clump, nice color, held well, ect.)
My mom and I both use the mascara and really like it. The only issue I have is that my eyes run to the hot side (steaming up my glasses and such even when it’s not cold) so I have always used water proof and this is not water proof. I end up with spots throughout the day. They are easy to wipe off but I think I will work on a slight change to the recipe to see if that helps.
Ok thanks, and please tell me if you figure out how to make it waterproof (I live in a desert so this will be helpful)
If you are on facebook add me and I can PM you when we come up with something a bit more heat and water resistant. I am Michelle Wiegel (Hutchens McCall Voth).
This looks great! I am having some eye health problems, but have to wear makeup as a performer. Can you possibly share your recipe with me as well? 🙂
Do you have a runner up favorite brand that is not quite so expensive?
I used it for my dog, he snuck out and ate leftover leek soup Id put out for my chickens and became very sick with loss of use to his back legs. (He is a 100 lb mastiff mutt, It was horrible watching him try to walk.) I figured out what had happened and mixed several ounces with peanut butter and he scarfed it down, within 20 minutes he was able to walk again and after a 2nd dose a few hours later he was fine. And I’m much more careful about leftovers for the chickens.
Mixed what? Charcoal or Apple cider vinegar?
Will it help detox radiation? I recently had to have a CT scan that I’m trying to detox from
I have seen some info that it can be helpful with that but I haven’t needed to try it myself so I can’t say from experience….
This is a little late but, no, activated charcoal would not detox radiation from a CT scan. Depending on what body part was scanned and whether or not contrast was used, you may have been exposed to anywhere from 6-20 millisieverts of ionizing radiation. We get, on average 3 millisieverts per year, from cosmic radiation (sun) and radon (soil). One-pack-a day smokers get more >50 millisieverts. Activated charcoal, on the other hand, adsorbs poisons (excluding alcohols, glycol, and a lot of heavy metals) by having the physical poison bind to it so it can be taken out of the body. CT radiation changes DNA, which the cells repair themselves. Cancer CAN occur down the road if patches of cells do not do a good job I self-repair. The best thing to do is eat fruits and vegetables, drink water, and exercise if possible.
I had a diagnostic mammogram a few months ago and did a footbath detox the next day (I am a medical massage therapist and have my own machine). When the footbath was done, there were many odd things floating on the water, they looked like 1/4″ aluminum foil pieces that someone had twisted between their fingers. These things even shone in the sunlight! I kind of freaked and dumped it all out but have been sorry every since, but that night I read an article about getting rid of radiation in the body. The article suggested taking a teaspoon of sea salt in warm water several times a day, then it hit me that the footbath machine used sea salt in warm water and is an ionizer. I believe that all those foil-like pieces were actually the radiation coming out of my body.
wow! that is very interesting. thank you so much for posting that 🙂 !
Radiation waves have no way of turning into a metallic like substance.
Let the footpath detox run a cycle without your feet in it. You’ll still see all types of things floating in the solution.
I’ve got to wonder if it was aluminum in your body from deodorant. I recently took an old suit out of my closet that I used to wear to work and the armpits were all shiny metallic. I no longer use deodorant with aluminum, but if you do, it’s something to think about. I wholeheartedly believe it is a huge cause of breast cancer. My mom used Sure antiperspirant forever. Just ended up with a double mastectomy last week. 🙁
For your comment below:
I used apple cider vinegar (a teaspoon in water every couple hours) to help calm the stomach back down and then a regular laxative dose of epsom salt to make sure no charcoal had hardened in my digestive system.
That is a regular laxative does of epsom salt?
Years ago I read that deodorant was a common cause for breast cancer because of the chemicals and aluminum. I had been using ACV for many things for 20 years. I read I could use it as deodorant and an exfoliator for my face….for 3 years now I mix 2 parts water and 1 part ACV for deodorant and 3 parts water and 1 part AVC for my facial cleanse AWESOME is the only word that describes the results. Younger looking skin and no smelly pits…. I was also told by a Dr. 20 years ago to put a teaspoon in a glass or bottle of water every day and drink it…keeps blood pressure down and cholesterol.
Green Tea-PG from Quantum Nutrition Labs can help detox radiation. I take 1 Tbl in a large glass of water, sipped throughout the morning/afternoon, the day before, the of, and the after I fly. This protocol was recommended by my naturopathic doctor. Hope that helps!
Ms. Somerville is beautiful.
To detox from radiation raw quail eggs in the morning before breakfast. Blend 5 quail eggs for adult.
Or just do an herbal cleanse/ whole body cleanse and that would do much better a lot sooner!!
Radiation causes oxidative damage like sunburns. Antioxidants like vitamin C have been shown to reduce the damage.
Yes, activated charcoal can be used to detox radiation, and has been successfully used in Japan and Chernobyl by the governments of these countries to contain and detox the radiation. I also know various people who have successfully detoxed from radiation exposure during cancer treatments and excess x-rays using activated charcoal.
i personally use genestra liquid iodine supplement to rid radiation internally and orgonite molds for exterior radiation, or use another liquid iodine you trust.
I’d like more info on why/how you used the cider vinegar and epsom salt after the charcoal? Thanks!
I used apple cider vinegar (a teaspoon in water every couple hours) to help calm the stomach back down and then a regular laxative dose of epsom salt to make sure no charcoal had hardened in my digestive system
I’ve never heard of the charcoal hardening the GI tract – that is why I asked the question. I know it can cause constipation – did you need to take quite a bit of it (the charcoal) and that’s why you were concerned? Sorry for the questions, I appreciate all the info you give!
I probably took less than a teaspoon total but just wanted to follow up with the others to make sure things were still moving 🙂
I have a question. Do you wait until you’ve already thrown up due to food poisoning or stomach bug to take the charcoal pills, or do you take some as soon as you feel nauseous? Did you only take the pills once, or every few hours?
Did you ever get a response to your question? I was wondering the same thing.
Kim, I did not… A couple times recently I started feeling sick and immediately took a couple charcoal pills. I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do, but I ended up feeling better.
pat mc shane
how long do you have to wait after taking activated charcoal ”as a body cleanse and detox ”before eating ,Is it two hours before and after .
I’m curious about this too! I have some for detox and it just says when eating or drinKing alcohol. No specifics
I’ve read that in hospitals they found that things with fat in them(ie ice cream) lowers the effectiveness of Activated Charcoal.
Just last week we were on vacation and my husband got food poisoning from somewhere he hate. He took some activated charcoal and was pretty much symptom free within a few hours. He never even threw up.
Last time I was feeling nauseous. So I think I immediately took some activated charcoal. Maybe I waited two hours after I had just eaten. I felt miserable the rest of the day. I wanted to barf so much, but I never did barf. I feel like it wasn’t as bad as it could have been because of the AC. But I don’t know…I really wanted to throw up!
I Have read about the charcoal benefits and l am flagabusted. I really wants to try it out so I do l get it.
I take it as soon as I get nauseated. I have capsules and I normally take at least 2 or 3 when I get sick. I normally get relief within an hour or so. I keep the bottle in my purse at all times. It is a lifesaver. I’ve put it on an abscess tooth and the abcess goes away everytime. Normally I put a wet capsule (so it will dissolve) in my mouth and add a piece of gauze to keep it in place and let it stay for a few hours. I also take 2 orally every 8 hours when my tooth is giving me the blues.
I always use activated charcoal when I feel a potential stomach bug coming on and it works like a charm every time! As soon as I start to feel nauseated, I take 2 capsules (I find the capsules work better for stomach issues). It typically doesn’t stop diarrhea (sorry to be graphic), but it almost 100% prevents throwing up. Which if you’re anything like me, it’s the absolute worst part of the stomach flu.
I always have charcoal caps in my bag. In case gastro hits inconveniently for example at work I just take 2-3 caps and that’s usually the end of it. If I go to a restaurant, particularly if the food has chilli which I’m sensitive to, or if I end up eating dessert (can’t help myself) I take 2 caps and avoid a lot of grief.
Thank you so much for this helpful info! I have a bottle of activated charcoal which I bought shortly after reading this post the first time. For the past week I have had a stomach bug worse than any I’ve ever had before. I’ve been miserable, and nothing has helped. Thankfully I stayed up long enough today (my youngest had a fever all night and on to today) to get online and look up natural remedies. I’ve had luck using activated charcoal in the past when I had food poisoning, and when my eldest daughter got an infected cut on her arm. I’m hoping activated charcoal will ease the horrible stomach ache and sharp pains I’ve had for the past 7 days. It’s likely made worse by the ridiculous amount of medication I’m prescribed for a 3-year long rare neuralgia, and an incorrectly performed brain surgery. Here’s hoping I can get over this soon!
You may have replied, but I’ve not come across it yet. I’ve used ACV for years now for all sorts of illnesses and wellness, but I’ve never used Epsom salts for a laxative. Could you please tell me what the appropriate amount to take is?
Thank you for your amazing, helpful and smart blog. You have helped me learn how to treat my family and myself with natural remedies and have been a huge aid in my goal to living a simpler, healthier life.
The epsom salt bag or container should give instructions for how to take it as a laxative, including dosage.
Make sure you read the precautions in the article Katie linked regarding timing your charcoal dosage in relation to your medications and vitamins—if you take them too close together you can cause your medication not to be adsorbed and that sounds like big trouble with your medical history!
I like your info but it’s ‘absorbed’ not ‘adsorbed’
Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, or molecules from a gas, liquid, or dissolved solid to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent.
Richard – actually she is correct – activated charcoal ‘adsorbs’ – it does not ‘absorb’. A substance that absorbs can pull toxins, etc out of tissues – charcoal cannot do that. It can only adsorb things onto it’s solid surface that are in its vicinity.
In case anyone is interested, my hsuband and I do often at home liver clenses that include epsom salts, a good way to ‘wash off’ the nasty after taste: just do a little mouthwash with apple juice. It is wonderful how well it works!
On the assumption that Richard’s comment regarding absorption vs adsorption being a reply to Leesa’s comment (Richard’s comment immediately followed Leesa’s) “… if you take them too close together you can cause your medication not to be adsorbed…”: Richard was correct in that she was talking about AC preventing medication getting absorbed by the body. Absorbed was the correct word.
My brother in law the smoker had the sharp stomach pains, was a few years over 50 not taking the colon check, and the doc had found blood in his stool on several occasions. In the ER they determined he had advanced colon and liver cancer. He’s on chemo now and its working so far. Just saying to get basic vitals checked and don’t ignore warning signs for years…
So sorry your friend decided to do chemo. I wish people would consider alternative ways to heal their bodies. I just lost another friend to chemo and radiation. Doctors frighten us into deadly treatments that they would not do. Please look into raw foods and juicing. I wish you well.
High PH diet kills cancer. Cancer cells cannot survive in a high PH body. It’s just like a fish tank. An acidic fish tank will get you sick diseased and eventually dead fish. Drink water from a real spring not bottled unless it’s been ionized. findaspring.com and eat lots of organic fruits in Vegys in its natural form. Stay away from meat and dairy until your body heals then only eat organic and very little if any. Eat a small amount of nuts and seeds and only use olive oil or fish oil which are very low in saturated oil. Coconut oil is too high in saturated oils to ingest too much of it. Lemon and Apple Cider Vinegar is amazing for the body but bad for the enamel on your teeth so use a straw and brush your teeth after drinking it.
Ok I will make light of this, charcoal is amazing for gas, especially for those terrible smelly episodes when there’s not much you can do but go hide somewhere and pray nobody walks in. My first experience with Charcoal… I was at a class in a small town in Utah for 5 days, I sat through the first morning with terrible gas pains and eruptive “bouts”. During break I walked to find a drug store but found a health/supplement store and told the lady what was happening, she had me take two charcoal tablets with a full glass of water right away in the store and told me to sit and relax a moment. It was like a miracle, within a short time the gas pains and horrific gas (TMI) disappeared to my surprise. I didn’t really know if it would work but WOW! That was 18 years ago and I still take it for things like nausea and tummy discomforts too, my family all take it when needed. My husband knows that when he is stinking up the house…it’s time for charcoal haha!
ACV is good, but if you can get your hands on a kombusha mushroom and make it up in a large 5ltr tapped jar, you can have a small cup every day and if offers the same at ACV and more. Its an alkaliser, it healed the gut lining, its got heaps of natural probiotics in it and you can make it any flavour at all. I have a double container, one is ginger and lemon and the other is strawberry, both are divine to drink and are so good for you. Magnesium will not only help with the bowels, but its also good for restless legs, cramps and night spasms and painful muscles following a heavy workout. I have a 150g pot of Coconut Activated Charcoal which I shall start using at 1/2tsp a day, then increase as needed, I dont want to start out with too bigger amount first up.
I have 4 kinds of Kombucha ” mushroom mothers”. Called “scoobies”. I make my own kombucha. Not supposed to sell the “scoobies”. You trade them or give them away… only charge if you ship. Making a new batch now.
Look up the salt water flush. We use celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink sea salt. It works every time.
How do you use Epsom Salt as a laxative?
Look up the salt water flush. We use celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink sea salt. It works every time.
I had given my 7 year old one activated charcoal pill because I thought she was getting another childs stomach virus. The next day, the pediatrician put her on antibiotics for strep throat. And a few days later, she wound up in the hospital because she got a blockage in her intestines. This was yesterday. I didn’t tell the doctors because I just remembered about the activated charcoal today. They stopped her antibiotics and gave her a shot instead. I’m wondering if this charcoal pill will pass now, or if I’m going to have to take her back to the hospital and tell them. Or, if it’s safe enough to give her epsom salt? She will definitly not tolerate apple cider vinegar.
I will be having silver fillings removed and heard taking charcoal will help if I take it befor. Hvae you heard of this? How much?
I have used activated charcoal for so many things. I recently had an infected cut on my hand and a charcoal poultice cleared it up overnight. We buy it from blackwatercarbon.com which sells it for $17.00 per pound including shipping. Cheapest we’ve found.
Can I used activated charcoal every?
How can you get an activated charcoal….can I grind the normal charcoal into a powdered form
No! Regular charcoal has carcinogens.
Question: Did you rub the charcoal directly on the wound? If so how much/how often?
Lori, yes use activated charcoal after getting your filings replaced, but also start using Betonite clay to help remove the heavy metals. Good luck. I feel so great about getting my fillings replaced and root canals redone. Best of luck! Don
How do they redo root canals ?
I used it when I got mine removed. I took 2 twice a day for a month.