Activated Charcoal Uses and Benefits (For Beauty, Health & Home)

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Uses of activated charcoal
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Activated Charcoal Uses and Benefits (For Beauty, Health & Home)

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?

Activated Charcoal Uses and Benefits - why to keep it on hand

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 maskEasily 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

How to use activated charcoal in toothpaste hair beauty and more

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!

Activated charcoal is a good resource for teeth whitening, in case of accidental poison ingestion, and spider bites and similar maladies.
Sources
  1. Derlet, R. W., & Albertson, T. E. (1986). Activated Charcoal—Past, Present and Future. Western Journal of Medicine145(4), 493–496.
  2. Guss, D. A. (1989). Emergency Medicine: Activated Charcoal—The First-Line Agent in Cases of Overdose. Western Journal of Medicine151(1), 63.
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

262 responses to “Activated Charcoal Uses and Benefits (For Beauty, Health & Home)”

  1. Jessica Avatar

    Hello, I can attest to the glories of charcoal and whitening teeth! My husband is on a strict natural protocol for healing cancer, His drinks are really staining his teeth! After one brushing, weeks of build up (blueberries, purple cabbage, wheatgrass, etc) he had his charming smile back.
    My question is: I have crowns and bridge work (another subject there!) Do you think the charcoal will stain those “fake” teeth? I am scared to try! Thanks for any information!!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I don’t have any of these in a visible place to be able to share any firsthand experience. Readers have reported trying this method of teeth whitening without a problem on these types of surfaces, but I’d definitely recommend checking with your dentist before using this or anything else if you have any of these.

  2. Marisa Avatar

    I love your website!!!! Can you please do a post on Ubiquinol? Thank you!!!

  3. Cari Avatar

    Hey Katie,
    So glad you decided to write about this important subject. We live in the Kruger Park and use many of these “traditional” tricks, being wary of Big Pharma, Big Agri and all the other Big bullies out there. My husband remembers having a mix of “blue” soap, brown sugar and charcoal applied to his “veld” sores as a boy. These sores were from the bites of small grass dwelling mites and children would get them all over their legs – this was the go-to fix for the problem. Today, we use charcoal in our water filters and a friend of ours takes a teaspoon in a slurry for heartburn.
    I can’t wait to see what your readers add in the comments. Thanks again for the great info.

  4. angela gomez Avatar
    angela gomez

    could kids take it internally for food issues? 5 year old. We are moving to Mexico for a year and I know we will encounter belly issues.

  5. Monika Avatar

    is activated charcoal contraindicated for people with sensitive teeth?
    I worry about its abrasiveness.

    I’d like to whiten my teeth but worry I will do more bad than good.

    Help!

  6. Linda Avatar

    I got a cat scratch on my hand and didn’t pay much attention until several hours later it started to hurt and swelled
    up. I made a poultice using AC and grape seed oil . I applied it heavily to keep it moist and put a bandage on it.
    Next day swelling was way down and gone in 2 days. I did reapply the poultice several times and change the bandage.
    If it had not stopped hurting right away or gotten red, I would have gone to the doctor.. Cat bites and scratches get
    infected easily and can lead to blood poisoning. I have recently used 1 capsule, in water, in a syringe and given it
    to a cat that was sick with vomiting and diarrhea. It was better the next day. This has worked twice with the cats..

  7. Rhia Avatar

    Hi there
    I was wondering if I could use a paste of AC and pure water as a facial cleanser for my teenage sons acne? Do you have any suggestions around this?
    We have tried lots of different things already.

  8. Audrey Avatar

    Used activated charcoal to absorb skunk smell in my home and vehicle from an aggressive dominate male skunk who kept spraying my place as his territory during mating season last winter. It’s the only think that helped me keep my sanity from that horrid smell. It was less than a week to get the smell gone & a friend said it took her a month to get hers gone with out it. Hopefully nobody will ever need it for this but just in case.

  9. Maddie Avatar

    I’ve just started to use A/C as a face mask, primarily for acne. Mixed with a bit of aloe vera gel, honey, and a few drops of tea tree oil. Works wonders!!!! 😀

  10. Vickie Avatar
    Vickie

    can I take the charcoal powder and make capsule from it. How do I know how strong they would be that way?

  11. james Avatar

    Activated charcoal has a high adsorptive capacity for a wide range of compounds including many of those which are most commonly encountered in deliberate and accidental poisoning. It is not recommended for patients who have ingested corrosive agents such as strong acids or alkalis since the activated charcoal may obscure endoscopic visualisation of oesophageal and gastric lesions produced by the toxin.

  12. Athena Avatar

    My last comment on this topic was pretty scathing regarding some of the comments/ideas posted here, but I used AC as a teeth whitener over the weekend and was really surprised just how well it worked! Although I still stand by my previous post & remain extremely dubious about the black stuffs ‘internal’ uses, as far as teeth whitening is concerned I really recommend the AC approach. I got a small 10g tin for £2.89, & a basic, old fashioned, toothbrush (without all the hard plastic coloured bits – just plain bristles) for 99p, & after very carefully taking the lid off inside a plastic bag so I didn’t ruin the bathroom, one light dip of the toothbrush in the powder & 4/5 minutes brushing was all I needed (I would imagine you’d need to to it 2-3 times if your teeth are badly stained) I’ll repeat it in a couple of weeks time & keep going from there. The only thing I would recommend is that you omit normal brushing just after doing it as it can make your gums a little sore & mouthwash stings like hell!! I hope this is helpful.

  13. Laura Avatar

    I bought a coconut shell activated charcoal from my local health food store and it smells like sulfur when I mix it with water. I have never bought charcoal before; is it normal for it to have a strong smell/sulfur content? I am apprehensive to use it now. Can someone please help inform me?

    1. Jenny Avatar

      I just opened a container with the same issue. The odor turned my stomach! I was really excited to start using it but that was rough! Need to know if it’s normal or how to counter the smell before trying it again.

  14. Athena Felix Avatar
    Athena Felix

    I looked into activated charcoal for teeth whitening & came across this site. The blurb about it was interesting & similar to some other sites I’ve seen. But then I started to read the comments! I’m not the type of person who leaves comments on sites, but having read these I really felt I had to. What the hell are some of you people on??!! Firstly, if you have cancer – please, please ignore some of the opinions on this site. I truely believe they are dangerous! Deadly even!! A Doctor will NEVER refer you for radiation or chemotherapy needlessly! Yes, by their very nature they are a poisons (although the word ‘chemotherapy’ actually defines all medications), but they need to be to destroy mutated cancer cells. It is necessary to kill cancer cells in order to rid the body of them, & a glass of salt water just isn’t going to cut it – however exotic the salt is!! Yes , use natural, homeopathic remedies to help, but don’t stop listening to the person who trained hard for 8 years in order to help people in the best ways known. If you trust your treatment & lives to the random blog comments, posted on sites like this, by people who really have no clue, but think they’re being clever – YOU WILL DIE, QUICKLY & PAINFULLY!!(but hey, at least you’d be able to take a crap!) Conspiracy theories (that’s exactly what they are) such as that deodorants cause cancer or scan radiation can be pulled out of your body by using a salty foot soak, in the form of metal pieces no less, are nothing more than utterly ridiculous scaremongering!! Listen to your own minds, use your own commonsense, don’t get swept up in someone else’s paranoid delusions! I am in no way saying don’t use natural therapies, they are useful in many ways; & yes they have been used for millennia, but there was a good reason why the life expectancy just 100 years ago was 30 years younger than now!! Yes, question what you put into your body, do your research, but never make your decision based on the opinion of 1 strangers blog!! STAY INFORMED……..AND LIVE INTELLIGENTLY!!!! Please know I’m NOT attacking your site, at all. What you personally write often seems informed, useful & created with a caring mindset. I am just responding to some of the comments you have allowed through moderation. I applaud free speech & a person’s right to an opinion, & that’s all my post is, my opinion of other people’s opinions. My views are just as valid as anyone else’s, they may be strong but they are not offensive or abusive, so therefore there should be no reason why they cannot be posted in a free exchange of ideas. Thank you.

  15. Rachael Avatar
    Rachael

    I use activated charcoal for my dogs as well as myself.. I had an 8 week old Westie puppy that got into something, not sure what, but it got really sick and had bloody diarrhea and throwing up everything it ate. I took her to the vet, and they said she didn’t have Parvo but there was nothing they could do for her because she was so badly dehydrated. He said she would die.. So I took her home and gave her 2 activated Charcoal capsules, and within an hour she was fine..

    I also give it to my grandkids to get rid of flu symptoms, and it is just a matter of hours and they are fine.
    I keep it on hands all the time.

  16. Arteshar Avatar
    Arteshar

    I was so happy to find your site. Recently my friends son was put into a mental institution by his father. The son called his mother and asked her to get him out because he didn’t want to take the drugs and he didn’t think he should be in there. She went to court to get him out but the court decided he was a danger to himself based on what the father had told them ( the father had not seen his son for more than a year but had discovered where the young man was and called the police to have him admitted.)
    Today my friend was crying because she felt so powerless to help her son and the authorities can not hear the concerns raised about the damage to her sons sanity and body due to the heavy drugs which the hospital openly admit will not cure anything.
    I have been taking Activated charcoal for 40 years when needed, traveling, upset tummy ect.
    Suddenly it occurred to me that Charcoal would be a way of lessening the toxic effects of the medication.
    The young man had been living with his mother for almost a year with no medications and had started to come right after the previous time his father had him locked up. (Yes this really happens in this day and age)
    He is really aware of what is happening and is desperately concerned about himself and the long term effects to his body.

  17. Meme Avatar

    People mention that using AC can cause blockage. I am concerned there could be a blockage if I take AC. What to do if the AC causes a blockage?

  18. Marisa Moon Avatar
    Marisa Moon

    Hi!

    This is a fantastic article and photo/graphic you have created! Would you mind if I use your photo and ping back to your page as a resource? I am suggesting activated charcoal to my audience! LMK, and thank you!

    -Marisa Moon

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I don’t allow my photos or content to be republished else where, but you can quote from my posts as long as you link back to the original article. Thanks for reading!

    2. Brea Avatar

      great article. im glad to learn not to take charcoal with other supplenents. though i wish i understood better what supplements and nutrients get absorbed by charcoal and what doesnt.

  19. Eastlene Avatar

    I have a Swollen, Bloated Stomach, it look like i,m pregnant. very
    constipated, and my stomach is painfull, and just grow bigger and bigger
    can i use Activated Charcoal
    I,m 43 years, just want my normal body back. Please help Thanks

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