Juice cleanses. Protein pills. Superfoods. Low carb diet. No carb diet. High fat. Low fat. Algae supplements. Activated charcoal. The list goes on, and there’s a diet book for every one of them.

In fact, with so much information out there, and new nutrition and wellness trends popping up every week, it’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s just a clever marketing myth.

Here we’re going to talk about charcoal and debunk the myths that can harm, rather than help your health.

So, what is charcoal? And what is the difference between activated and non-activated charcoal? Charcoal, to put it simply, is carbon in its raw state. Activated charcoal has been treated with oxygen, which opens up millions of tiny pores between the carbon atoms, making it extremely porous, which makes it very absorptive.

The word ‘absorb’ is important here. When a material absorbs something, it uses chemical attraction to get things to attach to it. Activated charcoal has a huge surface area, which gives it many bonding sites, allowing chemicals to pass next to the surface, attach, and be trapped. This makes charcoal a great filtration material: filtering both chemicals from the water we drink and impurities from our skin.

Drinking water is essential to good health. However, normal tap water is toxic and laden with chemicals, toxins, and fluoride. Ingestion should, therefore, be limited whenever possible. Activated charcoal filtration systems adsorb impurities, such as chlorine, ammonia, toluene, chloramine, and other solids and gases from your tap water. Lab tests from filtration companies like Miyabi Charcoal also show that bamboo charcoal will adsorb pesticides and other toxins.

Another fact that is often overlooked when it comes to charcoal, is that it can be used to alleviate uncomfortable gas and bloating by binding the gas-causing by-products in foods that cause discomfort.

You have no doubt seen charcoal increasingly used as the main ingredient in detox masks and other skincare products professing to have detoxifying properties. It is important to note, however, that whilst topical charcoal products can remove dirt, sebum, dead skins cells, and accumulated particle matter (like cigarette smoke, pollution fumes, and pollen), they’re not going into the bloodstream. So, when brands refer to pulling out toxins with a charcoal skin-care product, they are being misleading.

Skin-care brands often tout the benefits of charcoal in their products that can only be gained through supplements that are ingested. These remove toxins from the walls of the intestines as they pass through. To feel the detoxifying benefits of charcoal, it is more effective to take it in supplement form.

Research has also suggested that oral healthcare products that contain activated charcoal whitens your teeth. Is this true? Well, according to Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, activated charcoal is little more than a ‘fashionable health ingredient’. He believes consumers are being misled. There is anecdotal evidence of whitening properties of charcoal, but research by the Oral Health Foundation suggests results are likely to be superficial. The research suggests that there is no robust evidence to support the use of charcoal in teeth whitening products.  

Always do your homework before deciding to use a dental product with activated charcoal.

So, the bottom line is that charcoal has many benefits and uses, but it’s important to know your facts before switching to any product.