Many of us have heard of charcoal, or activated charcoal. Celebrities are often to be found tweeting or posting about it on social media, and charcoal is in many of the products seen on drugstore shelves.
It can even be seen in fancy restaurants as an ingredient, or even as a stick infusing a bottle of water.
But what actually is charcoal, and what are the properties of activated charcoal?
We take a closer look at some of the best charcoal supplements, and charcoal’s beneficial properties.
What is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is made when charcoal is heated to a very high temperature.1
The activisation part comes afterwards: an oxisiding gas, or other chemical, is added to the hot charcoal.
The resulting product has an increased surface area, with pores which are much more absorbent.2
A single gram (g) of activated carbon can be so porous that its surface area is well in excess of five hundred square metres.3 Powerful stuff!
Historically, charcoal has been used in emergency medicine to treat poisonings.4
Today, many healthy people take charcoal supplements, such as charcoal tablets or activated charcoal capsules.
It is thought that the absorptive properties of charcoal bring relief when you have had one too many white wine spritzers… or perhaps brussels sprouts! However, there is little scientific evidence to support this.5
The charcoal tablets are taken by mouth, and may ease symptoms such as intestinal gas (flatulence), or the symptoms of a hangover.
If you are feeling bloated after a particularly big meal, a few activated charcoal capsules can be taken one or two hours after you have eaten.
Some people prefer to buy pure charcoal powder, mixing it with other all-natural products, to create their own homemade beauty products, or personal supplements.
For example, rather than purchase charcoal capsules, you can mix virgin coconut oil with charcoal powder at home to create your own face mask.
Likewise, a lingering hangover may be eased by a small amount of charcoal powder mixed into tap water.
For those who suffer from oily skin, activated charcoal can be a godsend. Excess oil on the surface of the skin leads to spot breakouts and a great deal of discomfort.
When used on the surface of the skin, activated charcoal can help absorb that excess oil, create a purifying effect, leaving skin clearer in its appearance.
Coconut charcoal is made from the burning of all-natural coconut shells.
The best coconut charcoal will have one hundred percent natural source ingredients.
It is thought that activated coconut charcoal is particularly good for binding to proteins that can irritate the gut, such as casein and gluten.6
You have almost certainly seen charcoal in restaurants, everywhere from pizza crusts to ice cream.
The edgy black food you are munching in restaurants (which contains charcoal) is made with industry-grade charcoal, which is safe to consume in small quantities, alongside charcoal supplements.
But charcoal actually has little flavour to it, so keep a look out for the other ingredients in those dishes.
You might find they have an unusually high sugar content, in order to make a flavoursome, Instagram-worthy dish. Desserts in particular are worth watching out for.
Why do people take charcoal supplements?
Many of us choose to take vitamins and minerals in addition to those we get from eating our five fruit and vegetables a day.
Charcoal supplements can be one inclusion to your diet, which should be varied for your overall health.
Some people worry that taking supplements can have negative effects, but there is minimal risk to taking activated charcoal supplements daily.7
Those who suffer from a toxin-rich environment, particularly where mold is present, may find that activated charcoal offers some support.
Activated charcoal encourages the binding and absorption of toxins, resulting in an easing of symptoms for some.
However, there is a chance that taking charcoal supplements may affect medications which have been medically prescribed, due to charcoal’s absorptive properties.
So it is always good to check with your GP before adding any new supplements to your diet.
Last updated: 9 April 2021