From purifying charcoal masks to hangover-free cocktails and tooth-whitening toothpastes, activated charcoal is leaving its carbon “footprint” just about everywhere. But does activated charcoal work — and is it safe?

Unlike regular charcoal, which is a known carcinogen, activated charcoal is medicinal. It’s the byproduct of slowly burnt wood, peat, or coconut shells that is treated with oxygen, a process which renders it highly porous and nonpolar, allowing it to adsorb (that is, bind to, as opposed to absorb) hydrophobic toxins and odors from gases or liquids up to 1,000 times its weight.

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Activated charcoal comes in many forms: powder and pills for ingesting, granules and cubes for purifying the environment, and sponges and fabrics for cleansing and wearing. This “it” ingredient – used for millennia in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine – has recently even shot to superfood status thanks to activated charcoal’s potent alkalizing detoxification properties and purported health benefits.

But the jury is still out on many of the supposed health benefits of activated charcoal. Very few studies have been done on its effects, particularly when it comes to your skin, teeth, and stomach. Here are eight safe ways to use it — and three to skip.

Skip It: Activated Charcoal Cocktails

The intense pigmentation and subtle smoky flavor of activated charcoal have inspired bartenders to create a slew of highly instagrammable cocktails. While these activated charcoal cocktails are delicious, the claims that they are “hangover-free” is probably too good to be true. Though activated charcoal is detoxifying, there is little evidence that it makes you less drunk — and there’s at least one study that found activated charcoal wasn’t effective at absorbing alcohol.

Instead, try this: While activated charcoal might not help prevent hangovers, plenty of other foods may help: eating asparagus, in particular, can help the body break down down alcohol.

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Skip It: Activated Charcoal Cleansing Detox Drinks

Without a doubt, the detox ingredient of the moment is charcoal, You’ll find it sold as activated charcoal lemonade, in fresh concoctions at juice bars, and for order online.

Our advice? Give them a pass: activated charcoal can bind to vitamins and nutrients — meaning you’ll rob your beverage of some of its nutritional value. More alarmingly, activated charcoal binds to medications, including birth control pills, so you risk rendering them ineffective.

Skip It: Activated Charcoal in Food

Many restaurants are incorporating activated charcoal in their foods. Burger King in Japan even released a Kuro Burger (kuro means “black”) featuring a squid-ink patty on a bamboo-charcoal bun. In the U.S., I’ve seen restaurants serving charcoal waffles for brunch, and scoop shops hawking charcoal ice cream for dessert. Again, because of its potential to irritate the stomach and bind to medications, we’d take a pass on this particular flavor fad.

Try It — Maybe: Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening

There’s nothing new about charcoal being used to clean teeth. In fact, charcoal powder is an indigenous tooth cleaning method in rural Tanzania, among other parts of Africa and South Asia.

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What is new, however, is the influx of activated charcoal toothpastes claiming to whiten teeth naturally when there’s actually little research to back it up. According to Victoria Veytsman, DDS, “While there is some anecdotal evidence that it may help brighten teeth, there is no scientific evidence. I don’t recommend it as a primary way to whiten teeth and would use it cautiously and in moderation due to its abrasive quality and potential to damage enamel and gums.”

Try this instead: It does appear that when applied to your teeth, activated charcoal teeth can lift surface stains, binding with coffee and wine. However, because its abrasiveness can damage enamel, dentists warn that you shouldn’t use activated charcoal every day, and you shouldn’t brush with it.

Try It: Activated Charcoal Masks

Activated charcoal masks cleanse the skin of dirt.

kazmulka/Getty

Activated charcoal is also popping up in all kinds of skincare products, from beauty bars to activated charcoal Konjac sponges for cleansing the skin.

For the best results, try a mask, says dermatologic surgeon Dr. Sejal Shah. “Adsorption basically acts like a magnet for dirt, oil, and other impurities — but it depends on physical contact so it needs to sit on the skin to be effective.”

Just don’t imagine that your facial is also detoxing anything beneath the surface: Dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky, MD, says “While it won’t harm your skin, it’s not terribly effective at removing toxins because charcoal isn’t fat-soluble. In the stomach, toxins have a water-soluble environment for binding to the charcoal.” On the skin, on the other hand, the bacteria are in a slick of oil. “You’re better off using a beauty bar or Pond’s cream,” she says.

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Try It: Activated Charcoal Shampoo

Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal Shampoo

sephora.com $11.00

Plagued by an itchy, oily, and or flaky scalp? Activated charcoal can help, says Briogeo founder Nancy Twine. Inspired to break the stigma surrounding scalp issues, Nancy worked with a chemist to develop a soothing solution. The entire three-part collection — a gentle exfoliating shampoo, scalp treatment, and dry shampoo — is infused with binchotan, a hyper-porous activated charcoal from Japan.

You can check it out at Sephora.

Try It: Activated Charcoal Underwear

Adept at adsorbing foul and toxic smells from gases and liquids, activated charcoal has some applications for reducing body odor.

A surprising amount of research demonstrates that it effectively reduces the stink of flatulence: Underwear made from activated carbon fiber has been proven to remove odor from smelly farts. (One Danish study even recommended embedding activated charcoal in airplane seat cushions, so passengers could pass gas without “social complications.”)

Try it: If you’d like to get your hands on a pair of activated charcoal underwear, check out Shreddies’ flatulence-filtering underwear. One study found carbon fiber briefs much more effective than a pad or a cushion for removing the odor from farts. (Just remember, it won’t mute the noise).

Try It: Activated Charcoal Deodorant

PiperWai Natural Deodorant

amazon.com $15.49

Much less research has been done regarding its efficacy as a deodorant, but if you want to give it a try, there’s no harm — charcoal is inert and likely won’t irritate your skin. A number of new natural deodorants and underarm care systems featuring activated charcoal have come onto the market, and they sound promising — or at least, worth trying.

PiperWai (as seen on Shark Tank!) makes an aluminum-free, natural cream deodorant using activated charcoal and essential oils to absorb sweat and odor. And natural deodorant company Rustic MAKA has developed a three-part underarm care system (soap and konjac sponge, exfoliating mask, and antioxidant serum).

Try It: Activated Charcoal Water Purifier

Kishu Activated Charcoal Water Filter

amazon.com $19.99

You probably already own one, but if you don’t, you should: carbon filters such as those in Brita filters — possibly the most ubiquitous form of activated charcoal out there — remove most contaminants and odors in water, such as pesticides and chlorine, and reduce heavy metals like lead.

But activated charcoal can also be used in its unprocessed form to purify water: just drop an entire stick into a pitcher or your water bottle. Each stick purifies water for four months — and after that, you can put it in your refrigerator to deodorize the air. Try Kishu activated charcoal sticks, which can be slipped into a water bottle or pitcher — no plastic necessary.

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Try It: Activated Charcoal Air Purifier

Activated charcoal is proven to clear out odors and toxins from the air. Consider getting an activated charcoal air filter for neutralizing the stinkiest parts of your home, be it your garbage, fridge, or bathroom, or for when you’re repainting a room or polishing silverware.

Try It — With Caution: Activated Charcoal Pills for Poisoning

Activated charcoal pills are used to remove certain poisons from the body. They can also be helpful for food poisoning.

SasaJo/Getty

Thanks to its super-powerful ability to adsorb toxins, activated charcoal is proven to be an effective remedy in many (though not all) types of poisonings and is even administered in emergency rooms.

Activated charcoal pills can also be used to treat stomach pain caused by excess gas, diarrhea, or indigestion. Cheap and available over the counter, the pills are great if you’re traveling and happen to get food poisoning (as I learned on a trip to Uzbekistan several years ago, which is where I was first introduced to activated charcoal).

Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal

amazon.com $48.11

Be sure to look for activated charcoal pills free of sorbitol, which is a laxative. It’s included in some activated charcoal pills, like those used in hospitals, to help swiftly remove poisons from the body. Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal Capsules contain no sorbitol.

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before consuming activated charcoal pills, especially if you are on any medications or expecting. Remember that activated charcoal can bind to vitamins, nutrients, and medications, so take it on an empty stomach and allow two to three hours before eating. And if believe you’ve been poisoned or are seriously ill, go to the ER immediately, or call your doctor.

Keep In Mind

Seek activated charcoal made from a sustainable source like coconut shells or identified wood species. Binchotan, made purely from Japanese Ubame oak, is the crème de la crème. And remember, activated charcoal powder is dangerous to inhale — it can result in a condition like black lung — so be careful if you decide to take on any DIY projects with it.

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Keep it in a sealed container as activated charcoal can easily absorb the impurities in the air.

Beware of fillers: try and make sure that products made with activated charcoal has no fillers or artificial sweeteners added.

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a20706713/what-is-activated-charcoal-good-for/

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