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Black Beauty: Does Activated Charcoal Work?

Black Beauty: Does Activated Charcoal Work?

Activated Charcoal

You’ve seen it popping up everywhere in toothpaste, beauty counters, and tablets selling out at Whole Foods by organic-loving health fanatics.

Charcoal Bricks

So what IS activated charcoal exactly?

Let’s start with carbon. Carbon is the element that pretty much makes up every living thing. When living things die they turn to ashes and dust (ashes to ashes…). Add over thousands of years of gravity-induced pressure- and VOILÁ- you have charcoal.

Take charcoal and treat it with oxygen, and you have ACTIVATED CHARCOAL. The result is a highly porous charcoal, that looks like a fine black powder that is odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic. Activated charcoal binds to most things, or “adsorbs” organic toxins, chemicals, and poisons. (adsorb= to chemically attach itself to other substances). A science AND vocabulary lesson! Activated charcoal is usually made from charcoal, but can also be produced from wood, peat, or even coconut shells.


How long have we been using activated charcoal?

A LONG time. Dig up papyrus writings from 1550 BC and you’ll see references to activated charcoal. The Egyptians used it to create bronze, absorb odors, cure intestinal problems, and even preserve the dead.

The Phoenicians, famous for maritime trading, were using activated charcoal to preserve water on long sea voyages, a practice that continued among sailors through Christopher Columbus’s days. By 50 AD, the Greek philosophers were recording their uses of activated charcoal to treat epilepsy, chlorosis, and vertigo. Later, when humans started poisoning each other, charcoal was lauded as the antidote for poison. One French chemist actually swallowed arsenic mixed with charcoal, and lived to tell the tale!

Charcoal Face

How is activated charcoal used today?

It’s always good to have some charcoal on hand when there are small children involved. It’s useful to treat spider bites, bee stings, or accidental poisoning. Activated charcoal is also effective as a natural teeth whitener, should you feel bold enough to scrub the black powder into your teeth.

Most importantly, charcoal is amazing at clearing up our little friends Acne, Zit, and Spot. The black beauty powder absorbs (or adsorbs, for you smarty pants) 100 to 200 times its weight in dirt, excess oil, bacteria, and other pore cloggers.

After applying a charcoal mask, you’ll quickly see the charcoal doing it’s work- all of that dirty dirty will come right out of the pores, perhaps causing a short-term breakout. But just remember the famous rule- BETTER IN THAN OUT. Without the charcoal, that bacteria, oil, and dirt would have had BIG party on your face later, and invite their friends (Pimple and Blackhead too).


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  • Julia Kahlig-Garuba
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