Last updated: August 10, 2021

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Activated charcoal has increased in demand in recent years. It has been used for chemistry, medicine and filtration for many years, but now it is also increasingly available to private consumers in the form of lifestyle and cosmetic products. In our activated carbon guide 2021 we would like to tell you more about what activated carbon is, how it works, in which products it is used and answer the most important questions about activated carbon.




The most important facts

  • Activated carbon is obtained from various materials, such as lime wood, and consists of more than 90 percent carbon. It is used to filter and bind pollutants.
  • For us humans, it is used in lifestyle and cosmetic products such as shower gels, face masks and in toothpaste. It is also used in tablet form or as a powder to bind pollutants in the stomach.
  • Its use makes the most sense for people who have stomach complaints. However, products with activated charcoal as an additive can basically be used by everyone.

The Best Activated Carbon: Our Picks

Buying and evaluation criteria for activated charcoal products

Before buying activated charcoal products, you should think about the following criteria. Therefore, we explain what you should know so that you can reduce the risk of making a wrong purchase.

Product type

Many manufacturers now offer products with activated carbon added so that its adsorption properties can be used. However, just because activated charcoal is included in the products does not mean that they have to be useful.

More and more activated carbon products are being produced, but not all of them are useful

Since there is a lot of hype about activated carbon for private consumption, many suppliers are trying to make a profit with it. You should think about which products you really need and which would just be a waste of money. Activated charcoal is often used in cosmetic products such as shower gels, cleansing gels and face masks, in toothpaste and to detoxify the stomach. In these categories, the addition of activated charcoal makes sense, as in each case unwanted substances are bound to the activated charcoal and can thus be removed. For other categories, you should also consider whether it makes sense in the product and then make your purchase decision.

Effectiveness

A second important criterion is effectiveness. Marketing promises can be as laudatory as they may be, but you should look at whether the products are effective at all and how you use them in a useful way. The more severe the complaints, the more you will notice the results. If you don't have gastrointestinal problems, activated charcoal capsules won't do much good, even if it is advertised that you could lose weight with it. Likewise, if you already have very clear non-oily skin or healthy white teeth, the results will also be invisible. It's best to read reviews of each product to make sure you don't spend your money for nothing.

Ingredients

It's also important to make sure there are no unwanted or harmful ingredients in the products you choose to use.

Unwanted ingredients can lead to unwanted side effects

A look at the ingredients is enough to see if there are any undesirable additives. Tablets and capsules should contain only pure activated charcoal powder and no extra supplements. Shower gels and face masks should not contain harmful microplastics, and activated charcoal toothpaste should not contain substances that attack your tooth enamel instead of cleaning it.

Taste and smell

Especially with toothpaste, taste is an important criterion for many people. If you expect a strong minty flavour, you will be disappointed with an activated charcoal toothpaste. They usually have no taste at all or only a very mild taste.

Due to the noticeable activated charcoal particles, it can be unusual to drink drinks

The same applies to the powder for mixing with drinks.

If you mix it with milk or lemonade, it will of course have a taste, but the activated charcoal itself is tasteless, which is why the overall taste will be milder. Also, the consistency is different from what you are used to, as you can feel the activated charcoal particles in your mouth. Shower gels with activated charcoal are usually only made for men, as it leaves a spicy, distinctive scent on the skin. Face masks should not leave a smell on the skin.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about activated charcoal answered in detail

Before you use any activated carbon products, you should know what exactly you are dealing with. For this reason, we have compiled and answered the most important questions about activated carbon in this section.

What is activated carbon?

Activated carbon is porous and fine-grained carbon, which has a large inner surface. The proportion of carbon is usually more than 90 percent and it is obtained from lime wood and coconut shells, for example. It also appears under the names A-carbon and medicinal carbon.

Due to its adsorption property, activated charcoal can be used for a face mask, for example, which then binds blackheads, pimples and grease to itself and thus cleanses the skin. (Image source: unsplash.com/elsaolofsson)

What makes activated charcoal so special is its ability to bind other substances, liquids and gases to its surface. This is called adsorption, which means that activated carbon can be used for many different purposes.

What is activated carbon used for and how does it work?

Activated carbon can be used in many different areas due to its ability to bind other substances and liquids. Among other things, it serves as a filter in chemistry, medicine, ventilation technology and drinking water treatment. Due to the adsorption property just described, it is used for us humans as follows:

  • Cosmetic products to cleanse the skin
  • Toothpaste for whiter teeth
  • Capsule for digestion and detoxification
  • Activated charcoal as a powder for mixing drinks

In order to give you a closer look at how activated carbon works in the products mentioned, we will deal with them and their mode of action in particular.

Cosmetic products

Activated charcoal is used in cosmetic products to help cleanse the skin and improve its appearance. It can be an ingredient in face masks, shower gels and cleansing gels. Suppliers promise you that these products will get rid of your pimples, blackheads, and oily, greasy skin. It is supposed to remove impurities and dirt. For a relatively clean face, an activated charcoal face mask, for example, won't be able to deliver many results. Since every skin type is different, activated charcoal will affect everyone differently, however, you can just buy a product and try it out as it is not supposed to be harmful to your skin. (1)

Toothpaste

Toothpaste manufacturers repeatedly use different additives that are supposed to make teeth whiter without having to rely on expensive, complex whitening procedures. Activated charcoal in toothpaste is supposed to counteract discolouration and fight deposits on the tooth surface. However, it should be used carefully and sparingly, as the activated charcoal can damage the teeth if used frequently and too much. Toothpaste with activated charcoal grinds the tooth surface more than normal. This can wear away the tooth enamel, which can then promote caries, for example. (2)

Capsules

Activated charcoal also exists in the form of tablets. These are presented as a means of losing weight and detoxifying the body. (3) Due to its ability to bind substances, activated charcoal has been used in medicine for many years to bind toxic pollutants in the stomach and eliminate them. However, this procedure is only used to counteract overdoses or severe gastrointestinal complaints. (4) Activated charcoal tablets should not be used for weight loss because activated charcoal binds non-specific substances to itself and thus also deprives the body of important vitamins and minerals. Those who want to detoxify their body should use activated charcoal sparingly and eat a healthy and balanced diet to counteract vitamin deficiencies.

Powder

In powder form, activated charcoal can be used in different ways. The pure activated charcoal powder can be used to make your own face masks, to whiten teeth or for baking and mixing drinks. It can be used to bake stylish black bread or mix black smoothies and lemonades. The drinks are often used to detoxify the body and some also use it to lose weight. However, this is not advisable as the activated charcoal also binds vitamins and minerals, thus depriving the body of important nutrients. However, if you have gastrointestinal problems and, for example, a lot of excess gas in your stomach, you can use this method if you eat a balanced diet. (5)

When and for whom are activated charcoal products useful?

In principle, activated charcoal products can be used by everyone. However, there are definitely cases in which the use makes more sense or less sense, because the products should actually be used when there is a reason to do so.
Activated charcoal is not recommended for weight loss

Capsules and powders should only be used for gastrointestinal complaints, flatulence and to detoxify overdoses. (6) It should not be used for weight loss. For very oily, oily skin, the shower gels, cleansing gels and face masks make sense. You can also use them just like that, but the effect will then hardly be noticeable. Adding toothpaste with activated charcoal or brushing your teeth directly with activated charcoal makes sense if you have your teeth professionally cleaned by a dentist. You can then brush your teeth with activated charcoal to keep them clean longer. It also makes sense if you have severe discolouration but don't want to whiten your teeth.

What types of activated charcoal are there and which one is right for you?

As mentioned earlier, you can buy activated charcoal in different forms and in different products. With this table, you can see again in summary in which forms activated carbon is used and whether the products are right for you.

Type Purpose
Ingredient in products such as shower gels, cleansing gels, face masks and toothpaste For clean, clear skin, for impure, greasy, oily skin, cleaning teeth, removing deposits and discolouration
Capsules Detoxifying the body, binding harmful substances, gastrointestinal complaints
Powder Mixing drinks, cleaning teeth

These are the most frequently discussed products when it comes to activated carbon. So as you can see, activated charcoal comes in different forms and can be used in many different ways.

How much do activated charcoal products cost?

To see how the prices of activated charcoal products differ from their normal variants, we have prepared a list for you to compare the prices.

Product Prices (normal) Prices (activated charcoal)
Shower gel approx. 1.20 to 2.60 euros approx. 1.50 to 3.50 euros
Face mask approx. 8.00 to 16.00 euros approx. 12.00 to 22.00 euros
Toothpaste approx. 0.70 to 3.00 euros approx. 6.00 to 12.00 euros

So you can see that the activated charcoal products are more expensive, but the difference is not really very high. On average, you have to pay a few euros more per product to benefit from activated charcoal.

What are the side effects of taking activated charcoal?

The use of activated charcoal is generally safe, but there can be some side effects if you use it frequently, which we don't want to keep from you. You should only treat your teeth with activated charcoal from time to time, otherwise the enamel will be attacked too much. If too much of the enamel is eroded, caries can form more easily. (7)

To avoid undesirable side effects, the consumption of activated charcoal should be limited to a few times a month. Then no complaints should arise. (Image source unsplash.com/laurachouette)

When activated charcoal is consumed orally, excessive consumption and an unbalanced diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies in the body, as the activated charcoal also binds vitamins and minerals and excretes them from the body before they can be processed. Activated charcoal should not be taken when using medicines, as the activated charcoal could bind the active ingredients of these to itself and thus render them ineffective. (8) Activated charcoal should also not be taken with the birth control pill.

How much activated charcoal should I take?

Basically, as long as you don't experience any of the side effects mentioned above, you don't need to worry about taking too much activated charcoal. As soon as you have symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately. You should use activated charcoal sparingly, for example only once a week, to ensure that it does not damage your teeth or deprive your body of too many nutrients through oral intake. (9) External application to the skin is safe and can be done more often.

What are the alternatives to activated charcoal?

You can use activated charcoal as an additive in products, but you don't have to. The alternatives are of course the same products without the additive. If you still do not want to do without the effects described, you can use other products.
A toothpaste with other cleaning agents can also loosen deposits on the teeth

If you are looking for a toothpaste that can also whiten your teeth, you can use an alternative toothpaste that contains cleaning agents that can remove deposits. For shower gels and face masks, there are also alternative products that can improve your complexion and moisturise your skin. Often used ingredients are hyaluronic acid, aloe vera and algae. There are also various detox products, but you should consult a doctor or pharmacist who can recommend a product for your individual problem.

Does activated charcoal interfere with the pill and does it endanger pregnant women?

A common fear among women is that activated charcoal could have a negative effect on the effectiveness of the pill. As with other medicines, activated charcoal can make the pill less effective. In order to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, one should refrain from using activated charcoal.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid activated charcoal

Pregnant or breastfeeding women are also advised against taking activated charcoal. Important nutrients that both the pregnant woman and the baby need are withdrawn from the body by the effect of activated charcoal. Breastfeeding women should also avoid activated charcoal during this phase in order not to endanger the child and themselves.

Can you counteract a hangover with activated charcoal?

A much-told myth says that you can use activated charcoal and its adsorption properties to avoid a hangover after the last party. Unfortunately, we have to disappoint you at this point. Unfortunately, activated charcoal will not be able to counteract the hangover from alcohol consumption. Drinking activated charcoal while drinking alcohol will not reduce the effect of the alcohol. At this point you have to resort to other methods to make the hangover more bearable. (10)

Image source: Thanuthattaphong / 123rf.com

References (10)

1. Sanchez N, Fayne R, Burroway B. Charcoal: An ancient material with a new face. Clin Dermatol. 2020 Mar-Apr;38(2):262-264. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2019.07.025. Epub 2019 Jul 31. PMID: 32513407.
Source

2. Clinical Pharmacist, August 2017, Vol 9, No 8, online | DOI: 10.1211/CP.2017.20203167
Source

3. Derlet RW, Albertson TE. Activated charcoal--past, present and future. West J Med. 1986 Oct;145(4):493-6. PMID: 3538661; PMCID: PMC1306980.
Source

4. Juurlink DN. Activated charcoal for acute overdose: a reappraisal. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2016 Mar;81(3):482-7. doi: 10.1111/bcp.12793. Epub 2015 Nov 9. PMID: 26409027; PMCID: PMC4767212.
Source

5. Mann, N. & Cheung, E.. (2003). Activated Charcoal Reduces Lactulose-Induced Breath Hydrogen in Patients with Excessive Gas and in Controls. 10. 295-297.
Source

6. Chyka PA, Seger D, Krenzelok EP, Vale JA; American Academy of Clinical Toxicology; European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists. Position paper: Single-dose activated charcoal. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2005;43(2):61-87. doi: 10.1081/clt-200051867. PMID: 15822758.
Source

7. Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices, John K. Brooks, DDS, Nasir Bashirelahi, PhD, Mark A. Reynolds, DDS, PhD, June 07, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adaj.2017.05.001
Source

8. Levy G, Tsuchiya T. Effect of activated charcoal on aspirin absorption in man. Part I. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1972 May-Jun;13(3):317-22. doi: 10.1002/cpt1972133317. PMID: 5026372.
Source

9. Mauro LS, Nawarskas JJ, Mauro VF. Misadventures with activated charcoal and recommendations for safe use. Ann Pharmacother. 1994 Jul-Aug;28(7-8):915-24. doi: 10.1177/106002809402800717. PMID: 7949514.
Source

10. Minocha A, Herold DA, Barth JT, Gideon DA, Spyker DA. Activated charcoal in oral ethanol absorption: lack of effect in humans. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1986;24(3):225-34. doi: 10.3109/15563658608990460. PMID: 3723647.
Source

Why you can trust me?

Wissenschaftlicher Review
Sanchez N, Fayne R, Burroway B. Charcoal: An ancient material with a new face. Clin Dermatol. 2020 Mar-Apr;38(2):262-264. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2019.07.025. Epub 2019 Jul 31. PMID: 32513407.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Artikel
Clinical Pharmacist, August 2017, Vol 9, No 8, online | DOI: 10.1211/CP.2017.20203167
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Derlet RW, Albertson TE. Activated charcoal--past, present and future. West J Med. 1986 Oct;145(4):493-6. PMID: 3538661; PMCID: PMC1306980.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Juurlink DN. Activated charcoal for acute overdose: a reappraisal. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2016 Mar;81(3):482-7. doi: 10.1111/bcp.12793. Epub 2015 Nov 9. PMID: 26409027; PMCID: PMC4767212.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Artikel
Mann, N. & Cheung, E.. (2003). Activated Charcoal Reduces Lactulose-Induced Breath Hydrogen in Patients with Excessive Gas and in Controls. 10. 295-297.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Chyka PA, Seger D, Krenzelok EP, Vale JA; American Academy of Clinical Toxicology; European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists. Position paper: Single-dose activated charcoal. Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2005;43(2):61-87. doi: 10.1081/clt-200051867. PMID: 15822758.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Review
Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices, John K. Brooks, DDS, Nasir Bashirelahi, PhD, Mark A. Reynolds, DDS, PhD, June 07, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adaj.2017.05.001
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Artikel
Levy G, Tsuchiya T. Effect of activated charcoal on aspirin absorption in man. Part I. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1972 May-Jun;13(3):317-22. doi: 10.1002/cpt1972133317. PMID: 5026372.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchung
Mauro LS, Nawarskas JJ, Mauro VF. Misadventures with activated charcoal and recommendations for safe use. Ann Pharmacother. 1994 Jul-Aug;28(7-8):915-24. doi: 10.1177/106002809402800717. PMID: 7949514.
Go to source
Klinische Studie
Minocha A, Herold DA, Barth JT, Gideon DA, Spyker DA. Activated charcoal in oral ethanol absorption: lack of effect in humans. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1986;24(3):225-34. doi: 10.3109/15563658608990460. PMID: 3723647.
Go to source
Reviews