Activated charcoal: The instant health benefits of this “diamond in the coal mine”

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

Early use of activated charcoal

Believe it or not, activated charcoal, which is growing in popularity for its versatility, has been around for more than four centuries. More and more cosmetic brands are trying to introduce this material into their products giving it a very exotic image.

Truth be told, activated charcoal does not have a glamorous past. It comes from a very humble origin. Charcoal was mainly used in hospitals to treat poison cases to extract the toxins. A few of the early investigators and scientists (1830’s) used to inject themselves with poisonous chemicals to check the efficacy of charcoal in absorbing the toxins. It’s in the last 20 years that the use of activated charcoal in other areas of life has been recognized. Be it cosmetic use or its dental benefits a lot is being written and researched about activated charcoal.

Why activated, why not just charcoal?

Historically charcoal was always available in nature and known to man. Activated charcoal is, however, much more effective and efficient alternative. How is it different? It has way more absorbent power than charcoal. Some exaggerated claims even say that one spoon of activated charcoal has the absorbing space of a football field!

Activated charcoal is a brittle, almost powder form of charcoal with high absorbent powers and it only comes in one color – the color of life, the color of carbon – black. It is made of carbon-rich materials like wood, bamboo, coconut husk, coal etc. All of that is subjected to a very high temperature which releases all the existing impurities and toxins from the materials used. But this is only the first stage of the process, which is called Carbonization. Only 70-80% of the initial material used in the carbonization process is lost in this process and the leftover is porous carbon and some ash.

activated charcoal face mask After the porous carbon is made it undergoes and oxidization process which improves its absorbency. There are different ways of making activated charcoal. Broadly speaking, it can be made either through chemical or thermal processing. The activation process widens the pores formed during the carbonization process giving it more space to absorb.

  • Steam or Thermal processing: In this process either Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used as an oxidizing agent or steam is used for the same purpose. The porous carbon is put in a furnace and heated again while being treated with either the gas or steam.
  • Chemical processing: Chemical processing is a little different. The materials used for carbonization is soaked in chemicals like H3PO4, H2SO4, HNO3, NaOH, KOH and subjected to heat. So basically, the process of carbonization and activation takes place simultaneously in chemical processing. So it saves a lot of time and is a quicker process.

Activated charcoal has a negative charge that attaches itself to all the positively charged toxins and compounds, hence it is so effective in getting rid of toxins.

Medical Usage

Though in recent times activated charcoal is being advertised as a commodity that can pretty much solve a lot of impurity related issues, let’s find out how it actually helps in serious medical problems.

  • Kidney related issues: According to a study done by researchers in Argentina in 2010, activated charcoal does help in lowering the levels of urea and creatinine levels. The study was aimed at finding out alternatives of dialysis in case of a dysfunctional kidney. The subjects of the study were really old men with a failed kidney who refused to undergo dialysis. They were given a low-protein diet in combination with activated charcoal. It showed positive results. After using activated charcoal for almost 10 months all the 9 participants showed a considerable decrease in toxic levels in their blood.
  • Gastric related issues: In 1986, a study done on two different groups of people show that activated charcoal helps in reducing gastric related problems. The study observed one group from India and one from the US. It was also observed in that study that it helped with inflammation and bloating. There are two other studies one done in 2012 and another in 2017, which came out with positive results on the use of activated charcoal for intestinal gastric problems. The only reason why it’s not yet renowned is that the mechanism of how it works in the intestine is yet not clear.
  • Treatment for Diarrhea: Not popular yet but some medical researchers are seriously considering activated charcoal as an alternative form of treatment for diarrhea. A study done by two researchers in Baycrest Health Sciences, Toronto, Canada states that since diarrhea is caused due to bacterial infection, activated charcoal can help absorb the toxins produced and prevent them from being absorbed by the body. The study suggests that activated charcoal is used to treat diarrhea caused due to radiation therapy for cancer.

Activated charcoal: Common uses

  • Dental care: Activated charcoal is used widely these days for teeth whitening. Its dirt-absorbing capacity makes it an active ingredient for many leading brands of toothpaste too. Both activated charcoal and activated charcoal containing oral products can help get rid of pesky coffee stains, wine stains, and even plaque. However, care should be taken in case of frequent usage since activated charcoal is abrasive in nature and can hence deteriorate tooth enamel.
  • Face mask: Activated charcoal face mask is the new buzzword in the industry. Though it might look strange to put a coal product on your face and expect it to get cleaner and brighter, that is actually the truth. As mentioned before, activated charcoal binds well to toxins and dirt and is great at removing from our body. A face mask containing activated charcoal penetrates into your skin’s pores and attaches itself to the sebum (oil) and dirt present in it and removes it from the skin leaving it cleaner and shinier. Again, the issue of it being abrasive in nature should be kept in mind.
  • Hangover: Nothing could be worse can waking up after a night of drinking and partying with a hangover. This happens because alcohol dehydrates your body and the toxins associated with alcohol consumption change your body’s biochemistry. Activated charcoal pills can be especially helpful in deterring the accumulation of toxins in your system and could be the key ingredient in many hangover cures.


Activated charcoal is available in different forms in the market for medical use. It can be used as a tablet, capsule or in liquid form.

It is also available in granules and powder form. Depending on the purpose of treatment different dosages are decided of these forms.

It is highly recommended that a doctor is consulted before ingesting activated charcoal for medical purposes especially in case of poisoning.

For oral dosage form (powder)

For treatment of poisoning.

Adults and teenagers: Dose is usually 25 to 100 grams mixed with water.

Children 1 through 12 years of age: Dose is usually 25 to 50 grams mixed with water, or the dose may be based on body weight. It may be 0.5 to 1 gram per kilogram (kg) (0.23 to 0.45 gram per pound) of body weight mixed with water.

Children up to 1 year of age: Dose is usually 10 to 25 grams mixed with water, or the dose may be based on body weight. It may be 0.5 to 1 gram per kg (0.23 to 0.45 gram per pound) of body weight mixed with water.

Treatment with more than one dose

Adults and teenagers: At first, the dose is 50 to 100 grams. Then the dose may be 12.5 grams given every hour, 25 grams given every two hours, or 50 grams given every four hours. Each dose should be mixed with water.

Children up to 13 years of age: At first, the dose is 10 to 25 grams. Then the dose is based on body weight. It is usually 1 to 2 grams per kg (0.45 to 0.91 gram per pound) of body weight given every two to four hours. Each dose should be mixed with water.



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