What’s the Deal with Activated Charcoal?

Why activated charcoal can be beneficial and how to use it.


By Aimée Suen, NTP


Black toothpaste, black drinks, and black ice cream have all become a thing, thanks to activated charcoal. But just what is activated charcoal? How is it made? What would you even use it for?

Activated charcoal is made when carbon-based things, like wood, peat, or coconut shells, are burned and activated with gases and a high temperature. That activation makes the particles of the carbon super fine and makes it easy for the carbon to attract drugs and toxins through a process called adsorption.

Adsorption is activated charcoal’s superpower. Unlike absorption, adsorption involves something sticking to another thing, rather than being dissolved into a liquid or solid. Because of its adsorption properties, activated charcoal has been used to manage poisonings and drug overdoses in medical settings.

What You Can Use It For

You can take advantage of activated charcoal’s sticking power in lots of different ways. There are potential benefits to using activated charcoal in a number of detoxing and preventative ways, but not all of them have scientific studies that conclusively prove them yet. If you’re considering ingesting activated charcoal (certain ways of using don’t involve ingestion), consult with a medical professional to make sure it’s right for you, and doesn’t interfere with any medications you could be taking. Because of its adsorption properties, taking it could affect the absorption of supplements, nutrients, and medications. Talk with you doctor on the best time to take activated charcoal, once you both decide it’s right for you.

Whiten Your Teeth: Activated charcoal can grab plaque and the particles that stain your teeth. You can use a toothpaste that already has the powder mixed in, or you can dip a wet toothbrush into the powder. Be careful when using the powder, it can stain. Continued, prolonged use of activated charcoal as a toothpaste could affect your enamel, so consider using it in moderation.

If you’ve had any crowns or extensive dental work done, check with your dentist before using it.

Filter Water: Activated charcoal is often used in water filtration systems, from simpler faucet attachment systems to home filtration units. The charcoal can remove particles in tap water that can affect the taste, smell and color of water, as well as chlorine, pesticides, solvents and other chemicals. Charcoal filters cannot remove microbes, sodium or fluoride. If those are high in your area, consider additional options to filter your water.

Relieves Gas and Bloating: If you’re prone to bloating and gassiness after eating certain foods, taking activated charcoal with a meal beforehand could help prevent that gas. Without that gas, you can also prevent the bloating that could come with it.

Activated charcoal and its powerful adsorption properties could help with removing stains, toxins, and troublesome things in your body. You can also make other nutrition and lifestyle changes to bypass needing activated charcoal to help with popular claims or the scientific claims as well.

Eating foods that work with your body, staying hydrated and putting a limit on alcohol are all ways to support your health and fitness goals, with or without activated charcoal.

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Main Photo Credit: L.Erin/; Second Photo Credit: Efired/; Third Photo Credit: andasea/