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Activated Charcoal
(Photo: Hello Home Shoppe)

Any time she sets foot on a plane, holistic beauty guru Shiva Rose packs her essentials—a passport, guidebooks…and activated charcoal supplements.

“They’re great to have in case you go to a country where you eat something that upsets your stomach,” says The Local Rose founder, who buys them at her local health food store in Los Angeles. On a recent Tuscan adventure, she also opened a few, mixed them with rosewater and clay from the local hot springs, and made an ultra-old-school face mask. “I love to think it was something Cleopatra would’ve used,” Rose surmises.

She’s hardly alone. These days, everyone from juice lovers to the seriously Paleo are swigging activated charcoal—though its use for health and beauty purposes goes way, way back.

Charcoal Lemonade
(Photo: Juice Served Here)

Sipping charcoal to detox…

Activated charcoal is, basically, carbon that’s been treated to up adsorption—and yes, that’s “ad,” not “ab.”

“A sponge absorbs water, but activated charcoal doesn’t work like that,” explains Michael Altman, RPh, an integrative pharmacist and CEO of Organic Pharmer in Rye, New York. “It acts like a magnet for organic toxins,” he says—which is why it was once a remedy for poisoning.

That adsorptive (i.e., seriously detoxifying) quality is also why Juice Served Here, the Los Angeles-based raw, organic, cold pressed juice outfit, has charcoal on its menu.

“We use our charcoal lemonade in all of our cleanses, and it’s the last drink of the day,” explains Danielle Charboneau, director of operations for the Los Angeles brand, who says it has a pretty neutral flavor. (We found it be a tad grainier than regular juice or lemonade, but not unpleasantly so.)

“It holds onto the stuff your body doesn’t want,” she adds, “and helps push those things out.”

Or washing up with charcoal for clear skin and whiter teeth

That same action also works topically, which is why brands like Morihata, Shamanuti and more are adding it to scrubs, masks, and soaps. Activated charcoal, or white charcoal as Sort of Coal—the Denmark based beauty brand calls it—”adsorbs toxins and impurities from skin or hair and purifies in a natural way without chemicals,” explains Pernille Lembcke, its managing founder.

Or think of it as an ancient Whitestrip. “Place some natural toothpaste on your brush, dip it in charcoal, scrub, and rinse,” says Tess Masters, aka The Blender Girl (who says charcoal has also seriously helped her digestive tract). “It’s a bit messy and your mouth will get black, but just rinse and your teeth will look amazing. It’s like having an expensive polish at the dentist.”

Activated_Charcoal
This is what activated charcoal looks like (Photo: Coal-Conut)

A wonder cure?

But while the fire for charcoal is burning strong, Altman cautions against getting too excited. Claims that charcoal is the ultimate hangover cure, for example, are probably a step too far.

“When you hear people start to say that something like this, which has been around forever, is going to cure everything, I start to get a bit skeptical,” he says. “If, before you go to sleep, you hydrate well and take activated charcoal, it won’t hurt you—and it certainly could help clear out some of the toxins.” But nothing’s going to cure you the morning after too much tequila.

In the same vein, Altman cautions that while sipping charcoal will absolutely help clear out anything icky lurking in your GI tract, it won’t do a deep of cleanse of your liver or kidney.

So keep your charcoal-related expectations in check (and be sure it’s not interacting with any meds you might be taking). Adsorption for your face and body, yes! Ancient cure-all for everything else? Probably not.

Have you tried activated charcoal? What did it do for you? Tell us in the Comments section, below!