What is activated charcoal? In a nutshell, it is basically common charcoal heated at extremely high temperatures, approximately 600-900 degrees Celsius. The properties of charcoal once heated, acid washed and oxidized, make it more porous and give it amazing toxin-capturing abilities including the capacity to negate the effects of poisons.
Through the process of adsorption – chemically binding elements to its surface – activated charcoal can attract and adhere toxins and neutralize their effect, and can hold thousands of times more than its actual weight. It’s remarkably versatile – it has been used to neutralize the taste and odor of water since 1930, and can also help cure a hangover by ridding the body of toxins. For a complete guide to activated charcoal, read this.
Activated charcoal also possesses incredible cleaning properties, perfect for cleaning and whitening teeth, facial scrubs, and shampoos. It can also be great for treating acne, and used as eyeliner or mascara. However, it should be used occasionally rather than daily, as it can dehydrate skin faster than other substances so it’s important to drink more water when you use it.
Use only activated charcoal that is food-grade, from coconut shells or hardwoods, not peat, coal or petroleum. Make sure you check the instructions for use carefully, and if unsure, ask a medical professional. This is especially the case if you have a medical condition including pregnancy.
It may seem counter-intuitive to clean your teeth with a black, chalky substance, but activated charcoal works very effectively when used consistently. Tannins from tea and coffee, wine and berries, are particularly strong and yellow teeth quickly. Used once a day, activated charcoal will start to show visible results of whitened teeth in about two weeks; which means you can still drink your morning espresso without worrying about the consequences of looking like a witch…
Simply sprinkle some charcoal on your toothpaste after applying it to your toothbrush and clean those pearly whites. Don’t worry about the taste – it’s odorless and neutral in taste.
If you have deep stains that are very old, activated charcoal will not be able to get rid of them, but will only minimize the effect. Chemical whiteners with hydrogen peroxide are more likely to eliminate these darker stains but will also strip the teeth of their natural protection and cause them to become sensitive. Activated charcoal, while powerful, whitens teeth naturally but should still be used sparingly.
Apart from the cleansing elements of activated charcoal, its texture means it is perfect for making a body scrub when combined with a coarser material.
Mixed with any oil of your choice – olive, coconut, argan, jojoba – and a bit of coffee, activated charcoal will purify your pores and cleanse them of dirt, grime and sweat. Ideal for those with the occasional acne problem, or if you simply want to get rid of dead skin, and smooth rough elbows and heels. For a quick and easy recipe, have a look at our Activated Charcoal Coffee Scrub.
More elaborate scrubs include Bentonite clay, salt, and a dash of your favorite scented essential oil. The clay draws out the excess bacteria and binds it in a similar way to activated charcoal. Several DIY wellness and natural lifestyle bloggers attest to the ability of activated charcoal to open up and unclog pores by attaching the dirt and grime and extracting them.
Soaps and shampoos
I’m going to cheat a bit here and put two different products in, because they are both for daily use in washing your hair and your skin.
You can simply add some charcoal to your shampoo – around a teaspoon or 5mL or a capsule – and let it work its magic. It removes gunk and dirt on your scalp gently, getting rid of the chemicals and residue and leaving your hair lighter, cleaner and softer. As a remedy for eczema and psoriasis, it can soothe and relieve persistent itchiness. Apotheke and Sort of Coal are two high quality brands with a range of products containing activated coal.
You can also buy ready-made soaps and shampoos with activated charcoal included in their ingredients.
Alternatively, it’s fairly easy to make your own; and bespoke activated charcoal soap means you can create your own sizes, shapes and scents.
Some soap recipes will include lye, an ingredient that should be added to water, NEVER water added to lye unless you want to unleash some chaos in your kitchen – the chemical reaction is immediate and strong, so follow any recipe that includes lye, carefully.
You can add Bentonite clay to give a comprehensive bacteria-cleansing wash. Other necessary ingredients include a mix of your favorite base oils – coconut, olive, jojoba, argan, etc – for moisturising and to wash away the bacteria and dirt that the charcoal extracts. Add aromatic essential oils to perfume the soap. Mint, rosewater, jasmine, lavender, clove and ylang ylang are all widely available and you can mix and match according the season or your mood.
Making soap can be more complicated than other activated charcoal products so please ensure you read the instructions very carefully and follow them accordingly. If in doubt, ask the recipe owner by email. One of our favorite AC soap recipes includes a trifecta of coconut, olive and castor oils, activated charcoal and rosemary and orange for a spicy, tangy scent.
Apart from giving you a brighter, whiter smile, soft, clean hair and exfoliating and degunking your pores, activated coal can soothe rashes, be used for detoxing (including curing hangovers!), and as an effective blackhead and acne remover. With this superstar ingredient in your bathroom, your skin, hair, and teeth will be thanking you.