It’s interesting to me that activated charcoal is now being used in so many different ways.
When I was in school, I learned that activated charcoal was mostly used as a way to help clear certain substances out of a patient’s system. For example, if someone overdosed on a substance like Tylenol for example, doctors may administer activated charcoal orally to help prevent the body absorbing more of that Tylenol.
Believe it or not, it has been used to help treat overdose and poisoning cases since the 1800s! I guess it was only a matter of time before these same properties were applied to other products like toothpaste and deodorants!
What is Activated Charcoal?
As per my usual, let me make sure we first understand what activated charcoal actually is and then I’ll get into answering your specific questions.
This activated charcoal is somewhat similar to the charcoal you would use in your barbecue grill. If we think about what charcoal is made of, it’s basically carbon with some other elements mixed in. It’s formed when plant matter decays and is eventually heated over millions of years. Similar to your store-bought charcoal, activated charcoal can be made using a bunch of different plant-based materials. But, what makes it “active” is that it is heated to very high temperatures. By doing this, it changes its chemical structure and makes it more likely to bind to substances, like poisons.
Oh, and during processing, activated charcoal goes through a purification process so that it is relatively free from many of the impurities you would find in the store-bought charcoal you use to heat your barbecue.
Does Charcoal Help with Detoxification?
Charcoal really does help with detoxification, but this comes with a caveat.
Besides being used as an antidote for poison, activated charcoal is often used in water purification systems. This is because it loves grabbing on to heavy metals like lead. Lead is not something we want to consume, but occasionally, it ends up in the water supply. So, using charcoal as part of a water filtration system can reduce the likelihood that you will be exposed to lead in your drinking water. So, in this sense, yes activated charcoal does detoxify.
When activated charcoal is given to humans, it may help remove some toxins from the blood. Some researchers have conducted very small studies looking at whether giving doses of charcoal to patients will help with reducing blood cholesterol levels to even helping those with advanced stages of kidney disease. The research is promising so far, but doctors simply don’t know how much and how often activated charcoal should be given to their patients and for how long. Could there be long-term health problems from using it? We simply don’t know. Oh, and it hasn’t been shown to be effective as a hangover cure, either.
Is Charcoal Safe for Teeth?
There don’t appear to be any studies that show it helps with whitening teeth. In fact, according to the Journal of the American Dental Association, they advise dentists to tell their patients to be cautious when using oral hygiene products that contain activated charcoal. This is because, based on the published studies, they simply don’t know whether it’s safe or effective.
A 2019 review in the British Dental Journal found that charcoal does not provide a huge amount of protection against tooth decay. Powdered charcoal can cause more problems like getting caught up in the gums or fillings, which cause irritation. Other concerns about charcoal include its abrasiveness, which may damage teeth enamel.
Is Charcoal in Deodorant Safe?
There don’t appear to be many studies that show activated charcoal's effectiveness at reducing body odor. According to Consumer Reports, there have been few studies that examine whether activated charcoal could work to reduce general odors, including in the form of deodorant.
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a director at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, acknowledges the purifying properties of activated charcoal. He notes the lack of data in supporting the detoxifying qualities of topical charcoal applications, and that the kidneys and liver are the organs which truly filter toxins from our bodies.