Does activated charcoal deserve a place in your bathroom cabinet?

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is research based and some of the views and findings do not conform with the CSN Diet.

Can I tell you something slightly controversial? A braai is not the only thing charcoal is good for. Yes, really.

This is no doubt the most important function of the black substance, but bear with me here, there is more.

I’m talking about activated charcoal. The quirky black pizzas, burgers and ice-cream you sometimes see online is created with activated charcoal, but does it have real benefits that can improve your quality of life?

activated charcoal facts

What is activated charcoal?

If you ever feel inspired to create pitch black cuisine, please don’t try to use briquettes from your braai to create this effect. Activated charcoal and grilling charcoal are related, but not the same.

According to both activated charcoal and grilling charcoal are made of residue left from burning carbon-rich organic materials like wood.

The difference lies therein that activated charcoal is oxygenated, which makes it porous. 

The activation process involves steaming the internal surface of the charcoal, which erodes it. The porousness that is created increases the outside surface area of the coal, and therefore the absorption rate.

Many of the uses of activated charcoal is linked to its absorption abilities.

10 Ways You Can Use Activated Charcoal

  1. Evidence exists that activated charcoal can give your kidneys a boost by helping them to get rid of undigested toxins.
    This is not to be confused with an activated charcoal (or any other) product that promises to detox you.
    Science makes it clear that detoxing is a myth. Your body is well equipped to get rid of anything it doesn’t need, no product will do this for you.
  1. Activated charcoal is used for the emergency treatment of poisoning and drug overdose.
    Interestingly, activated charcoal has a negative charge, causing it to attract positively charged chemicals, such as harmful chemicals.
    The toxins thus get trapped by the activated charcoal, stopping it from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
    Be careful though if you ever find yourself in this kind of emergency.
    Activated charcoal will not be effective for all kinds of poisoning (alcohol being an example), and it’s always safest to leave medical treatments to medical professionals.
  1. Some research suggests that activated charcoal can speed up the healing process in certain wounds.
  1. Activated charcoal could be helpful in the treatment of excessive intestinal gas.
    Scientists are unsure of how this works, but it is thought that gases are neutralised when they pass through the tiny holes in activated charcoal.
how to use activated charcoal
  1. A few studies concluded that activated charcoal can lower your cholesterol.
    One study, for example, found that taking 24g of activated charcoal daily for four weeks lowered total cholesterol by 25%.
    More recent research is needed to confirm this, seeing as though  many of the studies on the subject were done in the ‘80s. 
  1. Just like the way it attracts and ‘traps’ toxins in your body, activated charcoal does the same with water that flows through it. Therefore it is commonly used as a water filter.
  1. Activated charcoal is making its way into toothpaste and other dental products. This probably has more to do with the trendiness of activated charcoal than its efficacy.
    The qualities of activated charcoal certainly make it seem like it’s very likely to improve your dental health, but more research is needed to confirm.

  1. Activated charcoal can work as a deodorant, absorbing nasty smells before it reaches the people around you.
  1. From cleansing to treating acne, activated charcoal is said to be great for your skin. Once again, this has not been scientifically proven.
  2. Some hangover remedies include activated charcoal. We’ve already seen that activated charcoal is not effective for alcohol poisoning.
    There is only one proven cure for the suffering that comes from overindulging, and that is waiting it out. 
Activated charcoal and dog poisoning
Increasing numbers of dogs are falling victim to Aldicarb (better known as Two-step) poisoning by unscrupulous criminals looking to gain access to your home. 

It is commonly advised that activated charcoal is given to the dog should this happen. 
While this advice is not necessarily wrong, vets emphasise that time is of the essence in a poisoning, and your first priority should be getting your pet professional treatment.

In some cases of poisoning the animal loses control of its throat, and inducing vomiting can then cause choking. Your vet will be aware of this.
Getting your pet to the vet as quickly as possible and not trying a home remedy is giving your dog his best chance to survive.

Where can you find activated charcoal?

You won’t have to look far, as activated charcoal is commonly available. Try Takealot, Clicks or Faithful to Nature. It is mostly available in powder form, and fairly cheap at around R60 for 500g.

How is the powder taken? In a medical environment it is mixed with a liquid and given as a drink, or it is given via a tube that goes through the mouth directly to the stomach.

At home you will simply mix the powder with water. Activated charcoal is also available in tablet and liquid form.

How safe is activated charcoal?

This substance is generally considered safe, with side-effects not occurring too often. But, your health is not something to play with, so be aware of the following:

  • Since it can ‘trap’ and escort the bad stuff out of your body, it can do the same with the good stuff.
    This means it can remove valuable nutrients from the digestive tract, disturbing the balance of healthy gut bacteria.
  • Activated charcoal can interfere with chronic medication you are taking by preventing absorption. This includes medication like statins, birth control, antidepressants and blood pressure meds.
    If you absolutely have to have a black ice-cream, play it safe by not having it within an hour of taking your medication.
  • You may experience abdominal pain and vomiting, especially if you ingest too much.
Emergencies happen, and knowing about the absorbing qualities of activated charcoal might tempt you, in desperation, to try to help someone who ingested too much of a certain chemical.

This is a bad idea. We already mentioned that activated charcoal won’t help for someone who had too much alcohol.

It’s also not effective against the following:
Substances that contain metal, such as iron and lithium.
Substances made of hydrogen and carbon, for example gases like methane or propane.
Substances that cause burning when touched, suchs as household cleaners, gasoline and paint thinners.

Whose idea was it anyway?

If you are anything like me, you might be wondering what made humans decide to burn stuff to a pitch black crisp, blasting it with steam and then seeing if we can use it in any way.

Turns out it’s nothing new, and the use of charcoal can be traced way back to ancient Egypt. Check out this timeline

3 750 B.C: By then, charcoal was already known to civilisation. During this time it is used for melting and combining metals in ancient Egypt. 

Eventually the Egyptians noticed that charred wooden posts placed in the Nile to build docks did not rot. This gave them a clue that there might be more to this substance.

1 500 B.C: The Egyptians start using charcoal to treat the unpleasant smell or festering wounds.

400 B.C: People of various cultures start using charcoal to purify water. It was particularly handy for sailors, who would char the inside of water barrels to preserve water for long periods on the ocean.

Also in this period Hippocrates used charcoal to treat conditions such as epilepsy, iron deficiencies, dizziness and bacterial diseases. 

2 A.D: Pioneering Greek physician and scientist, Claudius Galen, often used charcoal to treat disease. 

1700 A.D: In this year experimentation with charcoal re-emerged with vigour, after science went quiet during the dark ages.

1800s: This is when the process for activating charcoal was officially discovered.

How far would you go to prove a point?

Two French scientists were literally willing to risk their lives to demonstrate the antidotal power of charcoal. In 1813, Michel Bertrand, a chemist, swallowed some charcoal along with arsenic trioxide.

He had no doubts that ‘black magic’ would save him and that he would survive the deadly toxin. He did.

In 1852 Pierre Touery performed a similar feat before the French Academy of Medicine. 

He downed a lethal cocktail of strychnine and charcoal. The dose of strychnine was 10 times higher than what is considered lethal, but Touery was just fine.

activated charcoal lemonade

Activated charcoal lemonade recipe

If you feel like experimenting with your black powder, just hop online. You’ll find recipes for anything from face- and hair masks to teeth whitener.

Or you can make this super simple activated charcoal lemonade for your next braai and blow your friends’ minds with your prowess in the kitchen:

Mix together half a cup maple syrup, half a cup fresh lemon juice and three cups of cold water. Stir in one tablespoon of food-grade activated charcoal. Serve over ice.


While there is no doubt that activated charcoal has some proven benefits, many of the claimed benefits still need to be backed with proper research.

We don’t need science to tell us that black is trendy though. As long as you don’t overdo it, you should be safe experimenting with activated charcoal, and you might just find a treatment for an ailment that’s been bugging you.



Hi, my name is Karien Nel and today I’m 37kg lighter than the day I started my weight loss journey with CSN Diet.

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