• 4 Unexpected Uses for Activated Charcoal (#2 is My Favorite)
  • Bethany McDaniel

4 Unexpected Uses for Activated Charcoal (#2 is My Favorite)


Activated Charcoal is one of skincare's best kept secrets. And since it has so many uses that aren't talked about too often, I really wanted to share them with you!

My first experience with activated charcoal (AC) happened about a year ago when I came down with a nasty bout of food poisoning. Instead of seeing a doctor or taking medicine, I decided to consult Dr. Google on what to do. I probably typed in "natural remedies for food poisoning" or something like that.

One of the first things that popped up was activated charcoal (charcoal becomes "activated" when oxygen is added to it, increasing the charcoal's porosity and surface area). I had heard of people with alcohol poisoning having to take large amounts of charcoal in hospitals to get it out of their system, so it kind of made sense that it would help to remove the food poisoning toxins from my body.

My husband drove me to Sprouts to buy a jar of activated charcoal, and I took 2 capsules right away. I don't remember exactly how quickly I started feeling better, but it was faster than I ever would have imagined it to be. A few hours later, I took 2 more capsules. By the time I fell asleep and woke up the next morning, I was pretty darn close to feeling 100% back to normal! Clearly, I was on to something with this charcoal stuff.

Because it's extremely porous in nature, activated charcoal is able to attract and hold onto material and debris within its pores. It isn't absorbed by the body -- but it does bind to and eliminate toxins within the body. Pretty cool, right? It's important to note that activated charcoal can also bind to good things that we WANT in our bodies (vitamins, minerals, etc.) and shouldn't be taken on a regular basis or with supplements/vitamins/prescription medications.

AC is fairly inexpensive and can be a lifesaver in many situations (which I'll discuss below). And since a little bit goes a very long way, activated charcoal lasts a LONG time. I've been using the same jar I bought a year ago and still have quite a bit left (but I'm actually pretty excited to run out so I can upgrade to this ultra-pure stuff). Here are some of the more unconventional ways I've found activated charcoal to be extremely useful.

  • #1: Ultra Cleansing Face Mask. Since my teenage years, I've been plagued with acne and less than perfect skin. And although I experienced less breakouts since going paleo and making other lifestyle changes, I still found myself more frustrated with my complexion than I would have liked to be. Activated charcoal has been a total game changer.

    Just as AC binds to toxins inside of the body, it does the same on the outside -- which is why I LOVE using it as a super deep cleaning face mask. Since I began using activated charcoal as a facial mask (about 6 months ago) I've noticed a major shift in the cleanliness of my skin. My pores appear to be smaller and less filled with gunk.

    To make it, I just mix one opened capsule of activated charcoal powder (or 1/2 teaspoon) with about 8 drops of water (so that it has the consistency of a paste -- not too cakey and not too runny). Then mix and apply -- easy! I leave the mask on for about 30 minutes before thoroughly rinsing it off with Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap.

    *WARNING: Activated Charcoal is extremely messy, but it does come off of most surfaces if washed right away. Be careful not to touch your face or let your face touch anything when wearing the mask. In fact, you might want to wear an old t-shirt when handling activated charcoal powder. I also recommend applying the AC mask right before a shower so that it will be easier to wash off. And if you have big pores (like me), the Activated Charcoal may temporarily "stain" your pores for up to 48 hours, giving them a darker, more obvious appearance than normal. This isn't very noticeable and will always go away, but it's something to consider (especially if you decide to apply the mask before an important event).

  • #2: Zit Spot Treatment. A few months ago, I noticed a new pimple brewing and decided to slather it with activated charcoal. And I really chunked it on. In the paragraphs above, I mentioned how I usually use one capsule of AC (mixed with water) as a mask for my entire face. But this time, I used one capsule (also mixed with a few drops of water) just for my pimple and the surrounding area.

    I left it on for about 30 minutes before washing it off, and was shocked by what happened next. This next part is kind of graphic and gross, but it's the truth. And I don't know how else to describe it. The puss from inside of my zit was sitting on top of my skin, and the pimple itself had all but disappeared. The charcoal literally pulled the toxins and puss right out of my skin within only 30 minutes -- a process that would have normally taken 2-5 days to happen by itself! I was shocked, amazed, and excited. Ever since that day, I've used AC as a spot treatment every time I get a pimple. And it works every. single. time.

  • #3: Natural Teeth Whitener. I used to be a total Crest Whitestrips junkie. I probably wore them twice a year for about 6 years. And boy, those things WORKED. They made my teeth so white they were almost blinding. But as part of my relatively new decision to cut toxic chemicals out of my life, I have (somewhat reluctantly) stopped using Whitestrips. For about a year, I struggled to find a healthy way to make my teeth sparkly and white without the use of products that contain toxic chemical ingredients.

    And then I found this post from Wellness Mama in which she writes about using activated charcoal as a teeth whitener. Natural Teeth Whitening with Activated Charcoal[/caption] The jist of the post is this: Because of its ability to bind to toxins and other materials, activated charcoal can help to remove discolorations and stains on the teeth, leaving teeth cleaner and more white than they were before.

    For the last few months, I've been brushing my teeth with a mixture of about 2 tablespoons baking soda, 2 tablespoons redmond clay, and a few capsules of activated charcoal powder. I only do this at night, and then brush with my usual toothpaste in the morning. I've been super happy with the results and SO wish I had taken before/after pictures! It's no Crest Whitestrips, but it's the best way to naturally whiten teeth that I've found so far! *Important Note: I only recommend using this mixture once a day and for about 1 week on, 1 week off.

  • #4: Bug Bite Remedy. This was probably the most astonishing experience I've had with activated charcoal to date. A few months ago, I got a pretty gnarly bug bite on my forearm. I have no idea what it was from, but it was huge and red. And it wasn't going away.

    After a few days of not being able to move my wrist more than a 1/2 inch in any direction due to the extreme swelling, I decided to experiment with my trusty activated charcoal. I made a paste of AC mixed with a few drops of water and applied it to the bite. I covered it with a very large bandage to keep it from getting all over my bedding and left the paste to sit on my arm overnight.

    When I woke up, the swelling had gone down significantly and I could move my wrist around like a normal person once again! I applied the paste again the following night and didn't need to do anything beyond that as my bug bite had already healed faster than I've ever had a bug bite heal (and I've had many -- I'm one of those people who bugs love).

Do you think all of this sounds crazy? Or are you dying to add activated charcoal to your personal care routine? Have you tried using activated charcoal in other ways not mentioned above? Let me know by commenting below!
  • Bethany McDaniel