Ultimate Guide: Activated Charcoal

Over the past eight months we’ve received hundreds of emails asking how to best incorporate our hardwood and coconut activated charcoal into wellness routines. Although activated charcoal has been used since 3750 BC, it’s only been the past few years that it’s become a product that is widely recognized for all of its amazing health benefits.

Our goal here is to provide a resource which can answer every single question we’ve received over the past 8+ months about activated charcoal. With that said, I want to be clear that a lot of the evidence and research is anecdotal. There are so few studies on activated charcoal despite its wide-spread use.

This guide contains recipes from dozens of bloggers who have allowed us to re-publish their work. If you plan on using a recipe from their blog, I encourage you to visit the original source.

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Part I: Activated Charcoal General Information

Part II: Activated Charcoal For Beauty

PART III: Activated Charcoal for Oral Health

Part IV: Activated Charcoal for Topical Remedies
Part V: Activated Charcoal for Stomach Issues


Part I: What Is Activated Charcoal?

 HOW IS ACTIVATED CHARCOAL PRODUCED?

Activated charcoal is created by heating the source material to 600-900C. Typically, it is acid washed after this stage before it is oxidized. This increases the charcoal’s surface area, which increases its ability to adsorb compounds.

Charcoal’s ability to adsorb compounds is what makes it so effective across such a wide variety of applications. It’s important we differentiate between absorb and adsorb.

Adsorption is “The process by which molecules of a substance, such as a gas or a liquid, collect on the surface of another substance, such as a solid"

Our body absorbs nutrients - it takes them in. Activated charcoal adsorbs certain poison, chemicals and even some nutrients – it binds to the substance.

Types of Activated Charcoal

The type of activated charcoal is dependent on the source material. Here at Rocky Mountain Essentials we carry two types: coconut and hardwood activated charcoal powder.

Typically coconut activated charcoal has the largest surface area and is the most effective. However, all coconut activated charcoal comes from South East Asia, so we carry hardwood activated charcoal for our customers who want an American product.

Charcoal can also be produced from sawdust, peat and bamboo.  In addition to different materials, you can find charcoal tablets or pellets— both of which aren’t typically used for ingestion.

Remember, when you’re looking to buy activated charcoal for beauty, oral health or internal ingestion you want to purchase food grade activated charcoal powder.

Activated Charcoal Powder Versus Activated Charcoal Capsules

The majority of activated charcoal powders and capsules are either hardwood or coconut.

The primary difference between charcoal powder and charcoal capsules is the price – 1.6oz of activated charcoal capsules are sold for anywhere between $15 - $21 compared to an 8oz bag of Rocky Mountain Essentials Activated Charcoal Powder which is sold at $14.

This means you get 5x more activated charcoal when it’s purchased in powder form versus capsule form. Plus, you can control portioning much easier with the powder than with the capsules.

It’s not hard to figure out which option provides a better bang for your buck.

The Risks of Activated Charcoal (Medication + Activated Charcoal)

Activated charcoal is relatively benign though there are some risks associated with the product.

Some studies claim it is dangerous and point specifically to poisoned patients who receive large doses of activated charcoal while in the hospital.

These are typically studies aiming to determine whether the large doses of charcoal administered by a nasogastric tube while at the hospital induces vomiting or bronchoaspiration.

One such study states “Children with previous vomiting or nasogastric tube administration were at highest risk”.

Studies like this can be twisted to suggest that activated charcoal is causing patients to vomit.

It’s hardly surprising that a person who was vomiting thirty minutes ago because they had ingested poison and also have had a tube stuck down their throat would likely vomit again, with or without activated charcoal. Context is crucial when reading findings from studies like those.

Does Activated Charcoal Adsorb Nutrients?

There is a common misconception that charcoal adsorbs all compounds, including medications, toxic chemicals and nutrients.

There has been a great deal of research showing that it does indeed bind to a number of poisonous substances. For example, Strychnine is a poison that was used as rodent bait for a long time. Unfortunately, it’s extremely toxic to dogs and other animals and is now being used less frequently. Studies have shown that charcoal is an excellent antidote for Strychnine1.

Studies have also shown it can inhibit aspirin absorption2 along with a large number of other toxic substances.

A few of the common drugs activated charcoal can bind to include;

  • Acetaminophen (pain medication)
  • Digoxin (heart medication)
  • Certain antidepressants

This is why it’s generally advised not to take activated charcoal with medication. Many studies suggest that after a few hours, medications will have been absorbed by the body and taking charcoal will not interfere3.

But what about nutrients? Does activated charcoal bind to nutrients in a meaningful way?

“In clinical experiments, Yatzidis and Oreopoulous relate that kidney disease patients were given 20-50g activated charcoal per day for four months without any side effects”4.

28.35 g is equivalent to 2 Tbsp of activated charcoal per day for four months straight.

In another experiment, sheep were given activated charcoal for 6 months and it didn’t cause a loss of nutrients.

Finally, another study looked at the effect of activated charcoal on water-soluble vitamins5.

Essentially, researchers spiked apple juice with vitamins and then observed the difference in vitamin levels after adding activated charcoal. The most dramatic differences amounted to 50% reduction in vitamin levels, while the least dramatic differences were only a few percent.

We need to consider that charcoal is being mixed directly into the drink instead of being consumed separately, after the food/beverage is consumed on its own.

If this is something that you’re worried about, just don’t take activated charcoal daily and avoid taking it after eating nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens.

I personally only take charcoal after eating low-quality food or beverages to aid in digestion.

Other potential side effects include constipation and black stools.

From Web MD:
“Gastrointestinal (GI) blockage or slow movement of food through the intestine: Don’t use activated charcoal if you have any kind of intestinal obstruction. Also, if you have a condition that slows the passage of food through your intestine (reduced peristalsis), don’t use activated charcoal, unless you are being monitored by your healthcare provider.”

Shelf Life

When stored correctly, activated charcoal can last indefinitely. You’ll want to store your activated charcoal in a dry, airtight container or bag.

Conversion Chart

1 oz = 28.35 grams

16 oz = 1lb

3 tsp = 1 tbsp

1 tbsp = 10g

1g = 1000mg

2 tbsp = 1oz

14 capsules = 3 tsp

Activated Charcoal Dosage

I’m not a doctor and this shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. This is purely anecdotal, based on my own experience as well as the experience of others who use charcoal regularly. You should consult with your healthcare provider before using activated charcoal.

I started with ½ teaspoon and then I went up to a full teaspoon. Now I consume 1 Tbsp. after consuming low quality food (processed foods, foods high in sugar, alcohol, etc.).

There are studies that show ingesting activated charcoal is fine in the short term (David Cooney), however I’ve never personally used it for more than a week at a time.

If you or a loved one is poisoned, please don’t self diagnose or administer activated charcoal - go to the hospital.

Activated charcoal while Pregnant or Breastfeeding

From Web MD:

“Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Activated charcoal might be safe when used short-term if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, but consult with your healthcare professional before using if you are pregnant.”

Part II: Activated Charcoal for Beauty

Activated charcoal is fast becoming a star in the natural health and beauty industry. It can be used for facemasks, shampoo, homemade soap recipes, to reduce acne, psoriasis, blackheads, as well as used in homemade eyeshadow or mascaras, body scrubs and facial cleansers.

Activated Charcoal works by binding to chemicals through adsorption, which is why it works so well removing impurities, leaving you with glowing skin and white teeth.

With the exception of a few originals, the majority of these recipes come from some of our favorite DIY beauty bloggers. If you plan on making a recipe, I strongly encourage you to visit the original source.

Please note that for recipes that originally called for “breaking open capsules of activated charcoal”, I have included instead exact measurements, since as mentioned, buying in powder form is much more cost effective.

Activated Charcoal Facemask Recipes

When it comes to using activated charcoal as a beauty product, face masks are the simpliest and most popular. The recipes require minimal ingredients and produce maximum results— glowing, healthy skin!

How to Make & Apply An Activated Charcoal Face mask

The instructions are essentially the same for all the recipes. The ingredients vary, but creating an activated charcoal face mask is very simple:

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together and slowly add the liquids called for in the recipe (water, lemon juice, rose water, rose petal, witch hazel) until you reach the desired consistency.

  2. Use a cleanser to clean your face and pat dry before applying the mask.

  3. Apply the mask and let it dry

  4. After 10-15 minutes wash with warm water

  5. Apply a daily moisturizer

Coconut Oil & Activated Charcoal Facemask

The Pistachio Project

  • 1/2 tsp activated charcoal
  • 1/2 tsp. bentonite clay
  • 1/4 tsp coconut oil – softened or melted
  • 1 tsp water

This four-ingredient face mask can be whipped up in no time. Gently clean your face with warm water or an organic facial cleanser. Pat dry before applying the charcoal mixture. Allow the mask to dry and sit for fifteen minutes before washing it off with warm water.

Activated Charcoal Kaolin Clay Mask with Essential Oils

Fresh Picked Beauty

  • 10 grams Kaolin Clay
  • 6 Activated Charcoal Capsules (break open the capsules and empty the charcoal out)
  • 3 grams Matcha Powder
  • 15 grams Aloe Vera Gel
  • 5 grams Witch Hazel Extract
  • 5 grams Vegetable Glycerine
  • 5 ml Lavender Tincture
  • 5 ml Calendula Tincture
  • 10 drops Bergamot Essential Oil
  • 8 drops Cypress Essential Oil
  • 5 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
  • 5 droops Rosewood Essential Oil

If you’re feeling particularly luxe, this face mask is well worth the extra few ingredients. Aloe Vera is amazing natural moisturizer and can help treat dry skin. The kaolin clay and activated charcoal will help draw out impurities and blackheads, leaving you with hydrated, clear skin.

Clays and activated charcoal work wonders together. You’ll notice a number of the recipes include both ingredients.

Acne Scar Busting Activated Charcoal Castor Oil Face Mask

  • 1 capsule activated charcoal
  • 1 tbsp green clay or any clay will do
  • 1 tsp or more water
  • 1-2 drops Frankincense Essential Oil or Chamomile Essential Oil or Cypress Essential Oil
  • 1/2-1 tsp castor oil

Castor oil is terrific for reducing wrinkles and giving your skin a youthful glow. It fades scarring, decreases inflammation and is antimicrobial, making it a seriously effective natural acne treatment.

Basic Blackhead Busting Activated Charcoal Mask

Body Unburdened

  • ½ tsp of activated charcoal
  • 1/2 teaspoon of bentonite clay
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of water

This recipe is as simple as it gets - charcoal, bentonite clay and water. Just mix the ingredients together, wash your face with a cleanser and apply the mask for 10-15 minutes.

Nadia from Body Unburdened suggests applying Jojoba oil to dry patches on your skin after removing the mask for maximum benefits.

Activated Charcoal Lemon Juice Mask

Lazy Girls DIY

  • 1-2 tablespoons of Activated Charcoal powder
  • 1-1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice/Aloe Vera juice (unsweetened)/distilled water
  • 1 Q-Tip (to apply mask)

Lemon juice is one of the most powerful (and readily available) beauty ingredients from the garden. Chances are you always have a few lemons on hand in your kitchen. To make the mask, slowly add lemon juice to the activated charcoal until you reach the desired consistency.

Apply the mask and allow it to dry. Leave it on for 10 minutes and be careful not to move your face too much as it’ll begin to crack and flake away. After ten minutes, gently wash the mask off with warm water before applying a daily moisturizer.

Matcha Charcoal Face Mask

Rocky Mountain Essentials

  • 1/2 tsp Matcha green tea powder
  • 1/2 tsp Bentonite clay powder
  • 1/2 tsp Activated Charcoal (Buy It Here)
  • 2 tsp Rose water (or filtered water)
  • 2 drops Tea tree essential oil (optional)

This recipe came from our in-house, organic skin care expert. While Matcha had its moment a few years ago, it still remains one of our favorite (and most effective!) natural beauty ingredients. It’s packed full of powerful antioxidants to help nourish your skin.