Written by Felicity Downes-Cap (Naturopath, BNat)
Activated charcoal to the rescue!
These days it seems that you can’t go down the personal care aisle in a health food store, pharmacy or even a supermarket without being inundated with products from face masks, shampoo and even toothpaste which are touting the benefits of activated charcoal.
Even the local cafés, food trucks and restaurants are all getting in on the craze with charcoal being included in food items such as buns, lattes, juices and even ice cream! It’s the latest craze, yet its use can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians who were using it around 3750 B.C.
The Egyptians used it in the manufacture of bronze and the preservation of wooden posts used in construction work which took place in the damp soils along the Nile. It was the Egyptians who soon realised the antibacterial and antifungal properties of charcoal making it brilliant for, among other things, water purification.
With this knowledge, they were able to transport potable water on long sea voyages by using wooden barrels, charred on the inside. Further on, ancient healers Hippocratesand Pliny began using charcoal medicinally for various ailments including epilepsy and vertigo and later Galen wrote hundreds of medical papers touting the benefits of charcoal in the treatment of a variety of diseases. Beyond the dark ages, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that charcoal came back into favour, this time more focus was placed on its medicinal applications. By the 1900s charcoal was starting to appear in lozenges, food and even tooth powders!
So, what is activated charcoal anyway?
Activated charcoal is usually made from a carbon-rich substance such as coconut fibre which has been burnt at a very high temperature. Once it has burnt to charcoal, it then undergoes ‘activation’ where steam is introduced, this not only purifies the charcoal but also dramatically increases the surface area of the molecules, making it incredibly porous. What’s left is a fine, tasteless black powder, hence its newfound addition on trendy menus. It is this dramatic increase in surface area which enables activated charcoal to be of so many uses. The porous texture of the charcoal has a negative charge which naturally attracts gases and impurities which are positively charged.
Give it a try yourself!
Activated charcoal can be found in convenient capsule or tablet form and used in instances of excess gas, diarrhoea or indigestion where it’s claimed to help capture and remove impurities easing digestive discomfort.
Not just confined to the medicine cabinet, you can now find activated charcoal in many kinds of toothpaste, where it is claimed to draw out stubborn stains to keep teeth white and bright. Then there are the charcoal mouthwashes and dental floss to use in conjunction.
There are face masks to draw out impurities from blocked pores, face washes to keep skin clear, charcoal shampoos for thoroughly cleansed hair and even sponges and exfoliating gloves, all using the wonderfully magnetic-like properties of activated charcoal. So, if you’re curious about trying activated charcoal, and you aren’t an adventurous eater, why not simply pop on a face mask or brush your teeth and see what activated charcoal can do for you?