Used to be charcoal was the stuff you tossed under your grill for a barbecue. But lately, people are drinking it, bathing with it, and even spreading it on their faces.
Health companies are packaging and selling charcoal in various forms: supplements, soaps, juices, skin products, and even toothbrushes. The claims: This porous substance draws toxins away from your organs (if ingested) or skin (if applied).
What the wellness industry is using is “activated charcoal,” or carbon that’s derived from burning wood, peat, or coconut shells and then treated with oxygen. The result is a substance that is adept at latching on to various chemicals and drugs — a reason that it has long been used in medicine as emergency poisons control and for overdoses.
There are dozens of studies supporting the use of charcoal in emergency poisoning situations, says Paul M. Wax, MD, executive director of the American College of Clinical Toxicology. “It’s pretty inert, and it does bind up a large number of chemicals and pharmaceuticals,” he says.
But using it as a daily supplement — as a growing number of wellness fans are — isn’t exactly supported by science.