Activated Charcoal

Helping to cleanse and detox the body 

Hannah Yan
Edited By:
Raja Sivamani , MD, MS, AP

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is a form of carbon that is highly porous. It is made from many substances with high carbon content such as coconut shells, wood, and coal.[1]


What Does Activated Charcoal Do?

  • Highly adsorptive or adhesive – substances (e.g. toxins, chemicals, and other substances) tend to concentrate on the surface of activated charcoal [2]
  • When ingested, treats gastrointestinal issues such as indigestion, gas, and diarrhea[3]
  • Promotes wound healing when applied topically with wound dressings[4]


Potential Side Effects of Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal can temporarily discolor surfaces such as the teeth and mouth. It can also be drying if applied topically to the skin.

More serious side effects include:

  • Vomiting from ingestion of activated charcoal
  • Constipation from ingestion of activated charcoal
  • Respiratory failure following inhalation of activated charcoal[5]


Practical Tips for Using Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal can be mixed into a drawing salve, or healing ointment, or used as a wound dressing when applied to the affected area to speed up healing. Powdered activated charcoal can also be mixed with other ingredients such as bentonite clay and honey and applied as a facial mask to decrease facial oiliness and decrease inflammation. Activated charcoal for skin can help detox

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  1. Activated Carbon. 2016. Accessed Dec 26, 2017.
  2. Eddleston M, Juszczak E, Buckley NA, et al. Multiple-dose activated charcoal in acute self-poisoning: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet.2008;371(9612):579-587; PMID: 18280328 Link to research.
  3. Michael M, Brittain M, Nagai J, et al. Phase II study of activated charcoal to prevent irinotecan-induced diarrhea. J Clin Oncol.2004;22(21):4410-4417; PMID: 15514383 Link to research.
  4. Kerihuel JC. Effect of activated charcoal dressings on healing outcomes of chronic wounds. J Wound Care.2010;19(5):208, 210-202, 214-205; PMID: 20505594 Link to research.
  5. Elliott CG, Colby TV, Kelly TM, et al. Charcoal lung. Bronchiolitis obliterans after aspiration of activated charcoal. Chest.1989;96(3):672-674; PMID: 2766830 Link to research.