Been out all night with a little white powder? You might want to welcome some black powder to your morning… Jokes! Let’s talk about charcoal.
Activated charcoal is blowing up the health and beauty industry right now. We’re eating it, drinking it, smearing it, brushing with it, washing with it, rubbing with it—charcoal is basically the new water (quite literally: charcoal water exists).
What is activated charcoal? It’s a fine, black odourless powder made from the process of exposing carbon-rich materials like coconut shells, wood or peat to very high temperatures. Once these materials are exposed to high heat, they become a black matter with an altered molecular structure. And what I mean by “altered molecular structure” is that the surface area of these molecules is greatly increased and this allows for much more adsorption to happen.
Notice I said adsorption, not absorption. No, I don’t need a lesson in spelling or grammar; adsorption and absorption are in fact two separate processes, both real. Activated charcoal does not absorb (think liquid to sponge), but rather it adsorbs (think lint to lint roller). Adsorption is a chemical reaction wherein molecules bind to a surface, in this case the activated charcoal surface. So, the greater the surface area of the charcoal, the more molecules it can adsorb (fun-ish fact: one teaspoon of activated charcoal has a greater surface area than does an entire football field).
What kinds of molecules does activated charcoal adsorb? Well, emergency rooms everywhere use activated charcoal to treat drug overdoses and poisoning (alcohol poisoning, however, still requires stomach pumping because alcohol doesn’t bind well to activated charcoal. This may bode well for those late nights out—not the stomach pumping part—I’ll explain later on). It binds to bacteria and food toxins, which is why it’s good for digestion issues and diarrhea (it’s important to note that activated charcoal seems to be selective in its binding capabilities, binding to bad gut bacteria (i.e. E. coli) and leaving good gut bacteria alone). Activated charcoal also lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and raises good cholesterol (HDL).
Charcoal appears in many detox and anti–aging plans, primarily because it’s very good at adsorbing toxins. Toxins play a major role in the degradation of our body’s DNA and cellular damage, so by removing toxins from our body we reduce the rate of aging and prevent possible inflammation.
Charcoal binds to bacteria, which is why it makes for a great acne treatment
Nowadays, we see charcoal in sooooo many beauty products: face masks, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and more. But what exactly does it do and can it make me look like one of the Hadid sisters, you’re asking? Again, it all comes back to its superior binding skills. Charcoal binds to bacteria, which is why it makes for a great acne treatment and why we see it in things like deodorant and toothpaste (it binds to odour-forming bacteria and its by-products, and it adsorbs plaque and stain-forming molecules, fighting cavities and freshening breath).
Now I might have saved the best for last. Although no evidence exists that charcoal prevents hangovers, taking it with plenty of water before you start your night can’t hurt. Remember, it doesn’t adsorb alcohol (which means no spending more money to get your buzz on), but what it does do (theoretically) is bind to other toxins you ingest via the alcohol, all of which of course play a role in the next morning’s nausea and headache. I haven’t had a chance to test this theory yet but I’m curious to know if it’s true!