Body, Mind & Spirit

A Guide to an Activated Charcoal Detox

Published on April 10, 2017

Article by Victoria Lewis for Bodhi Tree

When humans discovered fire, they also began harnessing the medicinal and detoxifying properties of charcoal. In the ancient world, the Egyptians are said to have used the substance to absorb unpleasant odors and cure certain digestive illnesses. But it was the Phoenicians who found the antiseptic properties of charcoal and used it for water purification. There are even records of Hippocrates using charcoal to cure ailing patients. Many millennia later, we’re still using it for many of the same things.

Charcoal: Nature’s Magnet

To clear one thing up off the bat, when we talk about charcoal as it relates to health and beauty, we’re not talking about the stuff you’d find in a grill. Charred matter can be carcinogenic and contribute to cellular aging and the accumulation of free radicals. Activated charcoal, the type you’d find in a water filter or skincare product, is made by heating organic matter, like coconut shells, until porous and highly absorptive (meaning it acts more or less like a magnet, drawing toxic particles to it), with an expansive surface area.

“Internally, toxins and digestive irritants bind easily and readily to charcoal’s surface, making it helpful for detoxing or cleansing,” explains Laurie Brodsky, ND, HBS. “Externally, charcoal works just like a magnet, to help target and cleanse clogged pores at the skin’s surface—making it ideal for those with acne-prone complexions.” According to Brodsky, activated charcoal also helps remove superficial stains from teeth and absorb unwanted body odor.

So how does all that apply to everyday life? For starters, you can do as the Phoenicians did and use charcoal to filter your water. “In a liquid filter, charcoal works the same way it does in your body,” explains Brodsky. “It binds to unwanted particles and prevents them from getting into your glass.”

Charcoal’s Beauty Benefits

You could also tap in to charcoal’s many beauty benefits by using a face wash or shampoo with it in the formula. Activated charcoal received the safest rating on the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep scale, which measures the toxicity of beauty products. “Your skin is a living, breathing organism with pores that let toxins in and out,” says Carli Lampley, assistant creative director for Brooklyn-based beauty brand Apotheke. “Charcoal is a natural way to help cleanse all of that unnecessary dirt.” A face wash with activated charcoal, for instance, can help to pull impurities and dirt out of the pores and disinfect the skin’s surface, while simultaneously cleansing and encouraging new skin growth.

Of course, you have to be careful not to pull the good (like natural oils and beneficial bacteria) out with the bad. That’s why Lampley suggests limiting charcoal hair-product usage to once or twice per week. Skincare products, on the other hand, should be safe to use every day. “It’s important to make sure that there are moisturizing ingredients in your products to counteract the drying charcoal,” she warns. “We use argan oil in our conditioner and coconut and olive oils in our skincare products.”

Charcoal’s Detoxification Powers

As for an internal detox, Brodsky suggests trying a cleansing lemonade (combine one or two capsules of activated charcoal, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, water, a pinch of Himalayan sea salt and a dab of grade B maple syrup). “I always recommend drinking it before bed, to give your system the time it needs to cleanse overnight and rid the body of any excess inflammation it has accumulated,” she says.

Modern lives can be toxic. Charcoal, in the right dose (in other words, consult a medical professional before embarking on a charcoal regimen), can help, adds Brodsky. “When too many toxins are coming into the body and not enough are flowing out, that’s when health issues begin to arise,” she explains. And with several millennia of scientific data to back up the practice, it seems safe to say that it’s worth a try.

Published on: April 10, 2017

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