Many detox favourites have waves of popularity and attention, and nowhere is this more evident than in the reception and popularity of activated charcoal.
There was a point where it was practically impossible to find any wellness product that did not have a version which contained activated charcoal, and natural tooth powders containing the substance were a favourite of influencers everywhere.
Over the years it has endured in popularity and is found in a wide range of products from face masks, soaps and scrubs to tooth powders and pastes.
This versatility comes from a mix of history, its usage in emergency situations as well as other people applying these benefits to a range of other non-emergency uses as well.
Why Is Charcoal Used Medically?
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), activated charcoal is an ingredient used for detox in the most literal way; it is taken after swallowing a poisonous substance or overdosing on a strong prescription medicine.
It works by binding to the poisonous substance and thus stopping it from being absorbed by the stomach and intestine. It can also interrupt the activation of poisons in some other ways as well
It does not work with every type of poison, such as those caused by iron, lithium, cyanide, corrosive agents such as bleach or acid and alcohol poisoning, it does work to absorb a lot of drugs and toxins that are ingested.
Because of this, people who take prescription medication should consult their doctor before using any activated charcoal product that might be swallowed such as tooth powder or charcoal mixed into smoothies and juices, as it could potentially bind to medicines and stop them from being absorbed.
This use of activated charcoal dates to the early 19th century when experiments with the highly toxic drug strychnine found that it was absorbed by the charcoal.
For How Long Have People Used Charcoal?
The earliest use of medicinal charcoal can be found in Ancient Egypt circa 1500 BC, where it was used primarily as a salve for infected wounds, but it would quickly start to see use as a way to absorb unwanted contaminants from the body.
One of the most interesting early examples of charcoal being used was the Phoenicians, who stored water in wooden barrels that were intentionally charred, improving the taste by removing the types of pathogens, bacteria and toxins found in standing water of the era.
Given that the alternative way to guarantee safe drinking water at the time was to brew beer, it was the much safer option.
It makes sense that it was discovered so quickly, because charcoal is such a common byproduct of a lot of the activities early civilisations needed to do in order to survive, such as burning wood for heat, produced charcoal as a byproduct.
What Can It Be Used For?
Historically it has been used to reduce impurities in water, stop poisons from being absorbed and been used as part of salves for cuts, but with the benefit of thousands of years of use, it can also be used to help a variety of other concerns as well.
It is primarily used to promote gut health, which given its ability to absorb toxins from the gut makes sense, but its exfoliating properties make it popular as a skin treatment ingredient used in facemasks.