Every year we have an ingredient that earns the ‘superfood of the year’ spot. This year, hemp and chia seeds rule the roost. It also goes without saying that while they have their moment, their superstar status dies down in a year or so. However, the only ingredient to have challenged that is activated charcoal. Introduced to us in 2016, it continues to surround us everywhere. Inexplicably, the more we acquaint ourselves with activated charcoal, the more dubious its efficacy, benefits and safety seems.
Just as the world is divided in opinion, so is the Beauty Book team. The result of which was a debate between two BB Editors. Synjini Nandi, who only sees the merit in the ingredient is up against Karishma Loynmoon who completely frowns upon the ‘black food’ fad.
Want in on the debate? Then get ready to pick sides.
1. The Science Behind It
Activated Charcoal isn’t the same briquettes you barbecue your meat on (so don’t go on foraging for that just yet). In easier terms, activated charcoal is basically carbon-rich materials such as wood, coconut shells, bamboo etc. It’s heated at high temperatures thereby increasing its surface area and subsequently its capacity for ‘adsorption’, not absorption. It’s a highly porous sponge-like material that acts like magnets to attract dirt, oil, toxins... Wash it off and you wash away everything it’s attracted. Did someone say ‘black magic’?
The downside? Activated charcoal can’t tell one from another. So while it adsorbs toxins, it also attracts and robs us off our nutritional values. Apparently, if left unattended in our body it even hardens within our digestive system. Doctors that prescribe it, always follow it up with laxatives to expel charcoal from our body. Ask them, and they hardly consider it a ‘natural detoxifier’. Not just that, they even claim it has the potential to interfere with our medication as well. That’s something you don’t mess with, right?
2. As A Skincare Saviour
Activated Charcoal in skincare? Yes please! Activated charcoal benefits are innumerous Thanks to its super adsorptive properties, this potent substance draws impurities (that clogs your pores), balances sebum production, soothes skin irritation, fights blemishes, treats acne and removes all kinds of nasties from our skin. And if this wasn’t enough, you can also use this to treat itchy scalp, dandruff etc. I know I do. And it’s done wonders for my scalp and skin.
Theoretically, it sounds amazing. Momentarily, you’ll get swayed by its efficacy. But give it time, and you’ll see this ‘all-natural’ skin savior turn against you. Take a charcoal mask for one: leave it on for longer than 10 minutes and it’ll strip off your natural oils, imbalance your pH levels, tug and pull facial hair and the outmost layer of your skin. Immediate results of which are redness, irritation, rashes, sensitivity, inflammation… Now imagine if it’s part of your daily routine. Won’t it just be less stressful to go for another natural ingredient with cleansing, detoxifying and exfoliating properties?
3. As A Drink, Dish Or Dose
Having activated charcoal supplements in our diet is nothing short of genius. Thanks to its affinity towards certain poisons, heavy metals, and other toxins; they are genius products for detoxification. Alcohol included. Know what this means? It serves as the perfect hangover cure. Take it from someone who vouches by it every Sunday morning. Aside from this it also relieves digestive issues, combats bloating, maintains cardiovascular health, boosts immunity… frankly there’s nothing that this magic pill can’t do. Did you know it has anti-aging benefits too?
The ‘Black’ or ‘Goth’ food fad was everywhere: on our Insta feeds, Michelin-starred restaurants, celebrity cabinets, herbal supplements… Until New York put a ban on activated charcoal. Gets you thinking? Turns out, the FDA considers the ingredient merely an ‘additive’ or ‘coloring agent’. And in their defense, very few studies have been done to prove the effects of the ingredient. Logically speaking, until proven, your next move ought to bid adieu to enticing charcoal margaritas, kuro burgers or black lattes.
4. As A Whitening Agent
Love coffee, hate ’em stains? Forget dental cleanups or whitening treatments and try the at-home, new-age dental products infused with activated charcoal. They work overtime to adsorb plaque, tartar and other teeth-staining compounds for squeaky clean, pearly whites. Sprinkle some powder on your teeth directly, or on your toothpaste or opt for an activated charcoal-infused toothpaste: the world is your oyster.
On the face of it, it definitely whitens teeth. Dig deeper and you’ll realise how highly abrasive it is. Which is likely to remove the enamel from your teeth. Eventually, your teeth won’t stay white for long. Clearly defeating the purpose. And if infused in your toothpaste, there’s the probability that it could counter with a few beneficial ingredients in it, like fluoride. Want in on another secret? Charcoal toothpastes aren’t scientifically proved either. Hah!
If the debate has confused the bejesus out of your brains, take a cue or two from Elissa Goodman. She is a Los Angeles-based holistic nutritionist who’s developed cleanse plans for celebrities like Kate Hudson. In an interview with Eater.com, she says, “Activated charcoal is amazing. I have used it for myself, my children use it, and we always travel with it. It’s powerful, potent stuff that is able to trap toxins and chemicals in the body and help flush them out so that they’re not absorbed. I think our bodies are really toxic.” But she doesn’t see it as an everyday option. Something you ought to consume in small doses, and only if you’re in good medical condition. “Everything in moderation. We get onto these crazes and run with them, even if it’s potentially not that great for us in the long run. I don’t think it’s good to eat or drink it all the time. When you’re feeling bad, it’s great to use. When you’re healthy and normal, you don’t need it.” Goodman also knows that activated charcoal can interfere with adsorption of medications and other supplements, which is why she recommends taking it first thing in the morning.
Long story short: it’s not going to kill you, but don’t overdo it.
SPOT IT. SHOP IT.
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