I Went On A Charcoal Cleanse For A Week

Photographed by Ricky Michiels

and this is what happened

Ever since I switched over to natural deodorants, I have been trying to figure out what other alternative products I can implement into my everyday life. My main intention for the new year is to build myself up, taking self-care to the next level by focusing on my mental, physical, and emotional health. About a month ago, I went to a coffee shop after work. While I was waiting for a friend to arrive, I noticed a bottle of LuliTonix's Black Magic charcoal lemonade. I was intrigued by the idea of the citrus classic infused with "activated charcoal," so I decided to give it a try. To my surprise, it actually tasted good—like really, really, really good.  

As the weeks went by, I couldn't stop thinking about the drink. I wondered if there were any other products on the market made out of charcoal that I wasn't aware of. I decided to investigate. When I typed "charcoal" into the search engine of a site, I didn't expect anything to pop up—to my surprise, there was an entire page worth of charcoal products. I checked a few other stores that I regularly shop at and, sure enough, they too were stocked with items made from activated charcoal. I was stunned that I had never noticed this before. Upon more research, I found a whole hidden market for this substance: toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, cleansers, masks... The list goes on.

According to Dr. Scott Schreiber, a chiropractic physician based in Delaware, activated charcoal has most recently been used for the purpose of "teeth whitening, alleviating gas and bloating, treating alcohol poisoning and preventing hangovers, filtering water, detoxification, and for skin health." It also fights bacteria that causes acne. Inna Topiler Mooney, a clinical nutritionist and the owner of Complete Nutrition and Wellness, said that charcoal also helps to relieve headaches, sinus issues, allergies, and digestive issues caused by elevated levels of ammonia. She further explained that activated charcoal acts as a sponge by absorbing unwanted toxins, chemicals, and other debris such as "overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast, parasites, and other 'unwanted friends.'" In short, think of activated charcoal as a magnet for all things bad.

One of the biggest misconceptions about activated charcoal is that it can absorb toxins inside the body. Dr. Roshini Raj, a gastroenterologist, celebrity medical expert, and founder of TULA, said that "while charcoal has been shown to have great absorbing properties, there hasn’t been enough research on it yet to support this claim." In 2013, the New York Times reported that activated charcoal was being used in beauty products to "naturally draw impurities and excess oil out of the skin." Functioning as a detoxifier, activated charcoal increases the pores "which improve filtration." It made me wonder why these items weren't being marketed as heavily—if activated charcoal is so good for you, why don't we hear more about it?

That's when I had the idea to go on a charcoal cleanse. For seven days straight, I only used activated charcoal products for the essentials in my daily routine. Some of these items are on the pricier side, but I tested all of them out so you don't have to! (Not everyone gets the chance to try before they buy.)

Read about my experience in the gallery, below.

Photographed by Ricky Michiels

Keep In Mind:

1. Daily bowel movements are necessary
Dr. Mooney said that because charcoal acts as a sponge and absorbs toxins, "if you do not eliminate them, they can get reabsorbed back in." The only way to get things out of your body is... Well, to poop. Oh, and don't be surprised when your bowel movements turn black. Dr. Raj says that side effects include bowel obstruction and black stool, but that's just what happens when you consume charcoal and is completely normal.
2. Drink plenty of water
Dr. Raj says that when ingested, activated charcoal can cause dehydration, vomiting, and constipation. (This won't happen if you're putting on a face mask, obviously.) Stop using the products if such reactions occur.
3. You probably won't overdose
Since I was testing so many different activated charcoal products at once, I was worried that it might negatively affect my health. Dr. Laurie Brodsky, a naturopathic doctor and expert for Dirty Lemon, assured me that I would be fine. "It is certainly possible to overdose on anything you consume too much of, but in high-quality products containing charcoal, the reality is that the dosage should be just enough to provide therapeutic benefit without causing damage." Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, a dermatologist and founder of Capital Laser & Skin Care Center, recommends starting slow so you can check yourself for any signs of irritation.
4. Don't confuse with BBQ charcoal
That, on the other hand, is loaded with toxins. It is very important to know the difference!