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What is Activated Charcoal?
Vitamins & Supplements
What is Activated Charcoal?
Amy Sunderman, MS, RD • June 18, 2020

Activated charcoal is like a magnet for toxins in your body. This purifying wonder has been used for more than 150 years to absorb unwanted substances in the body. In fact, its absorbent properties and potential uses were mentioned as early as the 1700s. The first scientific studies and usages appeared in the 1800s. Over the century that followed, activated charcoal’s potential was explored further, but in the 1960s its use became more common. Activated charcoal eventually became a cornerstone substance for absorbing toxins in the body.1

Naturally, due to activated charcoal’s proven detoxifying qualities, it has attracted the interest of wellness advocates everywhere. And with cleanse and detox diet trends on the rise, activated charcoal is now an ingredient in many cleansing drinks, juice blends and supplements. If you are considering adding activated charcoal to your detox routine, here are few things you might want to know.

What is Activated Charcoal?

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of activated charcoal may be the charcoal on your backyard grill, but you definitely do not want to blend up a charcoal brick and try to consume it. Unlike charcoal bricks used for cooking, activated charcoal is made of non-toxic products and it goes through a more stringent production process than regular charcoal. Also, regular charcoal bricks often have chemicals added to make them burn better.

But in some ways activated charcoal is exactly what it sounds like—charcoal made by taking non-toxic materials like coconut shells, olive pits, bamboo or other plant fibers and oxidizing them at a high temperature in the presence of gas. The resulting carbon is more porous than standard charcoal.2 This process effectively “activates” the charcoal, creating a highly-absorbent substance that is safe for consumption.

There are other variations to this process, with some charcoal being activated with steam or other methods, but the principle remains the same.1 This edible charcoal soaks up toxins in the body, making it extremely useful both in wellness applications and detox routines.

How Does Activated Charcoal Work?

Activated charcoal works by attracting and trapping toxins. Toxins are attracted to activated charcoal because its porous texture has a negative charge, allowing it to attract molecules that are positively charged.3 That includes gas and substances that produced the gas. Think of activated charcoal like a magnet. It attracts substances and pulls them from the body. And since your body won’t absorb the charcoal, the toxins pass through your system to be eliminated with the charcoal.

What is the Best Activated Charcoal?

When you reach for any wellness supplement it’s important to know what you are putting in your body. Read the label and look for activated charcoal powder or activated charcoal supplements made from identifiable ingredients like coconut shells or plant fibers.

Activated Coconut Charcoal

Activated coconut charcoal, also sometimes called coconut shell charcoal, is made by carbonizing coconut husks. You probably won’t notice that it’s made from coconuts by the flavor though since the flavor of coconuts come from the flesh instead of the husks. Activated charcoal made from coconut shells may offer some advantages since it has some unique absorption properties.4 Activated Coconut Charcoal is often available as activated charcoal powder for mixing with water to drink.

 Activated Charcoal Pills

Activated charcoal tablets are a convenient way to take activated charcoal. So if you aim for simplicity or just don’t like the taste or texture of drinking activated charcoal powder, taking activated charcoal capsules with water is a great option for getting the benefits of activated charcoal in a convenient form.

Where to Buy Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is sometimes available in natural food stores and supplement aisles, though it’s important to buy a brand you trust so you know the ingredients in your supplements are top quality and the methods of production are ecofriendly. If you are looking for where to get the best activated charcoal, here are two of our favorite activated charcoal products available from Swanson:

Where Can I Buy Activated Charcoal?

  • Swanson Premium Activated Charcoal
    Get 520 mg of stomach-friendly charcoal per serving size (2, 260 mg capsules) with Swanson Premium Activated Charcoal. Swanson Premium Activated Charcoal capsules are specially activated to ease occasional, mild gas and bloating. This gentle formula helps soak up gas-generating compounds
  • Solaray Activated Coconut Charcoal
    Promote the body's natural detoxification capabilities with Activated Coconut Charcoal by Solaray. Also known as activated carbon, activated charcoal has been revered for centuries as a total body cleanser. Each serving delivers 500 mg of activated charcoal. This charcoal powder is made from non-GMO coconut, certified vegan and supports healthy detoxification.

What is Activated Charcoal Good For?

Activated charcoal is most frequently used to remove toxins or unwanted substances from the body, promote waste removal, and support everyday wellness, but it’s also helpful for mild gas and bloating.2

Activated charcoal may also absorb nutrients and some medications, so take it at least an hour before or after taking other vitamins, supplements or medications you want your body to absorb.

Popular Activated Charcoal Uses

Detox Support
Activated charcoal absorbs toxins in the gut. It binds them and limits their absorption. It may also lower serum concentrations of some toxins or substances and help the body eliminate them.1 But activated charcoal is most effective at absorbing toxins in the gastrointestinal tract.

Gas Reduction
Compounds that contribute to gas in your gastrointestinal tract may be attracted to activated charcoal, helping to alleviate gas-related discomfort. In the same way that activated charcoal attracts and binds to toxins, it also binds the gas-generating compounds in food. Double-blind, placebo-controlled scientific research backs up the abilities of activated charcoal to reduce bloating and gas-related discomfort.5

Toxin Removal & Kidney Health
Our kidneys are usually pretty good at eliminating toxins on their own, but activated charcoal may have the ability to bind toxins like urea and help remove them from the body, lightening the amount of waste the kidneys need to process.6

Activated Charcoal to Whiten Teeth
Have you considered brushing your teeth with activated charcoal? Brushing with a black, activated charcoal powder or activated charcoal toothpaste might give you a frightening grin in the mirror while you do it, but it may also give you brighter teeth. Activated charcoal whitening tooth powder helps clean and whiten teeth while fighting plaque formation.

And if you’d rather opt for a more traditional cleaning paste, try wintergreen-flavored Activated Charcoal Toothpaste made with coconut oil and bentonite clay. The ingredients work together to clean, polish, whiten and detoxify your teeth.

Activated Charcoal Skin Cleanser
It’s good for detoxing your body from the inside, so why not try it on the outside too? Pamper yourself with Dead Sea Activated Charcoal Soap, which is naturally moisturizing and contains 21 trace minerals plus shea butter and argan oil to nourish skin.

Detoxifying Activated Charcoal Face Mask
Give your face a fresh start with a detoxifying activated charcoal face mask. Swanson stocks all the ingredients you need to make one too. Start by mixing 1/2 teaspoon of activated charcoal powder with 2 teaspoon of turmeric, 2 teaspoons of raw honey, 1/2 teaspoon of extra virgin coconut oil, and just enough water to make it spreadable.

Or try a Charcoal Face Mask. It drenches your skin with a boost of added vitamins A, B, C, D and E.

Side Effects of Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is considered safe for most healthy adults to use short-term.2 However, there have been some instances of mild side effects, with more serious side effects being rare. Don’t use activated charcoal if you have an intestinal obstruction or if you have a health concern that slows food in your intestines unless your doctor recommends it.

Also, since activated charcoal absorbs substances in the stomach and intestines, it can also absorb medications and nutrients, decreasing the amounts of those substances available for your body to absorb.2 Take activated charcoal at least an hour after medications or supplements you take orally.2

Activated Charcoal Dosage

Swanson Premium Activated Charcoal can be taken once per day with water. Each charcoal tablet contains 260 mg of activated charcoal powder from plant fibers. A single daily dose is two capsules of activated charcoal per day; that’s 520 mg per serving.

A half-teaspoon serving of Solaray Activated Coconut Charcoal mixed with water can be taken once per day and provides 500 mg of potent and natural detoxification power.

In limited situations, activated charcoal is taken in several doses starting with an initial dose of 50 to 100 grams, followed by additional doses every 2 to 4 hours at a dose of 12.5 grams per hour.2 But always consult your physician before taking more activated charcoal than the suggested use indicted on your supplement’s label.

Detoxing with Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal makes a great addition to your detoxifying arsenal. It helps purify your body, reduces gas and bloating, and much more. Get more detox tips from The Best Ways to Cleanse & Detox.

And check out Take Care of U: 6 Ways to Take Care of Yourself and Brilliant Beauty Basics: Our Top Five Ingredients for Brilliant Hair, Skin & Nails for more self-care tips and everyday beauty and wellness.

Have you tried activated charcoal? Tell us how you use it in the comments below!

Amy Sunderman, MS, RD, Director of Science & Innovation Registered Dietitan



About Amy Sunderman, MS, RD
Director of Science & Innovation, Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health

Amy is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author with over 17 years of experience in the supplement industry. Amy is passionate about dietary supplements and the health benefits they offer. She enjoys working to find novel nutritional ingredients with strong clinical research behind them to drive innovation and provide health-promoting products to consumers.


Activated Charcoal—Past, Present and Future. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1306980/ (Accessed 03/08/2018)

2 Activated Charcoal. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-269-activated%20charcoal.aspx?activeingredientid=269&activeingredientname=activated%20charcoal (Accessed 03/08/2018)

Characterization and Properties of Activated Carbon Prepared from Tamarind Seeds by KOH Activation for Fe(III) Adsorption from Aqueous Solution. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4673353/ (Accessed 03/08/2018)

Coconut Development Board. Coconut Shell Charcoal. http://coconutboard.nic.in/charcoal.htm (Accessed 03/08/2018)

Efficacy of activated charcoal in reducing intestinal gas: a double-blind clinical trial. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3521259 (Accessed 03/08/2018)

What Is Activated Charcoal Good For? Benefits and Uses. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/activated-charcoal (Accessed 03/08/2018)

I Tried the Activated Charcoal Hangover Pill Everyone Is Talking About. Deven Hopp. http://www.byrdie.com/activated-charcoal-tablets-for-hangovers/slide2 (Accessed 03/08/2018)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.