Health trend uses charcoal in surprising ways
OKLAHOMA CITY — The latest beauty and health craze might have you thinking black is the new green. Charcoal is known for absorbing toxins in the environment and in the foods we eat, but would you be willing to try it? We discovered the surprising ways people using charcoal to look and feel their best and whether it really lives up to the hype. When you think of charcoal, you might picture firing up the grill on a summer day. Now consider this- charcoal on your skin, in your juice, and on your toothbrush. We asked Megan Hope to try out teeth whitening using activated charcoal tablets. "I didn't want to put charcoal in my mouth," Hope said, on first hearing about the method. "It sounded like a bad idea." But on sites like Pinterest, the cheap, although messy, teeth whitening trick has been shared by thousands who swear it works. "I was super concerned about the taste," said Hope. "But it didn't really have a taste at all. It kind of tasted like baking soda." If the idea of tasting charcoal is out of the question, how about using it to wash your face? The company Joyus is selling a facial sponge made with charcoal. "That makes this sponge really good at fighting acne and blackheads. It moisturizes. It exfoliates gently," a spokesman says of the sponge in a web video. "And it just makes your complexion look and feel incredible." "For topical uses, it may actually have some benefit," said Dr. Rachel Franklin, Medical Director for OU Physicians Family Medicine. "Charcoal has been found to have toxin absorbing properties, it does," she said. "It also is an ash, so it has a bit of an exfoliant as well." Emergency rooms have long used charcoal to treat accidental poisonings because of its toxin absorbing properties. But Dr. Franklin says it only works to absorb things still in the intestine. "Once the body has absorbed it, the charcoal does you no good," said Dr. Franklin. That leads some to question whether drinking charcoal does any good. The juicing crowd jumped on the trend, with several companies across the country serving up cold pressed charcoal juices after health food bloggers and celebrities started promoting the benefits. They reported feeling more energized and seeing clarity in their eyes and skin. Dr. Franklin says there is no scientific research backing up that hype or the claims that charcoal can improve your health, aid digestion and organ function, knock out gas and bad breath, or cure hangovers. She says consuming small amounts won't hurt you, but warns too much could give you an upset stomach or worse. "If you take much too much of it, it could actually cause an obstruction in your intestines and that's potentially life threatening," said Dr. Franklin. "But that would take quite a bit for that to happen." You'll also want to steer clear of consuming charcoal if you are pregnant or nursing since it hasn't been studied. And because charcoal could absorb certain drugs you're taking, you'll need to talk to your doctor first if you're on any medications. As for Hope, she says she'd whiten her teeth with charcoal again and would even consider drinking charcoal juice to improve her health. Despite evidence backing it up, the black stuff is proving to be popular. "I would try it," she said. "I'm not sure I would like it, but I would try it. Why not?" Those activated charcoal tablets can be found at local health food stores. A bottle cost us under $10, and you can find them even cheaper online. As for charcoal drinks available here in the metro, we checked with Organic Squeeze in Nichols Hills. They tell us they are currently in the research phase when it comes to adding charcoal to the menu. We'll let you know if they do.