Why You Should Be Drinking Charcoal

It’s likely that you’ve tried a charcoal soap or cleanser and thought of the ingredient as an odd choice, even in skin care, where anything goes so long as it promises results. In that case, here’s a real hair raiser for you: Several health professionals and experts are now touting charcoal as a must-try new ingredient in juices and supplements.

Instead of handing yourself over to a week-long—or even day-long—juice cleanse, you can supposedly get a pain-free (and gag-free) detox with charcoal. Juicing companies have been adding the not-so-typical product to their concoctions because of its detoxing benefits which have been proven to clear the skin, just as it does when used topically.

The first we heard of ingesting charcoal was with Juice Generation’s launch of their Beauty Bombs earlier this month. The collection includes three charcoal-infused juices as well as two clay-infused shooters—it does indeed seem like Shailene Woodley was on to something. “We had been tracking recent beauty trends for about six months and used the industry as our storyboard and inspiration,” says Eric Helms, founder and CEO of Juice Generation. “The less toxic our body is on the inside, the clearer and more radiant the skin on the exterior,” he explains. “Activated charcoal draws impurities out of the body, thanks to the millions of micro-pores that bind and remove toxins.” For its part, activated charcoal is simply charcoal that has been exposed to steam so it that it opens up and becomes more porous—hence, “activating.” This process allows the charcoal to absorb anything you’ve consumed before it’s been absorbed into the body.

All this information begs one very important question: How do we know that it’s safe to ingest charcoal? Actually, it’s been done for thousands of years. Consider the fact that “[doctors] give it to children in the hospital when they’ve ingested poison,” says Marcella Melnickuk, the co-founder of The Juice Standard, where they include the ingredient in their Bee Positive blend to prevent hangovers. Didn’t see that one coming, did you? “[Charcoal] is made up of negative ions so it grabs onto the positive ions in the poison. It just flushes it out of your system,” Melnickuk explains. Alcohol is one such toxin it works to flush out, preventing that regrettable hangover.

Dermatologists agree that when ingested, charcoal does work to detox, clearing the way for healthier skin. Comparing charcoal beverages to their topical counterparts, however, provides no real evidence as to which is more effective. “[Having] tried both topical and oral, [I] would probably lean toward a topical mask to draw out blackheads or skin clogs versus taking an oral concoction,” says New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Gervaise Gerstner M.D. A topical treatment allows you to pinpoint trouble areas, while a drink works on the body (and the digestive system) as a whole. Dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman M.D. recommends two must-haves—Biore Deep Pore Charcoal Cleanser ($6.99) and Erno Laszlo Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar ($45, ernolaszlo.com)—to purge the pores of impurities.

Whether applied topically or ingested, charcoal is certainly worth the purchase. We’ll drink to that.