Complete Guide to Activated Charcoal

Vegetable charcoal is a natural product used since the dawn of time against digestive discomforts or intoxications and poisonings. Nowadays, its use has also become trendy in cosmetics, for purifying face masks or in make-up. You, you prefer to use it in cooking to impress your table... and then in detox to eliminate and drain all the accumulated toxins! Yes, activated vegetable charcoal is versatile thanks to its strong adsorbent power.

Characteristics of activated vegetable carbon

Activated vegetable carbon is most often presented in the form of ablack powder resulting from a double process of calcination of plant material. These can be diverse and varied: white non-coniferous wood such as poplar, birch but also straw, branches or even nut shells or fruit pits. These are all organic plant materials rich in carbon.

Technical specifications

Identity card of activated vegetable carbon

Scientific name: Carbo vegetabilis
Common names: activated vegetable charcoal, activated vegetable charcoal
Origin: calcined vegetable matter
Forms and preparations found: powders, capsules or tablets
Solubility: insoluble in water

Biochemical characteristics

A good activated charcoal powder should contain?

  • carbon
Organoleptic characteristics

What does a good activated charcoal powder look like?

  • Appearance: powder with an earthy texture;
  • Color: black ;
  • Odor: none ;
  • Taste : none.

Manufacture of activated vegetable carbon

Obtaining vegetable coal is broken down into two steps, having the objective of forming a multitude of pores inside and on the surface of the coal, with the aim of increasing its adsorption capacity! The more porous the coal, the higher its adsorption capacity, i.e. its ability to attach to the surface.

Step 1: Calcination or carbonization of plant material

This first thermal treatment is also called pyrolysis. It consists in decomposing the vegetable matter by progressively increasing the temperature in a container deprived of oxygen. The temperature can reach nearly 900°C. This first step creates a first porosity of the charcoal by breaking down the organic matter. After this first step you must all be able to imagine the look on his face... But yes admit it, without him you wouldn't succeed in your famous barbecues in the summer!

Step 2: Activation
A second step is to activate the vegetable coal obtained by increasing its porous surface. The plant material is again burned at lower temperatures, and this time the treatment is done in presence of water vapor and gas. This second calcination allows the formation of a huge network of micropores: we obtain activated or activated vegetable carbon in powder form!

Properties of activated vegetable carbon

Adsorbent power

In the case of activated vegetable carbon, unlike our beloved essential oils for example, it is not the active ingredients composing it that are the source of its properties but rather its structure... It does not really contain active substances as such since it is composed almost exclusively of pure carbon. The various stages of obtaining activated vegetable carbon give it a porous texture thus developing its major action: its adsorbent power!

Adsorption is a phenomenon that manifests itself by the capture of substances on the active porous sites of a solid, in this case vegetable carbon. The increased pore surface area allows the trapping of toxins, bacteria and impurities encountered.

Researchers have estimated that just 1 small gram of powdered activated charcoal has an adsorption surface of between 400 and 2500 m², the equivalent of about 3 to 15 volleyball courts (162 m²).... And yes! This surface would allow it to adsorb about 100 times its volume... Thus, you will understand that these adsorption properties confer major actions to the activated vegetable carbon at the level of the body.

Common applications

  • The detoxification of the body by the adsorption of toxins, microorganisms, gases, found particularly at the level of the digestive system and related organs (stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, pancreas, kidneys). Activated vegetable charcoal is very useful in certain cases of intoxication for example.
  • Overall participation in digestive balance. By participating in the adsorption of gases, activated vegetable charcoal allows the reduction of bloating and plays a real role in digestive well-being.
  • The purification, it also works for the cutaneous way. At the level of the skin too we find toxins that cling, bacteria that multiply... Activated plant charcoal cleanses the skin by adsorbing these impurities.
  • The coloration is also a property of activated vegetable charcoal to exploit. It is a very black and strongly coloring pigment that can be used for example in makeup such as mascara.

How to choose your activated carbon?

In what forms can I find activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal comes naturally in a simple form: a powder. However, it is possible to find it in other forms in pharmacies or in the shops, otherwise it would be too simple let's see... In powder, in tablets or in capsules, what are the major differences between these different formulations and especially which one to choose?

In powder form
In its most natural, raw and pure form

It is the basic formulation allowing the coal to bring all its benefits quickly and effectively. This formulation has the advantage of being able to adapt the dosage to the case by case; what under understands to follow the councils of use obviously well. Used in powder, the activated vegetable coal can be used as much by the oral way as by the cutaneous way. Moreover, and it is not negligible, this formulation is the most economic. 100% pure, effective and economical, who can say better?

In tablets
In a galenic form combining pure activated charcoal and excipients

This form is adapted to the people refractory to the earthy texture of the pure and raw vegetable coal powder. In tablet form, activated vegetable charcoal will be accompanied by excipients capable of binding the different substances together (sucrose, dextrose, cellulose, etc.), of giving a shiny, easily ingested aspect to the tablet (magnesium stearate for example...) or even flavourings for a pleasant intake. To know that other active ingredients are often added to the formulation of the tablet to bring other benefits (extracts of fennel most often).

In capsules
The powdered activated charcoal is wrapped in a capsule

This formulation is composed of activated charcoal powder in a gelatin capsule. Like the tablets, the capsule allows the powder's earthy texture to pass through. Scientists say that the envelope would delay the effectiveness of the charcoal powder since it has to be degraded in the stomach before releasing its contents.

IN BRIEF, choosing vegetable charcoal in tablet or capsule form means choosing a solution that has been previously dosed and is therefore more expensive. In addition, activated vegetable charcoal will not be alone and raw in these formulations. It is thus possible that the addition of substances clogs the pores and thus modifies the properties of the coal... So it's up to you to decide, but at The company of the senses, the powder appears to be the purest, most efficient and most economical solution!

The quality criteria of activated vegetable carbon

What labels can be associated with activated vegetable carbon?

Currently, there is no label to certify the quality of activated vegetable charcoal. Please just make sure that the manufacturer ensures 100% pure and natural activated charcoal in powder form.

Origin: a plant material to be preferred?

A mention of the vegetable origin of the coal is always good to take. Depending on the plant material, a charcoal will be more or less adsorbent. For example, with coconut shells we would obtain a highly adsorbent vegetable coal, with very small pores.

Activated or "super activated" vegetable carbon?

You've probably already seen the term "super activated" vegetable charcoal appear on your product if you're closely interested in activated vegetable charcoal. What is the difference between these two terms, activated and "super activated"? Activated, or activated, vegetable charcoal is qualified as such according to its manufacturing process: a double treatment, calcination and activation, is used to obtain it. The mention "super activated" can be brought on the label to indicate a high potential adsorption of coal, even higher than a conventional formula. For example, some manufacturers qualify their vegetable carbon as "super activated" when their adsorption surface is about 2000 m² per gram of powder. This is primarily a statement to facilitate the buyer's choice. This does not mean that a product without this mention will be less effective... Some manufacturers offer vegetable carbon with the same adsorption potential and they do not show the mention "super activated".

Small tip: the mention can certainly help in making a choice but checking the adsorption potential, 1000, 1500, 2000 m² per gram of powder, is the best way to know which coal we have in our hands!

How to use activated charcoal?

For health

Detoxifying cure
Take 1 to 2 tablespoons (about 4 g) in a glass of water preferably in the morning on an empty stomach and then repeat twice during the day with meals. A cure of 10 to 15 days can be considered under the agreement of your doctor and/or pharmacist.

Digestive problems, stomach aches, bloating, diarrhea
Take one teaspoon (about 2 g) in a glass of water preferably in the morning on an empty stomach or when you feel the need before a meal.

Food poisoning
In case of food poisoning, take 1 g/kg body weight of activated charcoal in a glass of water. Consult a health care professional promptly.

Insect or venomous animal bites, wounds
Make a thick poultice using a paste of activated plant charcoal obtained with water. Apply to the area in question for 30 minutes then wash off cleanly and renew the poultice 2 to 3 times a day until improvement.

Tiny tip: For your oral uses, have a straw to drink your mixture. This will avoid having an all black mouth even if it leaves after a few rinses with water ;)

In cosmetics

Purifying mask for oily, combination or acne-prone skin
Mix ½ teaspoon of activated plant charcoal with 1 tablespoon of green clay and 1 teaspoon of a vegetable oil. You can add a little witch hazel hydrosol until you get a homogeneous paste. Apply for 10 to 15 minutes on the face then rinse delicately with water. In order to perfect the care, you can pass on the face using a cotton impregnated with a vegetable oil of Jojoba or a hydrolat of Hamamelis. The active vegetable coal makes it possible to cleanse the skin and to collect the impurities, toxins and excess of sebum responsible for the black spots and other affections of the face.

Incorporate activated plant charcoal powder into your mascara, eye shadow or kohl preparations at 10%.

White teeth
Wet your toothbrush slightly and dip it in the charcoal powder, brush and rinse with clean water. You can add a drop of Lemon or Field Mint essential oil to your toothbrush. Use this once or twice a week. For the witch's smile, don't worry! After a few rinses with clear water and a normal brushing with toothpaste, you will find your teeth cleaned, shiny and even whiter than before. In addition to its whitening action, activated vegetable charcoal captures bad odors for fresh breath.

In domestic use

Bad smells
Get yourself a small dish and fill it with some powdered vegetable charcoal. Vegetable charcoal thanks to its adsorbent properties allows you to capture bad smells from a refrigerator, toilet, trash can or other...

In the kitchen
Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of powdered activated charcoal to your preparations, bread dough, pastries, ice cream, cocktails. The adsorbent effects of activated vegetable charcoal are not proven once mixed into a culinary preparation, however it will surely amuse your guests to eat a bread all black.

Precautions for use of activated charcoal

Activated vegetable charcoal has many benefits and appears safe over the short term if used as recommended. However, please consult a physician or pharmacist before using activated charcoal byoral route. We do not recommend its use in young children, during pregnancy or breastfeeding without medical advice.

Warning points


The use of vegetable coal by mouth is contraindicated for people suffering from constipation, peptic ulcer, digestive hernia or intestinal obstruction.

Cutaneous application
Vegetable charcoal is not recommended for sensitive and fragile skin.
By ingestion

For internal use, it is important to drink enough water when taking charcoal. Charcoal may cause slight constipation. Please seek medical advice for any use of charcoal in ingestion.

Allergenic components

Vegetable charcoal does not contain any allergenic biochemical components. If it is used according to the recommended recommendations there are no real known allergic risks. However, for the most reactive and fragile people, do not hesitate to test your sensitivity to the vegetable coal in the hollow of the elbow 48 hours before use.

Interaction with other treatments

The activated vegetable coal as an adsorbent compound, can counteract the effects of drug treatments taken in parallel. By medicines we mean all the treatments being able to be essential to your daily newspaper and being able to interact with the coal: antihistamine, contraceptive pill, antihypertensive... It is thus preferable to take it with approximately 3 hours of interval of the medicines.

Modes of use and storage

Authorized users

Possible ways of use

Use, conservation, storage
Activated charcoal should be stored in a dry place, away from air and light. In powder form, the charcoal is pulverulent, so beware of air currents when handling it. It should not be inhaled. In case of excessive inhalation, it is important to breathe fresh air and to consult a doctor if the slightest respiratory discomfort is felt. In case of contact with eyes or mucous membranes, rinse thoroughly with water. In case of accidental ingestion, drink water.