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Activated charcoal products: Probably not worth the hype

Charcoal toothpaste illustration in bathroom - Health and beauty charcoal
Activated charcoal toothpaste claims to absorb stains from your teeth, but it most likely removes surface stains using abrasive ingredients.

Medical professionals know activated charcoal for its use treating poisonings or overdoses. Drugs and toxins bind to it so the body can get rid of unwanted substances.

Recently, activated charcoal has become popular for other uses – dental and skincare products.

Activated charcoal claims to detoxify

Charcoal consists of carbon and ash. It’s made by removing water from substances like wood or other vegetation by slowly heating it in an environment without oxygen. Heating ordinary charcoal in the presence of a gas that helps expand its surface area makes activated charcoal.

Makers of activated charcoal dental and beauty products claim they work by absorbing and removing unwanted substances on the teeth and skin, similar to how it works in the medical setting. The results are supposed to be whiter teeth and clearer skin.

Try something else for teeth

There’s not enough research about activated charcoal toothpaste to know if it’s beneficial or harmful,” said Dr. Aaron Mertz, a Marshfield Clinic dentist. “Medical professionals recommend what has been tested and proven to work.”

He said it seems far-fetched that the toothpaste could bind to stains and remove them. It’s more likely the abrasive particles in the toothpaste remove surface stains. Stains underneath the surface, like those on teeth treated with root canals, will stick around.

Mertz warned against attempting to make activated charcoal toothpaste at home. The abrasive ingredients in homemade recipes can harm tooth enamel.

He suggests sticking with tried and true methods to whiten teeth.

“Look for a whitening toothpaste with the ADA Seal of Acceptance or ask your dentist about whitening trays,” he said.

MouthHealthy.org provides additional information on teeth whitening, including natural whitening methods. The ADA website has a complete list of toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

It’s not a miracle skin product

Activated charcoal probably won’t harm your skin but it probably won’t provide any benefit that simple, proven skincare products can’t,” said Dr. Clayton Green, a Marshfield Clinic dermatologist.

Mild cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen with at least SPF 30 are all most people need to take care of their skin. A retinoid skincare product can improve acne, sun damage and aging skin. Green recommends Differin, an over-the-counter retinoid cream, for treating clogged pores and acne.

Beyond applying products to your skin, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, not smoking and drinking plenty of water should help your skin stay clear and bright.

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