- Ben Fuchs
So what exactly is activated charcoal, the ancient healing substance that has become all the rage in the beauty and skin care business? Simply put, it’s burnt wood that has been magically transformed into a powerful poison filter that can reduce the absorption of drugs, chemicals and other toxins by up to 60%.
To make activated charcoal, wood is burnt in the absence of oxygen at extremely high temperatures, up to 1600 degrees Fahrenheit, to create a black substance called char. The net result is a type of material sometimes referred to as vegetable carbon, that is tremendously porous, with a remarkable surface area; two teaspoons full of activated charcoal has the surface area of an entire football field.
This amplification of porosity and surface area gives activated charcoal its amazing ability to ‘adsorb’ toxins. Adsorption (with an “AD”) is a phenomenon whereby chemicals stick to a surface via chemical attraction. This distinguishes it from absorption (with an “AB”), which can be defined as the complete assimilation of one material into another, as water is into a sponge. Because of the tremendous increase in surface area created by the activation process, activated charcoal can adsorb many times its weight in toxins. This makes the fine black powder incredibly valuable as an antidote for poisons, which readily adhere to the large surface area of the pores like paper clips to a magnet.
That’s why activated charcoal is considered a must have in pharmacies, first aid kits and medicine cabinets around the world. And, it’s considered first line treatment for accidental poisoning in most emergency rooms. Perhaps the most famous example of activated charcoal’s astounding anti-poison properties was the case of Professor Touery, who in 1831 drank 15 grams of strychnine (that is ten times the lethal dose) in front of his medical associates without issue simply because he mixed the deadly substance with activated charcoal.