As a fan of natural products, I’m always looking for ways to incorporate new ingredients into my beauty routine. I’ve dyed my hair with henna and washed my face with shea butter just for kicks — so after seeing the many claims on Pinterest that activated charcoal works miracles as a natural teeth whitener, I started to wonder what would happen if I brushed my teeth with activated charcoal. So, let's start with the basics: What exactly is activated charcoal, and what kind of health and beauty benefits does it have?
Activated charcoal, also referred to as activated carbon, is not the stuff you use in your backyard grill. Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been “activated” to increase it's absorptive properties, and in addition to naturally absorbing chemicals and toxins from the body, activated charcoal is a great holistic alternative to various health and beauty products (such as face masks and teeth whiteners). Many alternative dental health products use activated charcoal instead of fluoride, since long-term fluoride ingestion can actually have harmful effects on the body. People have used it to reduce the effects of food poisoning and to cure hangovers, too. Its also a recommended way to treat poison victims. It kind of sounds like a miracle gift-wrapped by nature, right? Well — not so fast.
Unfortunately, activated charcoal is messy, and it gets everywhere if you’re not paying attention. It also makes your mouth look pitch black when you’re using it, so it’s definitely not as aesthetically pleasing as fluoride. That said, many users claim that activated charcoal whitens teeth after just one use.
Although I've always been complimented on my smile, I dream of having whiter teeth. I even brought this up to my family dentist a couple of years ago, but I was assured the chiclet shade I longed for was more about media pressure than dental hygiene. It didn't keep me from feeling insecure about the color of my teeth, though.
I decided I'd brush my teeth with activated charcoal for a week to see if it really whitened my teeth.
But finding activated charcoal was actually harder than I expected. I visited several health stores and pharmacies, but no one I talked to had even heard of it. For something almost as useful as baking soda, activated charcoal isn’t nearly as accessible. I eventually bought a bottle on Amazon for about $7. I got it in the mail within the week.
It was time to brush.
I decided to use the activated charcoal only before going to bed, as the process was too tedious to follow every morning. Because activated charcoal is primarily used to absorb toxins in the stomach, it can most often be found in pill form. I had to pull the pills apart (carefully, as their contents can seriously get everywhere) and use the powder. Wetting my toothbrush, I coated it with the powder and brushed with it alone.
The stuff made my teeth and toothbrush look pitch black. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to rinse it all out of my mouth, but I brushed for a good five minutes anyway.
It took several more tries to clear the activated charcoal out of my mouth, but once I cleared it, my mouth felt fresh and clean. I didn’t see the instantly miraculous whitening effect that so many reviewers online saw, and I was kind of disappointed about it. Here's what my teeth looked like from far away.
I noticed zero change in color after one use. That said, the activated charcoal was certainly an effective method to clean my teeth. I also had to clean my sink right after, because activated charcoal shows no mercy on porcelain.
Lots of charcoal, still no noticeable change.
My teeth were the exact same shade as they were on day one, I thought.
Still no significant change in dental luminosity. I thought maybe I just needed to be patient, but no one around me seemed to notice any difference, either. When I mentioned my experiment to my roommate, he responded, “Huh,” and just went back to work.
Feeling more bold, I took one of the activated charcoal pills and opened it directly in my mouth. It wasn’t the smartest move. The activated charcoal hit the back of my throat, which automatically made me want to cough black powder all over my bathroom mirror. I fought the urge only somewhat successfully. I had to clean my mirror, but I managed to brush my teeth first. If the picture above makes my teeth look lighter to you, just know the camera's flash had a lot to do with it.
I brushed my teeth with the activated charcoal before going out. Still no change. I realized that, throughout this whole process, I had been missing the fresh feeling that comes from using regular toothpaste. Although the activated charcoal was doing an okay job of cleaning my teeth, I missed mint — and the fact that using activated charcoal is such a tedious process didn’t make things any better. By the time the week was over, I was happy to stop the routine.
My teeth still looked the same a week later. No dramatic change, just clean teeth. I was happy to go back to toothpaste full-time, but I wouldn't be surprised if using activated charcoal would work wonders for someone else. If you have sensitive teeth or just like trying new things, activated charcoal may be an option for you.
Although the potential dangers of fluoride are a great reason to switch your toothpaste out for activated charcoal, I can see why most people prefer not to. A lot of users post dramatic before-and-after pictures online that praise the teeth-whitening powers of activated charcoal — but I'm not one of them.
I still have some of the pills left over, and I sometimes mix the activated charcoal with my toothpaste to gain whatever positive effects I can from it, to no real effect. I've also considered that trying a different brand may yield different results, but I'll have to use up this bottle first.
Regardless, I know one thing for certain — my bathroom sink has never shone brighter.
Images: Andrea Obaez