Get Well

Can Taking Activated Charcoal Really Prevent a Hangover?

by Jamie Schneider

Maybe it’s because I’m a college senior post spring break mania, but preventing hangovers has recently been on the forefront of my mind. Like any good wellness junkie, the thought of an all-natural supplement to prevent pounding headaches before even taking a sip of that first cocktail had me filling up my Amazon cart faster than you could say, drinks on me. But as I was researching the benefits of this supposed Holy Grail for liver and colon detoxing, I was floored when I realized that the evidence for charcoal’s role in hangovers is actually quite minimal. Scroll below to find out whether this supplement could be your newest weekend warrior, or whether activated charcoal could become the next wellness placebo.

What is Activated Charcoal, Anyway?

According to Real Simple, activated charcoal is negatively charged, which means it can bind positively charged ions together and remove them from the body. In other words, it can keep chemicals or drugs from being absorbed by the body, which is why it has been previously used in emergency rooms to stop poisonings and overdoses. What makes it “activated” is steaming the charcoal at high temperatures to ensure that the carbon becomes porous and is ready to bind with whatever chemicals it meets.

Before charcoal was featured in our most Instagrammable spots, I remember my teachers mentioning it as more of a warning during health class— the chalky tablets were a nasty, but successful way to coat the stomach during cases of alcohol poisoning. Now, charcoal’s consumption has become way more lighthearted, as the supplement can be found in everything from ice cream cones, to pizza crusts, to exfoliating scrubs and clay masks. These days, instead of approaching the supplement’s chalky taste with a sense of caution, I find myself drawn to it in the form of trendy treats.

It seems as if the wellness world has a taste for minimalism, as more and more superfoods and beauty products flaunt the same dark, monochromatic hue. These products range in terms of dosage (and are usually on the lower side), but you can find activated charcoal capsules at your local health food store, where the typical dosage for adults is around 250 milligrams. Because activated charcoal is not meant to be taken daily, you should be mindful about how often you’re restocking these capsules in your medicine cabinet.  

Activated Charcoal And Detoxing

While charcoal has been proven to be extremely effective in emergency room situations, its role in body detoxing proves to be a little more ambiguous. Because yes, it binds to everything bad in your body, but it also binds to everything. Meaning, the antioxidants from that cold-pressed carrot ginger juice you bought when you felt a cold coming on would be absorbed by the charcoal before your body could reap the benefits of the vitamin C. As an article in CNN mentions, “you’d be better off just having the juice.”

Activated charcoal might not be necessary for detoxing the body, but it does have benefits for giving the skin a little much-needed detox. Just how it absorbs the chemicals in your body, it also absorbs the oil, dirt, and pollutants (just a few of of the many toxins we’re exposed to living in metropolitan cities) locked into your pores. Again, implementing charcoal into your daily skincare routine may become counterintuitive, as it can bind to the minerals in your skin that are actually good for you, so proceed with caution and use that charcoal sheet mask sparingly.

The Million Dollar Question

You’re now probably wondering, what does all of this mean for my next hangover antidote? The short answer, is that taking activated charcoal capsules before a night out won’t be that effective. Because charcoal binds to whatever particles are in your body at the time of ingestion, it will most likely absorb the vitamins and antioxidants that are in your body at a given time, rather than the alcohol you’ll consume in the future.
So, if you’re looking for a preventative cure for those wretched weekend mornings, activated charcoal might not be for you. I’d say stick to your homemade smoothie concoctions and hydration regimens to combat sickly mornings. But don’t write off those charcoal pore strips and exfoliating masks just yet— your skin tone could benefit from a little black magic. Plus, a chic, monochromatic addition to the Instagram feed never hurts.

Feature Image via Victoria Morris

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