Activated Charcoal

Name: Activated Charcoal

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is used to treat stomach pains from gas, diarrhea, or other stomach issues.

It's also used in certain cases of drug overdose and accidental poisoning, and to help soothe the itching sensation that some people feel while receiving dialysis treatment.

A common over-the-counter product, activated charcoal is sold under brand names such as Optimum Charcoal, Liqui-Char, Actidose Aqua, Charcoal Plus DS, EZ Char, and Insta-Char.

It works by binding to toxins and forming a large, bulky complex that's too large for the body to absorb.

It can also block the liver from processing or breaking down certain toxins.

A special form of carbon, the use of activated charcoal dates back thousands of years to the times of the ancient Egyptians

Activated Charcoal and Teeth Whitening

According to anecdotal evidence, activated charcoal in powder form can be brushed onto teeth to remove stains and whiten their appearance.

This is thought to work because activated charcoal binds to toxins and pulls them away from the surface of the teeth.

Anecdotal reports also suggest that activated charcoal may somehow help prevent cavities and tooth decay by making the mouth less acidic.

Activated Charcoal and Skin Care

Some healthcare providers specializing in natural medicine state that activated charcoal can help clear the body of toxins and improve the health and appearance of skin.

However, many medical professionals disagree over the use, safety, and benefits of activated charcoal.

The data supporting the benefit of activated charcoal for treating conditions such as gas, cholesterol, skin conditions, and other health issues remains unclear.

Activated Charcoal Warnings

You should not take activated charcoal if:

  • You have low levels of fluid in the body or are dehydrated
  • Are bleeding severely (hemorrhaging)
  • You have problems with your digestion like blockages or poor movement of food and substances through your stomach and intestines
  • You have holes or tears in your digestive tract
  • You have had surgery recently

Talk to your doctor before taking activated charcoal if you have kidney or liver disease.

Also, if you have been taking activated charcoal for diarrhea for 2 days or more and your diarrhea has not gone away, you should stop taking it.

Activated Charcoal and Overdose

It's important to know that, while activated charcoal can treat overdose and poisoning effectively in some situations, it does not work in all of them.

If you or someone you know has overdosed on the following, activated charcoal will not work:

  • Cyanide
  • Lithium
  • Ethanol (drinking alcohol) or methanol
  • Mineral acids like boric acid, phosphoric acid, sulfuric acid, and nitric acid
  • Organic solvents formaldehyde, benzene, acetone, isopropyl alcohol, and chloroform
  • Alkali metals like potassium, magnesium, and sodium

Pregnancy and Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal falls under the FDA's Pregnancy Category C, which means that studies show that it can harm a developing baby in animals but its safety in pregnant women is unknown.

Regardless, you should tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant before taking this medication.

To date, the safety of activated charcoal in breastfeeding mothers remains unclear.

You should talk to your doctor if you are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed before using activated charcoal.

Activated Charcoal Dosage

Activated charcoal comes in liquid form and powder and is available in doses of 15g/72 ml, 25g/ 120 ml, and 50 g/ 240 ml.

Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or poison control center operator for information on how and when to use it in cases of overdose.

If taking activated charcoal for an overdose or accidental poisoning, call a poison control center at (800) 222-1222.

Missed Dose of Activated Charcoal

Because activated charcoal should only be used when absolutely necessary, missing a dose of charcoal isn't usually an issue.

What should I discuss with my healthcare provider before taking Activated Charcoal (charcoal)?

You should not use this medication if you have ever had an allergic reaction to charcoal.

If possible, before you receive charcoal, tell your doctor if you are allergic to any drugs, or if you have:

  • liver disease;

  • kidney disease; or

  • any type of serious illness.

If you have any of these conditions, you may need a dose adjustment or special tests to safely take this medication.

It is not known whether charcoal is harmful to an unborn baby. Before you take charcoal, tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant during treatment.

It is not known whether charcoal passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. Do not use this medication without telling your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby.

In a poisoning or overdose situation, it may not be possible to tell your caregivers that you are pregnant or breast-feeding before you are treated with charcoal. However, make sure any doctor caring for your pregnancy or your baby knows that you have received the medication.

Do not give this medication to a child younger than 1 year old without the advice of a doctor.

How should I take Activated Charcoal (charcoal)?

Take this medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Do not take it in larger amounts or for longer than recommended. Follow the directions on your prescription label.

Take this medicine with a full glass (8 ounces) of water.

Do not crush, break, or chew a charcoal tablet or capsule. Swallow the pill whole.

Charcoal is usually taken after meals or at the first sign of stomach discomfort.

Stop taking charcoal and call your doctor if your diarrhea lasts longer than 2 days or you also have a fever.

Store charcoal at room temperature away from moisture and heat.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Since charcoal is often taken only when needed, you may not be on a dosing schedule. If you are taking the medication regularly, take the missed dose as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, wait until then to take the medicine and skip the missed dose. Do not take extra medicine to make up the missed dose.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention if you think you have used too much of this medicine.

An overdose of charcoal is not likely to cause life-threatening symptoms.

For the Consumer

Applies to charcoal: oral capsule

Other dosage forms:

  • oral liquid

What are some other side effects of this drug?

All drugs may cause side effects. However, many people have no side effects or only have minor side effects. Call your doctor or get medical help if any of these side effects or any other side effects bother you or do not go away:

  • Dark stools.

These are not all of the side effects that may occur. If you have questions about side effects, call your doctor. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.

You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088. You may also report side effects at