The Charcoal Diet

Esther Levy tries her hand at chewing charcoal for a week


I’ve done many things in the name of vanity that I’m not proud of; I once rubbed Cinco de Mayo’s leftover guac on my face. Last year, I payed $25 for a jar of expeller-pressed coconut oil. I routinely shell out $100 to have a Russian lady aim a laser at my private part’s follicle shafts and I’d be straight up fibbing if I told you I did not Google and subsequently ponder fish pedicure NYC after an episode of Keeping Up with The Kardashians.

I do believe that like a well-trained bloodhound, a good beauty trend smells fear and weeds out those too weak to sustain it. The juice cleanse business is a testament to that. When I heard that charcoal was trending, I committed myself to research. It turns out that the Internet maintains a wealth of knowledge on the benefits of clay and its dirty cousin, the anterior, which is now essentially the beauty equivalent of kale circa 2013.

When activated, charcoal functions as a sponge, absorbing toxins and poisons that may be lining the digestive track. Health stores recommend it for nausea, gas and hangovers. Juice Generation is slated to debut a line of activated charcoal and clay drinks in mid-November. Amazon customer reviews regularly extol the virtues of charcoal for teeth whitening and skin exfoliation.

Three minutes post incipient research, I had $37 dollars worth of charcoal supplements in my cart. Ultimately, I went forward with Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal Supplements, the Konjac Exfoliating Sponge, and inVitamin’s Natural Tooth and Gum Powder. I would commit myself to them for five days, hoping they torch my insides. Here’s what happened:

inVitamin Tooth and Gum Powder

In one click, I had purchased nature’s solution to gingivitis alongside Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. Has ever there been a better paradigm for the dissolution of the Mom and Pop? inVitamin even threw in a packet of “Natural Goat’s Milk Laundry Detergent” for my sampling pleasure.

This powder is looser than a wizard’s sleeve so I suggest you proceed with caution while opening. I put a bit of powder in the palm of my hand, wet my toothbrush (I purchased a designated charcoal brush in preparation because I am committed) and dipped it into the powder. Note that activated charcoal smells of (presumably) organic cleaning products and tastes like tofu.

It does not look like tofu, though. Post-application, my sink resembled an arson crime scene and I, a girl who’d just given a BBQ a blow job.

After rinsing, my teeth retained that immutable red wine “stain” but my mouth felt surprisingly refreshed despite the lack of artificial mint flavoring. I’ll admit that I Colgate(d) prior to brushing with charcoal. I couldn’t bring myself to tar up my teeth first thing each morning. I compromised by brushing solely with charcoal before bed.

Note to first time users: Refrain from explaining your new beauty trick to roommates/boyfriends/husbands. Instead, scare the literal shit out of them by pretending to be horrified by the “BLACK INK THAT IS SQUIRTING FROM MY GUMS!!!! AH!!!!!”

Film reaction accordingly.


The Verdict: In terms of whitening, Crest Strips heed more immediate results, and you can’t deny the feeling after a good Scope gargle. Take consolation in the fact that activated charcoal powder is indisputably a healthier alternative. Also, the powder left me with a clean sensation and didn’t irritate my gums like other pastes and white strips have. Nonetheless, garlic is one of my best friends — right next to onion and individual tuna.

Bottom Line: Give me double mint or give me death.

Konjac Exfoliating Sponge

The small sponge comes with its own mini suction cup and hanger. Contrary to unpopular belief, the charcoal sponge does not in fact, turn your skin grey. In order to “activate” it, you must first wet and massage the sponge in the palms of your hands until it turns soft. You then have the option of dousing it with your cleanser of choice, or you can simply run it over your face cleanser-free.

I chose to combine it with my Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel. Moving the sponge in circular motions, I made sure to hit the entire surface of my face. Although my skin didn’t “soap-up” as much as it normally does, the effect of the semi-course sponge on my face felt like an epidermal car wash (or in layman terms: amazing).

The Verdict: I had been using the sponge twice a day for three days, when a bystander commented on my “radiant skin.”

And I quote, “You have the best skin, what do you use?”

“Well for one, I rarely do my makeup.” I replied.

And two, the Konjac Exfoliating Sponge!

Bottom Line: An inexpensive, low-maintenance sponge that only needs be replaced every three months makes it a product worth trying and sticking with.

Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal Supplements

Does anyone else hate swallowing? Pills? I’d rather suffer through a caffeine-withdrawal-induced-migraine than swallow an Advil. I believe my aversion to capsules dates back ten years, when, after having taken two Tylenol Extra Strengths on a half-full stomach, I vomited.

I also hate vomiting.

However, the morning after an office happy hour, I felt less-than-sunny. I swallowed two capsules upon waking and waited two hours to have breakfast. The instructions recommend that you take 2 capsules twice a day, and 2 to 3 hours before or after meals.

Again, the beauty of activated charcoal is that it’s believed to have detox properties. I was hoping that the supplements would soak up the alcohol from my blood stream, and dispel of it as they pleased.

Suffice it to say, I spoke too soon. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I will say that my excretory system went into overdrive. I can’t be certain that it was an immediate effect of the pill or a result of too much red wine at dinner the previous night but for the argument’s sake, let’s blame the supplement.

I continued to take the 2 capsules for the next four days and had chiefly positive experiences. I should add that I’d been suffering from another hangover on Day 3. And again, excretory overdrive.

I imagined the charcoal capsules as little black ninjas marching down my digestive track, banishing last night’s tequila in a violent coup d’etat, the likes of which my insides had never seen.

The nausea and bloating that usually accompanies a hangover soon subsided. I gave two capsules to my co-suffering husband, and he swore he felt better in a matter of minutes. I doubted his quick recovery but then again, this is a man who’s seen JFK 45 times and trusts no one.

The Verdict: Since activated charcoal is believed to bind up to unwanted toxins when ingested, it’s recommended that you take them 2 – 3 hours before or after meals so as to ensure that no vital nutrients from food are mistakingly absorbed as well. I’m sure my digestive track is as clean as distilled water, but man was it hard to wait that long in between meals.

Also, don’t be alarmed if your stool is black while ingesting activated charcoal. Web MD promises — with zero liability — that this is normal.

The Bottom Line: Nature’s Way of telling you to stop drinking.

I’m 99% sure that in order to achieve the full benefits of activated charcoal, I’d have to consistently incorporate it into my daily beauty regimen, probably for longer than five days. I do plan on sticking with the Konjac Sponge and I fully intend on displacing the cold shower with Nature’s Way supplements as my go to constipation hangover cure.

That being said, eager as I may be to join the ranks of Amazon reviewers, I’m far too acclimated to my bad chemical ways. I long for the days when being vegan was still enough.

As evidenced by the charcoal diet, dieting is really fun. See for yourself with the literalization diet, the sugar diet, the tequila diet and the coffee diet

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