But before you get too excited and start reaching for chunks of charcoal, know this – the type used in teeth whitening products is a different form of charcoal called activated charcoal, and it’s the great granddaddy of the stuff you cook with. So step away from the bag of briquettes – it won’t work.
Activated charcoal, or active charcoal, has been used for many things through the ages. In the 1700s, the sugar industry was revolutionised with the discovery that charcoal could be used to produce a “whiter” sugar, while in the 1800s many doctors used it to treat ulcers, gangrenous sores, and several other conditions
Today, active charcoal is most commonly used for purifying water. Its power lies in its incredibly adsorptive (not absorptive) properties – adsorption is when a substance gathers on a surface in a condensed layer – which is why charcoal is great for your teeth and skin.
“Charcoal is an adsorbing ingredient, which means it attracts impurities while adding anti-inflammatory properties and hydration to the skin,” says Diana van Sittert, Dermalogica’s national education manager.
Active charcoal is a natural teeth whitener because it lifts toxins, plaque, and stains off the surface of your teeth.
You might get a bit of a shock the first time you use charcoal because your mouth will be black. But as soon as you rinse it out, you’ll see that nothing has stained, and you might even notice a tiny improvement.
After a few weeks of use, there will be a noticeable difference.
There are also over-the-counter teeth whitening products that have active charcoal as their main ingredient.