Clearing the smoke behind charcoal health claims

NEW YORK (WABC) -- It works well on the grill, so now, many manufacturers are adding charcoal to numerous health and beauty products like soaps and supplements.

Labels promise charcoal can help with everything from digestion to acne, but are they true? Consumer Reports put the claims to the test.

Activated charcoal is similar to the stuff you use when you barbecue, but it's been super-heated into an extremely porous substance. It's also been used in medicine for decades.

"Activated charcoal is sometimes used as an antidote for overdoses of certain medicines in the emergency room," Consumer Reports' Julia Calderone said. "The porous charcoal traps certain toxins, preventing the body from absorbing them."

Some activated charcoal supplements claim to remove toxins in a similar way, but they're not necessary because the body detoxes itself.

"The body already has organs, such as the kidneys and liver, to filter out impurities," Calderone said.

Activated charcoal in small doses has no known significant health risks, but as Consumer Reports has previously reported, supplements are regulated much more loosely than FDA-approved drugs and don't necessarily contain what's advertised on the label.

Recently, other consumer charcoal products have come on the market - claiming to whiten teeth, freshen breath and fight body odor. But there's little published scientific evidence to suggest that activated charcoal helps these products work better than products without.

Activated-charcoal face washes, creams and masks often have product labels promising to clear up acne and clarify the skin by removing toxins from your pores.

But dermatologists said there's no scientific proof to suggest this works either.
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