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From pills to face packs, charcoal is the new “it item” for fans of detox routines. Used to purify kitchens in India in the yesteryear, the black substance is one of the most sought after for diets and skin care this year. As more and more people are taking the charcoal cleansing plunge, we tell you all about what makes it so irresistibly good for you.

Although it has been around for centuries, charcoal as a detox agent that started gaining wide acclaim last year, when Gwyneth Paltrow’s magazine Goop talked about charcoal lemonade being one of the best cleansing juices there is. Charcoal is increasingly being consumed in an edible form, either mixed with vegetables, juices or even as a simple capsule—and no, it is not the same charcoal you use to fire up your barbecue.

The kind of charcoal eaten as part of one’s diet is called activated charcoal. Sourced from wood, coconut shells and other natural materials, it is treated with oxygen so that the negatively charged carbon becomes, effectively, a magnet for positively charged toxins.

In this way, it works similarly to edible clay. Activated charcoal is not absorbed by the body—when it is expelled as waste, it takes along with it all the toxins that have attached to it. These toxins could range from pesticides to chemicals used to treat processed or non-organic foods. In this sense, activated charcoal acts like a highly effective sponge. In fact, it has the potential to absorb up to hundreds of times its weight in impurities and toxins.

For ages, charcoal has been used in medicine to rid the body of harmful poisons that have been accidentally consumed by someone and can be otherwise fatal. It is this same basic principle on which charcoal is finding new life as a detox agent in otherwise normal adults these days.

Activated charcoal can be consumed with a range of juices or lemonades. It can even be taken simply with water by dissolving a capsule in a glass of drinking water. Activated charcoal is often used to take care of nausea, bloating and dehydration—especially after a night spent partying and drinking. Remember, that it does not reduce the alcohol content in your body: it simply takes away the toxins.

Besides being eaten as an internal detoxifying agent, charcoal is also used along with toothpaste to whiten one’s teeth. Given its cleansing properties, it is no wonder that charcoal can be found in more and more facial cleansers too. The substance is said to clear the skin of toxins and leave one’s complexion squeaky clean.

Ingestible charcoal can be bought over the counter in many pharmacies and health stores across the country. Though commonly sold in powder or pill form, it is even found in multi-ingredient supplements sold in health stores such as GNC. Specialized juice bars in major cities have started including activated charcoal as a key ingredient in their detox juices as well.

If you happen to be in New York City, you can get your hands on activated charcoal juices at the popular chain Juice Generation. Their Activated Lemonade, Activated Protein and Activated Greens line-ups include a dose of activated charcoal as its key ingredient. On the West Coast, one of the most popular cleansing juices in Los Angeles is Juice Served Here’s Charcoal Lemonade. With the growing popularity of their charcoal infused menus these metropolitan chains are witnessing, more and more health food joints are sure to join the activated-charcoal-detox bandwagon sooner than later.

Activated charcoal may be the wonder detox machine, but its use does come with a word of caution. As such, it does not know the good from the bad—so, just as it absorbs the toxins from your digestive tract, it can absorb good nutrients as well. For this reason, activated charcoal is best consumed in small quantities and in moderation. If you are planning to include charcoal in your health care and beauty regimen, it would be best to confirm with your doctor that the use of this ingredient is a suitable option for you.