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Charcoal is the “detox” ingredient du jour, and you can hardly scroll down your Instagram feed without seeing people adding it to a smoothie, salad, soap or supplement. Originally, charcoal was used in emergency rooms as an antidote for overdoses, but medical-grade charcoal is at least 100 times more powerful than anything commercial and is unlikely to remove “toxins” from the body.
Where charcoal might actually shine, however, is in your armpits. When you sweat, glands under your arms release proteins, which are irresistible to the bacteria that live on the surface of your skin. They bumrush your pits to gobble up those goodies and in their fervor cause that resultant odor. Antiperspirants use aluminum to block your sweat glands from releasing these proteins, thereby quelling the stank, but deodorants reduce underarm odor differently, says Richard L. Doty, Ph.D., director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Smell and Taste Center and professor of otorhinolaryngology at the Perelman School of Medicine: They either mask bad odor with a more pleasant odor, or they attack the molecules that cause the odor with elements like charcoal.
“Charcoal is porous and is great at absorbing molecules,” Doty says. “That’s why it’s commonly used in water and air filters, and it’s within reason that its anti-bacterial agents could reduce body odor.” Charcoal binds to oil and dirt as well as sweat, adds Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
So will charcoal cleanse your person of noxious, toxic elements inside and out? Probably not. But it just might keep you smelling fresh as a daisy even during a tough workout.