Activated charcoal: beauty bloggers' new best friend and the secret ingredient behind the black ice cream and lattes clogging your Instagram feed. And yet, it turns out this superfood, lauded for its ability to attract and expel toxins from your skin and stomach, might not be so super at all. As recently as last week, New York City and the FDA banned the powdered substance as "a food additive or coloring agent." This roughly translates to: activated charcoal isn't safe for consumption. I'm here to explain to you what activated charcoal is, and why you should probably stop eating it.

What is Activated Charcoal?

Caroline Ingalls

Activated charcoal is a black powder made from a variety of carbon heavy substances — bone char, coconut ash, coal, etc. The powder is then activated, meaning it is intensely heated to change its chemical structure, resulting in a more porous version of the original. 

When ingested, activated charcoal's pores allegedly attract and trap germs. Because opposites always attract, the negatively charged charcoal attracts positively charged substances, typically toxins and unhealthy chemicals. These substances leave your body via adsorption. Adsorption, not to be confused with its more popular sister absorption, is the process by which differently charged elements bind. Your body can't digest charcoal, so it leaves your body on your next trip to the bathroom. 

 Alleged Health Benefits:

Obviously, we couldn't get enough of activated charcoal because it looks pretty. I mean, why settle for regular vanilla ice cream or an iced coffee, when you can have something that's cooler, edgier, and darker? 

More than that, activated charcoal was perceived as a sort of low impact cure all. You know, a way to improve your overall health without sacrificing time, leisure, or heaven forbid —trendiness. Yes, it whitens teeth. But, thanks to its detoxing properties, activated charcoal — when consumed in the smallest of servings — can prevent bloating, boost energy, and reduce cholesterol.

Why It's Bad For You: 

Charcoal, simply put, is too good at adsorption. It cannot discern between substances that shouldn't be in your body, like toxins, and substances that should, like vitamins and minerals. So, say, when you devour a scoop of coconut ash ice cream, the charcoal removes potassium, calcium, and all the other vitamins that help your body function. If you were to have a scoop every day, your body would struggle to get the nutrients it needs, sending your body into malnutrition

Additionally, activated charcoal can prevent medication from sticking. It turns out, if you take any medication on the regular — ranging from birth control to Zoloft — charcoal can absorb the drugs, rendering them ineffective. Most restaurants that hawked these trendy products neglected to place warnings on menus, potentially endangering hoards of customers.  

The Bottom Line:

If you have to question whether you should be doing something, whether it's ingesting charcoal or texting that off limits ex, you shouldn't be doing it. Stomaching charcoal has the potential to be extremely dangerous, especially if you're medicating. Health should always come before your Instagram feeds, folks. So next time you're hankering for a blacker-than-black latte, grab some food coloring instead.