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Activated Charcoal – Particle Sizes

December 2, 2016

OK so I’m going to keep this short and sweet in order to make it easy to read.

Activated Charcoal is VERY popular right now.

People are being encouraged to drink it (in water),  brush their teeth with it and add it to their cosmetics including dry facial masks.

While these are all legitimate uses for this material there is something important that you should know.

Activated Charcoal particles are small, very small and as such they can get stuck deep inside your body, maybe even into your lungs and particles in lungs is not a good thing – think Asbestosis or black lung disease.

Here is a chart of particle size that I found on Wikipedia. It’s a good starting point for discussion as we all know what happens when an allergic person comes into contact with pollen or cat dander.


The grade of activated charcoal I use is from Coconuts and it has a mean particle size of 15 microns.

Mean = middle.

That means that 50% of particles are SMALLER than 15 microns and 15% are bigger.

Please note that this is the grade that I am using currently, there are SMALLER mean particle size charcoals out there and LARGER. It is important to know which one you are using. Very important.

The units in this chart at Microns so the 15 microns level is similar to what you would find in small pollen, cement dust, house dust and dust mites.

People who develop asthma medication need to get their medicine from the nose or throat and into the lungs. They say that particles of 10 microns typically get down as far as the oropharynx. This sits below the soft pallet and before the epiglottis so not that far down but far enough to make you cough and wheeze as your body tries to rid you of these invaders.

At 5-10 microns the particles can make it to the central airways while particles from 0.5-5 microns can get into the alveoli – we don’t want that at all!

I am concerned by two things here.

  1. That people are purchasing activated charcoal online and feeling it is perfectly safe and lovely because it is natural (coconut) and because it is food grade and thus taking no precautions when mixing this.
  2. That people are not accounting for the potential for inhalation of the powder when they are using their finished products – products made that contain dry activated charcoal.

It is reasonable to expect that for every 1% of the above I use in a formula 0.5% will be particles smaller than 15microns and therefore able to get down into the airways.  It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that at least a small percentage of them could be as small as 5 microns and therefore able to make it into the lungs.

I don’t know how much activated charcoal a lung can handle but I do know that once these tiny particles get into the lungs there is no getting them out. They won’t dissolve or dislodge. Aerosol medicine that is given to asthmatics is designed to break down or dissolve at the site of the lung tissue.

My advise is this.

  • Treat your activated charcoal with respect, wear proper protective gear including a face mask that can protect against very fine particulate dust.
  • Do not sell or use a product that contains dry activated charcoal – make sure it is either in paste form or that it is non-dusting by some other means.
  • Do not leave this product anywhere near children.
  • Ask your supplier for the mean particle size of the grade you buy so you can decide if yours is more or less dangerous than mine.
  • Have this conversation with people.

I have had several conversations about this in this week alone with most people saying to me ‘but how come nobody mentioned this to me if it is so dangerous?’   Well the only thing I can say to that is it is because people either simply don’t know, haven’t been told, have never had it occur to them to check the SDS sheet or feel that it must be safe because it’s natural (as I said above).

I can’t see any reason why we can’t all use this ingredient safely once we appreciate the material for what it is.

Lung disease isn’t attractive.





5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2016 2:35 pm

    Thanks for the advice! We had no idea! xx, Britta & Carli from

  2. Jen permalink
    June 12, 2017 4:08 am

    Would you be able to share what specific brand you have? And where you found out the particle size information? Thanks!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      June 12, 2017 4:56 pm

      I don’t have a specific brand and I didn’t find out about the particle size thing I read the particle size on different manufacturers specs and understand about nanoparticles from my science degree and work on a nanoparticulate zinc oxide project. I hope that helps 🙂

      • Jen permalink
        June 12, 2017 10:42 pm

        Thank you for the advice! I’m also looking into some research about use of activated charcoal and effects on enamel, so I’ll see if I can find some manufacturer websites 🙂

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        June 12, 2017 11:42 pm

        That would be to do with the particles being quite abrasive probably. It would be best to look into a dental journal, possibly look at historic data although back in the day it wasn’t the activated charcoal that was used, it was just regular stuff and people had lower expectations of how long their teeth should last (and the average life expectancy was lower too).

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