Activated Charcoal Comes From Coconuts

The superfood has been blended into ice cream, condensed into a pill, and mashed onto faces in the name of skincare. We all think we know what activated charcoal really is. But it's got some surprises up its sleeve — one of which is where it even comes from in the first place.

Activated charcoal, miraculously, does not come from charcoal, at least not in the sense of charcoal we're accustomed to thinking of. We, at least, thought it came from leftover ash or charcoal that you'd use to light a grill. Somehow, we believed that dirty stuff was purified and "activated" into activated charcoal. We were wrong. Instead, many versions are made from the husks of another popular health food — coconut.

The process is really quite simple. The manufacturer takes coconut husks (a carbon-based material, like all plant matter) and burns them in an oxygen-poor environment to create charcoal. To "activate" it — which means converting it into an extremely porous material with high adsorptive capacity — the charcoal is subjected to one of two processes. The first involves introducing extremely hot air to burn out excess gases, producing a purified form of activated carbon. The alternative method is to infuse the carbon with certain chemicals that activate the carbon at a lower temperature than the first method.

Whichever method is used, the result is the same — purified, active forms of carbon that are perfect for cleansing your skin or other surfaces. The charcoal shouldn't be eaten, however — that's one of the worst ways you can use the stuff.