Charcoal as an active ingredient has made arguably an even grander entrance into the oral care world than that of skin. And between the coverage of charcoal face masks, scrubs, and treatments in recent years, that's saying a lot. If it wasn't clear before that charcoal toothpaste was here to stay, it certainly planted solid roots when Kendall Jenner co-created the activated charcoal-based oral care brand Moon. The sleek, aesthetically pleasing black packaging can now be spotted everywhere from Urban Outfitters to Ulta. While we're all here for a potentially pore-shrinking charcoal treatment, it's another thing entirely to put active charcoal in your mouth and start brushing your teeth with it.
The claim is that activated charcoal is a more natural method to whiten teeth. However, dentists are wary of recommending its use. "Since it is a relatively new product, there is not any long-term, evidence-based research to make educated decisions regarding safety and effectiveness," warns Dr. Kevin B. Sands, DDS. Charcoal, they say, may whiten teeth, but according to a 2019 study in the British Dental Journal, its protection against tooth decay is unimpressive. Read on to get the truth about charcoal toothpaste straight from experts.
Meet the Expert
- Kevin B. Sands, DDS, is a celebrity cosmetic dentist serving the A-listers of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, where he has restored thousands of smiles over the past 15 years.
- Matt Nejad, DDS, is an expert biomimetic and aesthetic dentist and partner at leading dental practice Helm | Nejad | Stanley in Beverly Hills.
What Is Charcoal Toothpaste?
Charcoal toothpaste is toothpaste infused with activated charcoal to clean teeth. "Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been heat-processed to increase its absorbability," explains Sands. The claims are that it becomes like a porous magnet, binding to every particle in its wake, including bacteria, plaque, and in the case of skincare, dirt and oil. These imposters attach to the activated charcoal and are swept away with the charcoal when washed off.
Is Charcoal Toothpaste Safe to Use?
"Using charcoal toothpaste has some risks involved," Sands warns. "Charcoal can be abrasive and cause enamel damage," he says, adding that most charcoal toothpastes don't include fluoride, an essential to prevent tooth decay.
Nejad concedes the opinion that charcoal teeth products aren't all that they're cracked up to be—and for several reasons. The first has to do with the actual whitening method. "There are a couple of approaches to whitening," he says. "The first one is using a chemical which breaks down colors and actually bleaches or lightens the color of the teeth, which removes both surface stains and lightens the color of the tooth. The other approach is to remove stains from the surface by abrasion, but abrasion has to be high enough to remove the stain without being too abrasive to remove your enamel. If it’s too abrasive, it will roughen the surface of your enamel and remove or thin the enamel over prolonged use."
Nejad explains that while all toothpastes have an abrasive component to remove surface stains, too much abrasion can lead to enamel damage. "Charcoal products range in their abrasiveness, and most are not tested as they are popping up everywhere," he says.
Does Charcoal Work to Whiten Teeth?
Charcoal toothpaste belongs to the latter category since, according to our experts, it whitens—at least in part—through abrasion. Unlike other whitening methods, it's not penetrating the enamel to change the actual color of the tooth. It's all about removing surface-level stains.
"Activated charcoal has the potential to bind to some of the stains on the tooth surface and remove it, but it only works on certain stains and certainly does not lighten the actual color of the tooth, like other chemical agents such as peroxide," says Nejad. So while it may work by removing rogue coffee stains and subsequently brightening your smile by a few notches, it could fall short if you're looking for dramatic teeth whitening. If that's the case, you'll want to look to other whitening methods that go beyond just the surface of the tooth.
The Final Takeaway
When it comes down to it, Nejad says he wouldn't recommend the use of charcoal toothpaste; that's for a couple of different reasons. "First, it will not provide you with the level of whitening you are probably looking for because removing surface stains is rarely enough to give your teeth a bright white appearance. Secondly, its safety is still unknown, but early signs do not look promising, and this is probably compounded by the lack of regulation on charcoal containing dental products."
He cites one study that found "charcoal left a significantly rougher surface of enamel compared to a less abrasive toothpaste product. After a simulated three months of use with the charcoal toothpaste, the surface roughness of the enamel was twice as rough as the enamel in the other tested groups." Which is—to put it mildly—a bit unsettling.
While many users atone their success in whitening, it's best to heed caution when brushing with activated charcoal toothpaste. As with anything in beauty, the key here is to consider your options, weigh the risks, and consult a professional before undertaking any significant changes. Monitor your frequency of use if you choose to brush on the dark (or, in this case, black) side to ensure your teeth stay strong and healthy, and maintain regular appointments with your dentist. As Nejad mentioned, charcoal teeth products range in their abrasiveness, so do your research to find one you're comfortable using.
Greenwall LH, Greenwall-Cohen J, Wilson NHF. Charcoal-containing dentifrices. Br Dent J. 2019;226(9):697-700. doi:10.1038/s41415-019-0232-8