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Whether you just got a positive pregnancy test or you’re close to your due date, an upset stomach is common during pregnancy.

In some cases, you may feel ill due to morning sickness. Heartburn is another frequent complaint, especially as baby grows and crowds your stomach. Whatever the case, you may have heard that activated charcoal can help with nausea, your skin, and all sorts of other issues.

Activated charcoal may be safe during pregnancy. Here’s more about what exactly activated charcoal is, what it’s used for, and whether or not it’s something you’ll want to add to your routine.

Activated charcoal isn’t the same stuff you cook your hamburgers over at a summer BBQ.

Instead, it’s a heat-treated form of common charcoal (made from organic material, like coconut shells, peat, coal, or wood). Heating it makes the activated charcoal extremely porous (like a sponge) and allows it to absorb or trap chemicals and other substances.

It may be used for a variety of purposes:

  • Water filtration. Activated charcoal water filters are used to filter heavy metals and other contaminants out of water. (Note that these filters may not trap everything, though, including viruses and bacteria.)
  • Poisoning. Perhaps the most studied application of ingesting activated charcoal is with its use for poisoning or overdose situations. It’s often used in emergency rooms instead of pumping the stomach of its contents. Experts say that the sooner the charcoal is consumed, the better it may work. Its use for overdoses should be supervised by medical professionals.
  • Hangovers. Some people swear that activated charcoal is a cure for a night of drinking. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research on this topic, and what we do have is more than 30 years old and not very promising. That study showed that alcohol levels in the body didn’t change significantly after consuming activated charcoal.
  • Gas reduction. Some people believe there’s benefit in consuming activated charcoal after eating foods that produce gas and bloating. In particular, it may help with both the odor and amount of gas produced. But more research is needed.
  • Nausea and stomach bugs. While there isn’t research on activated charcoal and nausea alone, some people are using it for this purpose. Blogger Kimi Harris of The Nourishing Gourmet reports that activated charcoal capsules helped her whole family overcome the stomach bug — twice. She writes that it may have reduced vomiting/diarrhea and shortened the duration of sickness, though — again — these claims aren’t backed by studies.
  • Other health issues. Activated charcoal is sometimes used to help people with kidney disease and high cholesterol.
  • Teeth whitening. You’ve probably seen activated charcoal in different toothpaste formulas. The idea here is that it can trap plaque and other substances that may stain teeth. There isn’t much research on this application. Early reports do indicate it may work.
  • Skin care. Activated charcoal is also gaining some popularity in skincare products (deodorants, cleansers, etc.). For example, you may find face masks with this ingredient that claim they’ll treat acne. A 2019 study revealed that a peel-off mask made with activated charcoal did help to remove dead skin without causing irritation.

Related: Your guide to a pregnancy-safe skin care routine

Activated charcoal may or may not work for you, but that likely depends on your reason for using it. For example, you can safely try water filters that use activated charcoal to clean your drinking water. You may be more curious if this black powder is safe to incorporate into your beauty routine or to consume for other purposes.

Here’s the deal:

  • If ingested, activated charcoal is considered safe for nonpregnant people — at least in small amounts and when used short term.
  • If used topically, activated charcoal seems to be safe. There just isn’t much research on things like activated charcoal face masks or other beauty products. It may be a good idea to test a patch of skin to ensure you won’t have an adverse reaction or sensitivity.
  • Toothpaste containing activated charcoal also seems safe. Again, there isn’t much research for or against using it for this purpose. The actual amount of charcoal used in most products is quite small. Just be sure to spit out any excess and rinse your mouth well after brushing.

Activated charcoal may be safe in pregnancy if you’re only taking it occasionally. That said, consuming activated charcoal should only be done under the supervision of your healthcare provider.

One potential risk of taking activated charcoal involves constipation. The charcoal can enter the intestinal tract and harden. As a further complication, you may risk bowel blockages or perforation. Pregnancy hormones cause your digestion to slow down as it is, so constipation may already be a real concern.

The spongy nature of activated charcoal is great at absorbing — but it can’t distinguish between good and bad. This means that if you consume it, it may flush out good substances (minerals and nutrients) in the body that both you and your baby need to thrive.

Along these same lines, activated charcoal may also render medications, vitamins, or supplements useless if taken too close together.

Related: The best prenatal vitamins for a healthy pregnancy

The big question: Can activated charcoal help morning sickness?

While using activated charcoal for morning sickness isn’t a use that’s widely reported, anecdotal evidence suggests some people have tried it. Reviews are mixed. Some say it reduced their vomiting and made them feel better. Others say they experienced side effects — ironically, nausea and vomiting — while taking activated charcoal capsules.

Dosage may be part of the difference in experiences, and taking less may produce fewer unpleasant side effects.

Overall, there isn’t much research on the supposed benefits of consuming or otherwise using activated charcoal specifically during pregnancy. If you’ve come across a claim, pass it by your doctor first. Your doctor may also have other suggestions (lifestyle modifications, medications, supplements, etc.) to help you with issues, like morning sickness.

Speak with your doctor before ingesting activated charcoal. In some cases, it may interact with certain medications you’re taking. In others, it may inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals. If your doctor does give the OK, be sure to take it with plenty of water (2 to 3 liters a day) to prevent dehydration.

Don’t consume activated charcoal if you have any existing intestinal blockages or bleeding. It may not also work well if you have slow digestion, which is possible during pregnancy. And it may cause stomach issues if you’ve had recent surgery.

Doctors don’t recommend cleanses or “detoxes” during pregnancy. If you’re interested in using charcoal to detox, consider doing it before or after pregnancy instead of during.

Related: Do detox diets and cleanses really work?

Activated charcoal may be something you want to try in your pregnancy skin care or dental routine. But you’ll want to speak with your doctor before consuming it, especially if you plan to do so regularly or in large amounts.

If nausea or stomach issues are making you unwell, consider eating small meals throughout the day, prioritizing foods that are high in protein and low in fat, and sipping water to stay hydrated. Your doctor may also have safe suggestions to help with morning sickness or other issues you are experiencing.