What are carbon blacks and vegetable carbons, and where are they used?
Carbon black and vegetable carbon (E153), also called activated charcoal, play distinct roles in various industries. Carbon black, known for its exceptional tinting capabilities, is widely used as a finely divided carbon pigment in rubber, plastics, inks, and coatings . Its versatility extends to the food industry, where it serves as a food colouring agent and enhances the UV resistance and durability of food packaging materials like plastic films and containers.
In contrast, vegetable carbon, activated charcoal, or E153, acts as a natural food colouring agent that imparts black or dark grey tones to food products such as ice creams and beverages [2-5]. Beyond its colouring function, activated charcoal serves as a valuable food ingredient, effectively eliminating impurities and undesirable flavours. Its adsorption properties find extensive applications in water and air filtration systems, effectively purifying and eliminating odours. Moreover, activated charcoal is sought after in skincare products due to its ability to draw out impurities, making it a popular choice in face masks, cleansers, and other skincare formulations .
By leveraging the unique characteristics of carbon black and vegetable carbon, industries can achieve desirable outcomes in terms of colour enhancement, UV resistance, purification, and impurity removal, catering to various consumer needs and preferences.
Purported Health Benefits
Digestive Health: Activated charcoal may help alleviate digestive issues, such as bloating and gas . It is believed to adsorb excess gas and toxins in the gastrointestinal tract, providing relief from discomfort.
Teeth Whitening: Activated charcoal is often promoted as a natural teeth whitening agent . It is thought to absorb surface stains on teeth, resulting in a brighter smile. However, it's essential to use activated charcoal toothpaste or powder with caution to avoid potential enamel damage.
Skin Cleansing: Activated charcoal is utilised in skincare products for its potential to draw out impurities and excess oil from the skin [6-7]. It is believed to unclog pores and provide a deep cleansing effect, contributing to clearer and healthier-looking skin.
Anti-aging Effects: Carbon blacks are sometimes included in skincare formulations for their antioxidant properties. These antioxidants are suggested to help combat free radicals, which can contribute to premature ageing of the skin .
Detoxification: Vegetable carbons, or activated charcoal, are believed to have detoxifying properties [8-9]. They are thought to bind to toxins and impurities, preventing their absorption in the body. Activated charcoal is commonly used in emergency situations to treat drug overdoses or poisoning.
Recommendations for Safe Consumption 
Follow Product Instructions: If you encounter carbon blacks or vegetable carbons as ingredients in products, such as food items, beverages, or skincare formulations, it's crucial to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Use the product as intended and avoid exceeding recommended serving sizes.
Seek Trusted Brands: Choose products from reputable and trusted brands that prioritise quality and safety. Look for well-known manufacturers with good customer reviews and a track record of producing reliable products.
Moderation is Key: While activated charcoal is often perceived as a potential health ingredient, it's important to consume it in moderation. Remember that activated charcoal is not a substitute for a balanced diet or medical treatment. Incorporate a variety of nutritious foods into your diet for overall well-being.
Be Mindful of Interactions: If you are taking medications or have any underlying health conditions, be aware that activated charcoal may interact with certain drugs or interfere with nutrient absorption. Discuss with your healthcare provider to ensure it is safe for you to consume.
Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body reacts to products containing carbon blacks or vegetable carbons. If you experience any adverse effects, such as digestive discomfort or allergic reactions, discontinue use and seek medical assistance if necessary.
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EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS). Scientific Opinion on the re‐evaluation of vegetable carbon (E 153) as a food additive. EFSA Journal. 2012 Apr;10(4):2592.
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We do our best to source robust information from a number of credible sources. There is, however, a large amount of information on various aspects of nutritional elements along with claims in terms of their contribution to helping in body health which may contradict the above.