TikTok is great for plenty of things, including going down the rabbit hole of choreography, cooking and cats… but what about health advice? Every week, it seems like a new viral health trend makes waves on the social media app, with content creators sharing so-called hacks to cure what ails you.
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Here, experienced medical professionals weigh in on some of the most popular — and, in some cases, most dangerous — TikTok trends, debunking the bad ones and giving you the green light to try the safe ones.
1. Frozen honey
Got a sweet tooth? You may be tempted to try this trend of freezing honey overnight then squeezing it out into a semi-solid, gelatinous ice pop. But you’d be better off with an actual ice pop.
Honey has health benefits in moderation, but eating too much can increase blood sugar, lower blood pressure and cause a seriously upset stomach, including diarrhea. And gastroenterologist Alberto Rubio-Tapia, MD says that if you have fructose intolerance (which you might not even realize), your upset stomach could be even worse.
2. Rice water for hair
Many a commercial hair care product has claimed to make your locks luxuriously shiny. But could the real secret be boiling in a pot of water on your stove? TikTok beauty buffs are singing the praises of rice water to make hair long and glossy.
Dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD explains that rice water, the starchy liquid created when you soak or cook rice in water, includes inositol, touted as a hair rejuvenator and thought to promote hair growth.
The verdict: There are no negative side effects of using rice water in your hair (unless you’re dealing with scalp inflammation), so feel free to give rice water a try.
3. Liquid chlorophyll
TikTok is abuzz about the potential benefits of liquid chlorophyll drops, made with the pigment that gives plants their green color and plays a critical role in photosynthesis.
But is chlorophyll the answer to your health issues? Research says it has certain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, but it’s not a cure-all.
“Chlorophyll drops are safe to use in moderation,” says dietitian Beth Czerwony, MS, RD, CSOWM, LD, “but your body also probably doesn’t really need them.”
The verdict: It’s OK to go green occasionally, but be on the lookout for mild stomach or gastrointestinal issues. And stay out of the sun, as chlorophyll increases your risk of sunburn.
One of TikTok’s most popular and longstanding trends is daily food videos in which TikTokkers share everything they eat during 24 hours. It sounds benign enough, but viewers beware: These videos can promote disordered eating.
“Watching these videos can launch you into the comparison game and implicitly shame you into eating less than is healthy for your body,” Czerwony says. Each body’s daily calorie needs are different, varying by age, sex, activity level and other factors.
The verdict: Don’t be swayed by other people’s diets. It’s important to eat enough calories for your body, not that of a stranger with a completely different body and life than you.
5. The Benadryl® challenge
This dangerous trend challenges people to take large amounts of diphenhydramine (a.k.a. Benadryl®) to experience hallucinations and an altered mental state.
It’s never a good idea to take large quantities of a medication, and Benadryl is no different. Taken correctly, the medication treats seasonal allergies and reduces itching. But pediatric emergency medicine specialist Purva Grover, MD, says taking large quantities of Benadryl can cause scary side effects and result in brain damage or even death.
The verdict: This so-called challenge is incredibly dangerous and absolutely should not be attempted.
6. Nature’s cereal
This food trend essentially amounts to fruit salad for breakfast, which is undeniably healthy. But TikTokkers have put a spin on the classic blend of mixed berries by pouring coconut water over the whole thing and eating it with a spoon, cereal-style.
Raspberries, pomegranates and blueberries are among the best fruits you can eat, and they’re not as sugary as others. And coconut water is full of electrolytes and potassium, though it can contain lots of sugar.
Dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CCSD, LD, says coconut water is a flavorful, all-natural alternative to regular water. Just choose an unsweetened version to limit sugar intake.
The verdict: Chow down! Or, for a heartier-but-still-healthy option, try a Blueberry Smoothie Bowl, which also features berries and coconut water.
7. Hydrogen peroxide for earwax
TikTokkers say pouring hydrogen peroxide into your ear canal can help resolve earwax buildup. But is it safe?
Ear, nose and throat specialist Anh Nguyen-Huynh, MD, says peroxide can help break up earwax, but in its pure form, it can also irritate your ear canal. Ouch! What’s more, most people don’t actually need to clean out their ears, as earwax helps protect your eardrums — and typically falls out on its own.
If you’re having trouble hearing, you may have impacted cerumen, a wax plug blocking your ear canal. In that case, see a doctor for assistance.
The verdict: Don’t put concentrated hydrogen peroxide in your ears, but over-the-counter ear cleaning drops are OK every now and then. If you’re having trouble with a build-up of earwax, your best bet is to see a doctor.
8. Sunscreen contouring
Some TikTokkers are relying on the sun instead of using makeup to contour. They’re putting sunscreen only on select parts of their faces, letting the rays color (read: damage) their skin so they don’t have to contour daily.
But sunscreen is a vital tool in protecting your skin from dangerous UV rays, which can cause skin cancer and signs of aging. Wearing sunscreen — on all parts of your face and body exposed to the sun — should be a non-negotiable, says dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD.
The verdict: It may mean taking some extra time to do your makeup, but stick to regular highlighter, and put sunscreen on your entire face.
9. DIY teeth whitening
Many products for at-home teeth whitening contain hydrogen peroxide and can be both safe and effective. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to use pure hydrogen peroxide on your teeth, as some TikTokkers are doing.
The American Dental Association has approved some products that include safe amounts of peroxide, but that’s the keyword: safe. Dentist Anne Clemons, DMD, says putting any abrasive substance, including pure peroxide, directly onto your teeth can cause serious damage.
The verdict: There are a few ways at-home teeth whitening can be done safely, but this isn’t among them. If you’re concerned about yellowing teeth, your dentist can help.
10. Garlic up the nose
Feel a case of the sniffles coming on? Some TikTokkers say putting a clove of raw garlic up your nose can clear your congestion. Viral videos show mucus flowing after removing the cloves, but it’s not what you think.
Putting garlic up your nose can actually cause mucus to build, which is what rushes out when you remove the clove. What’s more, raw garlic can irritate your skin, which can cause even more nasal congestion after you’ve plucked the clove from your newly inflamed nostril.
11. Facial icing
Icing your face isn’t just for black eyes and bumps on your forehead. This TikTok trend takes it back to basics: facial icing to reduce puffiness.
Aesthetician Lori Scarso says the cold helps help drain excess fluids from the lymphatic system, which soothes puffy skin. It can also lessen the appearance of under-eye bags and brighten your complexion — all done easily and for free.
The verdict: Facial icing is a nice, safe trick for a natural pick-me-up, but it’s not a fix for problems like acne, genetic under-eye bags, wrinkles or other issues.
12. Protein + coffee = proffee
TikTokkers are adding protein powder to their morning coffee to make “proffee,” a power-packed beverage to start the day or to drink before a workout.
Consuming protein in the morning can help curb hunger later, possibly helping with weight management. And protein charges your metabolism to burn more calories, says dietitian Kate Patton.
The verdict: As long as you don’t overdo it, proffee is A-OK to try. Select a high-quality protein powder in order to see the most benefits.
13. Papaya seeds for parasites
Are papaya seeds the key to a parasite-free gut? TikTokkers say swallowing these bitter seeds can evict roundworms from your intestinal tract.
They’re not necessarily wrong. Gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD, says some evidence suggests the fruit could serve as a treatment tool against parasites. But there’s not enough evidence to say for certain, and trace amounts of cyanide in papaya seeds can make them dangerous to consume.
The verdict: If you think you have parasites, skip this home remedy and head straight to the doctor.
14. Chia water for weight loss
Some TikTokkers have started putting these tiny, expanding seeds in water and drinking them to stave off hunger.
Czerwony says chia seeds can absorb as much as 12 times their weight when wet. The wet seeds enlarge in your stomach and take up space, preventing you from getting hungry, which may, in turn, help you lose weight.
The verdict: A glass of chia water here and there won’t hurt. But consuming chia seeds isn’t an alternative to a healthy diet — just a handy trick to be used on occasion.
15. Dry scooping before workouts
If your first lift for a workout involves raising a scoop of dry protein powder to dump in your mouth, it’s time to rethink your routine. Researchers say the practice known as “dry scooping” qualifies as dangerous — and even potentially deadly. Studies show this trend could lead to respiratory or cardiovascular distress and, at worst, death.
The verdict: Absolutely don’t risk dry scooping. Just add that protein powder to water like the package instructs.
16. Fire cider for immune health
TikTok wellness gurus swear by fire cider, (also known as fire tonic), a spicy concoction made of veggies, herbs and other spices. They say it has preventative properties, with the ability to keep illness at bay. But there’s no evidence that it works. “There’s nothing to show that fire cider is beneficial,” Czerwony says. And it could even have negative impacts.
The verdict: Skip the fire cider. There are plenty of medically backjed ways to boost your immune system and stay well during the winter and beyond.
Use critical thinking when it comes to TikTok health trends
While there’s no way to know what will become the next viral wellness trend, one thing is clear: The internet is no substitute for the advice of a medical professional.
Next time a TikTok health hack catches your eye, don’t assume it’s safe — and don’t hesitate to ask your doctor before trying it.