From sticking cloves of garlic up the nose to clear the sinuses to pouring bleach into the ears to dissolve earwax and cooking chicken in cough syrup, some bizarre and downright dangerous health tips are being promoted by users on video-sharing app TikTok.
And with more than one billion people on the platform, such tips quickly proliferate. But is anyone really stupid enough to follow their advice?
According to a recent study, a third of under-25s seek medical information on TikTok before going anywhere else.
And it’s clear the app can be a force for good. During the Covid pandemic, many NHS doctors used it to broadcast messages combating misinformation about the virus and vaccines.
Here, however, we reveal some of the fads currently gaining attention, and speak to the experts about why no one should ever follow them.
Shocking claim that pouring hair bleach into ears cleans out wax
Digging out earwax using a cotton bud is the cause of hundreds of cases of eardrum perforations each year. Now, to add to A&E doctors’ woes, there’s a new method being pushed on TikTok: dripping hydrogen peroxide into the ear canal.
Often used to bleach hair and as a disinfectant for minor cuts, it can be bought in pharmacies for as little as £1.20 a bottle.
But on the platform, thousands of videos demonstrate a new technique. In one clip that’s had more than 8.2 million views, US-based influencer Taylor Brook pours the liquid into her husband’s ear as he lies still on his side.
In one clip that’s had more than 8.2 million views, US-based influencer Taylor Brook pours the liquid into her husband’s ear as he lies still on his side
‘It bubbles up if it’s dirty and needs to be cleaned out,’ she says. ‘And then when five minutes is up, you get a cotton bud or some tissue and grab all the stuff that’s absorbed.’
Earwax build-up can cause temporary hearing loss, pain and tinnitus – ringing in the ears. NHS guidance suggests dripping a little medical-grade olive or almond oil into the ears to soften the wax, helping it to move out of the ear canal naturally.
Unsurprisingly, experts have warned against following the peroxide trend.
‘I would not recommend this at all,’ says Professor Carl Philpott, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Norwich Medical School. ‘Hydrogen peroxide is far too strong a solution to be used in such a sensitive part of the body. It could very easily cause damage to the ear drum.’
Bizarre raw garlic fad that can lead to painful nose damage
Sticking cloves of garlic up the nose might seem a strange thing to do, but on TikTok it is being billed as a natural alternative to over-the-counter decongestant medication.
Videos featuring the trend have racked up more than 100 million views in the past year, with influencers claiming that within 15 minutes it can cure a blocked nose.
Yet those following the trend are at risk of developing painful skin damage, say doctors.
In one video viewed more than 1.5 million times, TikTok user @Sienna places two garlic cloves in her nostrils for 15 minutes.
‘There’s already things happening inside me right now,’ she says. The video then shows streams of mucus flowing from her nose, before she adds: ‘That was disgusting but I’m doing it again because I’m obsessed now.’
In one video viewed more than 1.5 million times, TikTok user @Sienna places two garlic cloves in her nostrils for 15 minutes
Doctors say that despite the dramatic clips, putting garlic up the nose creates only the illusion that it is helping combat congestion.
‘There is no evidence whatsoever that putting garlic up the nose works as a decongestant,’ says Dr Rob Hone, an ear, nose and throat specialist at One Ashford Hospital in Ashford, Kent. ‘It’s more likely that the garlic is irritating the nasal passage. The nose then responds by creating more mucus, which can’t go anywhere because the nose is plugged.
‘This might give the impression that you are clearing out your sinuses, but it’s more akin to giving yourself hay fever.
‘Over time this kind of irritation could eventually scar the inside of the nose. This can be pretty painful and will only make congestion worse.’
The ‘health’ drink with uncomfortable effects
Health influencers on TikTok claim that one way to beat constipation is to drink cups of water filled to the brim with expanding seeds, but experts say the trend could lead to bloating and diarrhoea.
Dubbed the ‘internal shower drink’, it contains two tablespoons of chia seeds, found in health food shops costing about £2 a bag, and lemon juice.
Since chia seeds are high in fibre, and a diet low in fibre is known to cause constipation, advocates argue that the internal shower drink can instantly reverse the uncomfortable symptoms of the condition.
In a video viewed more than 2.3 million times, Canadian television presenter Sangita Patel explains why she endorses it.
‘I do have stomach issues, which I’ve had for the past few years, and we know chia seeds make you go,’ she says as she empties a large portion of the black seeds into a glass of water. ‘You’re supposed to do this in the morning so the next day you’re going to cleanse.’
However, experts say the trend could have undesirable effects.
‘It’s true, chia seeds are a good source of fibre, but with this drink you’re really going from zero to 100,’ says Professor Gary Frost, head of nutrition research at Imperial College London.
‘This sudden burst of fibre could leave you with some uncomfortable short-term side effects such as bloating, wind and even diarrhoea.’
He adds: ‘Unfortunately, constipation is a problem which you have to fix the boring way. Staying hydrated and eating wholegrain cereals and bread, and plenty of fruit and vegetables will do the trick.’
Reality star’s gallon of water A DAY ‘diet’
Called the Gallon Challenge, this was initially sparked by reality TV star Kylie Jenner.
The 25-year-old, who has more than 370 million followers on the social media platform Instagram, said in an interview last year that she drinks a gallon of water every day.
TikTok videos touting it as a panacea that improves skin, concentration and, most worryingly, helps people shed body fat, have gained millions of views.
Called the Gallon Challenge, this was initially sparked by reality TV star Kylie Jenner. The 25-year-old, who has more than 370 million followers on the social media platform Instagram, said in an interview last year that she drinks a gallon of water every day
The NHS recommends drinking between 1.5 and 2.5 litres of water every day – the equivalent of six to eight cups. But TikTok proponents of the Gallon Challenge are encouraging their followers to double this. In one video shared by The Gallon Challenge, a company that sells gallon water bottles for £20, an influencer claims she lost more than 4lb (2kg) in a week by drinking a gallon a day.
But Prof Frost warns: ‘Swapping food for water will lead to a worryingly unbalanced diet. You could lose out on certain crucial nutrients like Vitamin C or iron.
‘Studies show that increasing how much water you drink does not reduce your appetite. This is not going to help with weight loss.’
Face tan ‘make-up’ that raises skin cancer risk
Make up gurus on TikTok are advising users how to tan certain areas of their face to create ‘natural’ semi-permanent make-up.
The method involves using low SPF sun cream in certain areas and high SPF in other areas – and then going out in the sun or using a sunbed. The result is a deeper tan in the areas protected by the lower SPF cream – akin to the shading achieved by some make-up techniques.
Some users even suggest going without sun protection to get the most dramatic look.
The method involves using low SPF sun cream in certain areas and high SPF in other areas – and then going out in the sun or using a sunbed. The result is a deeper tan in the areas protected by the lower SPF cream – akin to the shading achieved by some make-up techniques
One video demonstrating the trend, by 25-year-old Eli Witherow, a model in Los Angeles, has gained more than 13 million views. But experts say that even with an underlayer of sun cream, the trend can raise the risks of skin cancer.
‘Tanning is the result of skin damage,’ says Dr Katie Lacy, consultant dermatologist at private clinic OneWelbeck.
‘Every time you tan, you raise your risk of skin cancer. So regularly damaging your skin to replicate the effects of contouring is a terrible idea, which will only make you more likely to get cancer in the future.’
Anyone fancy chicken in cough syrup?
TikTok videos of chicken being cooked in a ‘sauce’ of the cold and flu remedy NyQuil have triggered a warning from US health officials. The medication is the US equivalent of Night Nurse, and has a sedative effect.
Those behind the videos say that cooking enhances this effect, creating so-called ‘sleepy chicken’. The US Food and Drug Association (FDA) warned in September: ‘Boiling a medication can make it much more concentrated.’
Worryingly, after the warning the number of searches for Nyquil Chicken surged.
Professor Penny Ward, a pharmaceutical expert at King’s College London, says: ‘Taking just twice the maximum recommended dose of paracetamol can result in liver failure. Dowsing your chicken in medication is an absolutely terrible idea.’
TikTok videos of chicken being cooked in a ‘sauce’ of the cold and flu remedy NyQuil have triggered a warning from US health officials. The medication is the US equivalent of Night Nurse, and has a sedative effect
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