TikTok health trends that are riskier than you realized

TikTok has become notorious for many things: viral dance videos, lip syncing memes, and side-by-side duets. Unfortunately, TikTok has also fast become home to some very dangerous health trends. First, there are "challenges" that encourage users to do unequivocally harmful things, like overdosing on antihistamines. Then, there are the pseudo-wellness tips and challenges that cover everything from DIY mole removal to restrictive diet plans that are anything but healthy. The worst part? Thirteen- to 24-year-olds make up 69 percent of TikTok's user base, with 13-17-year-olds accounting for nearly a third of total users (via HootSuite). 

In other words, millions of young and impressionable minds are seeing these dangerous health trends every day, and may not understand just how unhealthy they are. Plus, studies show that once misinformation has been spread, it's extremely difficult to debunk. And while TikTok does have community guidelines that forbid the spread of harmful misinformation, harmful misinformation of all sorts still persists. Sadly, many videos promoting unhealthy behavior continue to run rampant on TikTok.

This article contains mentions of disordered eating. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (text NEDA to 741741).

The TikTok Benedryl challenge has claimed the life of at least one teenager

In August 2020, a 15-year-old girl from Oklahoma died from a Benadryl overdose, News 4 revealed. According to the local news report, she was an "otherwise happy and faith-driven teen" and "not one to experiment with drugs." Sadly, she fell victim to what TikTok users call the "Benadryl challenge." The challenge being to "trip" or hallucinate after taking at least a dozen doses of Benadryl, a type of antihistamine (diphenhydramine) meant to treat allergies and relieve itching.

However, doing so has serious consequences. "Large doses of Benadryl can cause seizures and, particularly, problems with the heart," Scott Schaeffer, director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information told News 4. "The heart tends to go out of rhythm and not pump blood effectively."

The Benadryl challenge has landed enough teenagers in the emergency room that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating such reports and urging parents and caregivers to "store diphenhydramine and all other OTC and prescription medicines up and away and out of children's reach and sight." And as Cincinnati Children's Hospital advised, parents should talk to their children about the dangers of misusing medication.

Don't try this DIY teeth-whitening TikTok trend

DIY beauty trends spread like wildfire on TikTok. While some of these trends are totally harmless, others are unquestionably dangerous. Case in point: Using hydrogen peroxide as an at-home teeth whitener. Some TikTok users say it's a way to avoid expensive teeth whitening procedures, but it's actually just a recipe for disaster. "The BDA [British Dental Association] is concerned about the DIY trend to whiten teeth with levels of hydrogen peroxide that are higher than that permitted in over-the-counter products," a representative from the BDA told BBC News"Using higher concentrations unsupervised, as some videos advocate, raises the risk of damage to teeth and gums, including burns to the mouth, tooth and gum sensitivity, as well as irritated or inflamed gums." Swallowing the peroxide could also be toxic. 

If you're set on whitening your teeth — something you absolutely don't have to do, since white teeth aren't necessarily any healthier than teeth that have been stained off-white or slightly yellow — try an at-home whitening product sold by a reputable brand, like Crest White Strips. Alternatively, visit your dentist and have an expert do it for you in the office with professional equipment.

TikTok mole removal trends can lead to permanent skin damage

If you have moles on your skin, it's a good idea to get them checked regularly by a dermatologist. That said, moles aren't inherently bad — and you definitely shouldn't try to remove one at home. However, many TikTok users don't understand the dangers of at-home mole removal. Some people are taking videos of themselves removing their own moles by scraping or picking them off, or by administering dangerous chemicals. 

However, this can lead to huge scars, permanent skin damage, and infection. "There is no 'safe' way to remove a mole at home," Ross Perry, a doctor and the medical director of Cosmedics skin clinics in the UK, told BBC News"This needs to be done by a qualified doctor or dermatologist who is trained and knows what they are doing. Using chemicals or attempting to 'scrape' off a mole could lead to infections, bleeding, scarring and deformity of the area." No matter what kinds of mole removals you might see on TikTok, resist the urge to remove one yourself. It will almost certainly do more harm than good.

These TikTok skincare trends can lead to sun damage

Some TikTok users have some pretty misguided ideas about skincare — especially those who suggest only applying sunscreen to some parts of your face and letting other parts burn or tan. This trend is meant to create a contour effect, but it can lead to skin damage. "Using sunscreen on certain areas and missing others to create a pattern may be trendy — but the UV damage to the tanned area will invariably increase the risk of skin cancers in that site," Vishal Mandan, a dermatologist, told BBC News"Not only that, repeated exposure to UV light in these areas will make them age prematurely, so, in time, the skin will appear mottled and uneven."

"Natural masks" made with lemons or limes are another harmful TikTok skincare trend. "It is dangerous to put citrus fruits on to the skin and then go into the sun," Ifeoma Ejikeme, a dermatologist, told BBC News"It can cause inflammation of the skin expressed in burning, redness and blisters." Pretty much the opposite of what you want from a face mask, right? Instead, go for an over-the-counter mask or try a safe DIY face mask recipe that's been approved by a dermatologist.

This TikTok trend falsely claims pregnancy tests contain morning-after pills

In early 2020, many teens on TikTok were promoting a dangerous trend of misinformation, claiming that a morning-after pill can be found inside Clearblue pregnancy tests. This pill was purported to be Plan B, which is meant to protect against pregnancy after having unprotected sex (note: Plan B isn't 100 percent effective and should only be used in emergencies, not as regular birth control). 

To set the record straight, Clearblue issued a statement. "Clearblue pregnancy tests do NOT contain Plan B pills," the company wrote on its website. "All our tests have a small desiccant tablet which is included to absorb moisture and should not be eaten. If accidentally ingested we ask people to please seek medical advice and for any further questions contact our careline at 1-800-321-3279."

If you have questions about birth control or any health issues related to sexual activity, talk to your ob-gyn or primary care physician. Don't believe everything you hear about sexual health on TikTok; people making videos are often not experts, and the "tips" they recommend can be downright dangerous.

This TikTok trend will cause permanent damage to your teeth

It sounds too outlandish to be true, but some people on TikTok are promoting using nail files to shape their teeth. One woman posted a video of herself doing exactly this. "I'm going to file my teeth down with a nail file because they're not perfect," she said in the video. "I have some ridges and we're ballin' on a budget." 

Dentists quickly chimed in to remind folks that this is a terrible idea. Your teeth are covered in enamel, a structure that protects your teeth from the very acidic conditions in your mouth, dentist Kami Hoss explained to HealthWhen you file your teeth, you remove that enamel. That makes your teeth more sensitive and more prone to cavities, which means you'll end up needing to visit the dentist anyway. File them down too far, Dr. Hoss revealed, and you could even cause nerve damage, which is extremely painful. 

Occasionally, a dentist will perform an "enameloplasty" to remove small amounts of enamel from a tooth, but this is rare. If your teeth are uneven, braces may be the solution — but never a nail file.

Metabolism Drops were taken off the market after they went viral on TikTok

In March 2020, consumer brand Rae Wellness issued a statement announcing that they would discontinue their Metabolism Drops, a dietary supplement marketed to women. "Over the past several days, our Metabolism Drops were organically shared through numerous videos on the social media platform TikTok," the statement read. "We became concerned when we started to notice a conversation emerge: teenage girls misusing the product alongside conversation about weight loss, at times using more than the recommended dose. All of our products are formulated for, and marketed to, adult women 18 and older." 

The Rae Wellness statement went on to explain that there are no safety concerns with the product itself, but that "the promotion of positive body images are essential to the foundation of this brand." Clearly, the conversations happening among teens on TikTok about these supplements weren't in line with the brand's mission. And, frankly, many experts would likely agree that it's not necessarily a bad thing that there's one less diet supplement in the world. 

The toilet licking challenge on TikTok is all kinds of ridiculous

The toilet bowl licking challenge is exactly what it sounds like. TikTok users video themselves licking a toilet bowl, and then upload that video to the app. It's a silly challenge at any time — because what's the point of licking the side of a gross toilet bowl? — but the timing made this challenge especially hazardous. In March 2020, shortly after California declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19, a California-based influencer who goes by the name Larz posted a video of himself licking an airport toilet bowl, supposedly to spread "awareness" about the coronavirus. Days later, he tested positive for COVID-19 and posted another video of himself in a hospital bed (via Daily Mail). 

The trend first gained traction when TikTok user Ava Louise licked an airplane toilet, dubbing it the "coronavirus challenge." The influencer was apparently trying to troll the media and experts spreading messages about slowing the spread of the virus through hand washing and good hygiene, according to Health. Larz's diagnosis and hospitalization clearly proved those experts right.

Fasting challenges and ads on TikTok pose big risks for young women

Intermittent fasting is a popular diet trend that involves restricting your eating to certain times of the day. Experts agree that it's not a good idea for teenage girls to be trying the intense intermittent fasting regimens that are all over TikTok. Psychologist Nicole Naggar told Rolling Stone that intermittent fasting has become popular with young women who are already prone to eating disorders, particularly those with binge eating disorder or bulimia because "it makes them feel more in control." In addition to challenges, ads also became a big problem on the app.

Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), told Rolling Stone, "It's concerning for anyone to be seeing these ads constantly. But certainly it's more concerning for such ads to be targeted at anyone who is searching for content promoting restriction, when they might be at risk."

TikTok already had restrictions in place for content that promotes anorexia, but not for fasting-based diets. Finally, in September 2020, the social media platform announced the introduction of "new ad policies to combat problematic and exaggerated claims in diet and weight loss products, and placing stronger restrictions on weight loss claims and references to body image."

The 75 Hard Challenge is restrictive and unsustainable

The "75 Hard Challenge" went viral on TikTok in 2020, but experts say it's a terrible idea. The challenge, started by supplement company owner Andy Frisella (who is not a personal trainer or dietitian), has five rules that challengers follow for 75 days, according to Refinery29. The first is to follow a diet — any diet. The remaining four rules are meant to be followed daily: Drink a gallon of water, do two 45-minute workouts, read 10 pages of nonfiction, and take a photo of yourself.

Eating disorder therapist Kati Morton told Refinery29, "I'm not a fan of any diet. For my folks who already struggle with eating disorder behavior, this could be a catalyst to throw us back into it." Barbie Boules, registered dietitian nutritionist, added, "Four liters is a ludicrous amount of water. This is way too generalized and could be a dangerous amount for some people." 

Boules also told Refinery29 that two workouts a day every day could be dangerous for some people. Indeed, the American Council on Exercise says that rest days (days without exercise) are very important, and does not advise that most people work out every day.

"What I eat in a day" TikTok videos can have far-reaching consequences on some viewers

As the New York Post reporteda dangerous trend emerged on TikTok in which young women chronicle what they eat on any given day — and often it's very little. "A lot of these 'what I eat in a day' posts are, like, 900 calories, and they're making people look at it and say, 'If I eat exactly what she's eating, I'll look like her,'" registered dietitian Jenna Werner told the publication. "But they're actually going to be starving and be really hurting their health, their metabolism and their future." 

Teenage women are particularly at risk for eating disorders, and seeing others post very low-calorie diets can trigger disordered eating habits. Werner continued, saying, "You look at these posts and you see a lot of food-fearing behavior that is being transcended to younger generations and a ton of people."

One problematic TikTok trend has users believing that apple cider vinegar is a fat-burning miracle

Apple cider vinegar (aka ACV) has been part of the wellness zeitgeist for years, although there's really no evidence that drinking apple cider vinegar does anything for your health, according to Self. Of course, the apple cider vinegar trend would have you believe otherwise. Cassey Ho, fitness instructor and founder of Blogilates, wrote in a post that she had seen many TikTok videos claiming that ACV can burn fat, help with weight loss, and detox your body. "So basically, this 'challenge' has become a super scary diet trend," Ho wrote. Some videos claim that drinking ACV will cause you to lose a certain number of pounds. Alas, that's not true. 

This trend is particularly dangerous for anyone at risk for an eating disorder. Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), is concerned about these types of diet trends on TikTok. "People have been surprised when they have been seeing content promoted that is really actively talking about diet and fitness in a way that's very linked to weight loss and numbers that's been harmful for those individuals," Mysko told NBC News. 

This TikTok filter is yet another trend that idealizes thinness

Arguably the last thing the world needs is more messaging that promotes thinness at all costs, but that's what's happening on TikTok. A TikTok effect released in some African countries — and apparently accidentally in the U.K., according to the social media platform — creates a filter that fills out the cheeks, BuzzFeed News reported. It quickly inspired a trend that had users taking videos with the filter on, then turning it off and acting relieved by their unfiltered face. Although the effect has since been removed (at least from the U.K.), many of these videos still remain on TikTok.

The trend is inherently fat-shaming, as it implies that being at a higher weight and/or having a rounder face is bad. "I hate this trend so much," wrote 20-year-old Moira Bryson, a TikTok user in response to the trend (via Buzzfeed News). "Why are you so afraid to have a face like mine?"

"Sometimes we forget that making fun of yourself sometimes means you're making fun of others' features, even if you don't mean it," Bryson later told the publication. "It hurts to see your features being made fun of."