- TikTok has emerged as a top entertainment platform for wellness trends.
- While some trends are funny and helpful, the app is also home to risky challenges.
- If you want to avoid bad experiences with viral trends, don't assume all are safe – always ask a medical professional before trying them.
There's plenty to love on TikTok. If you're an avid user of the entertainment app, you know that there's a top TikTok trend heating up your feed every other week. Earlier this year, research revealed that nearly 30% of UK adults had tried a wellness or fitness trend after seeing it on social media. At the same time, a new Pew Research Center survey found that the percentage of US adults getting news from TikTok regularly was growing.
While TikTok may be awash with health, fitness and food advice, and you may find joy in trying these trends, you should always research whether the trends are safe and backed by science or medical research.
Here, we unmask seven viral trends that experts have urged people to avoid.
Hydrogen peroxide for ear wax removal
In August, the ear wax removal technique became TikTok's newest trend. Ayisha Friedman-Negrín demonstrated what she said was "how to properly clean [your] ears." The trend involved laying your head down on a towel-covered surface and filling your ear canal with hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic, allowing it to "bubble".
"It basically is just separating all the earwax, and then I'm going to flip, and it's all going to come out," she said in her video, which racked up 2.7 million likes and was shared more than 47 000 times.
But experts were quick to point out the harmful effects of peroxide when not diluted. Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Anh Nguyen-Huynh, from the Cleveland Clinic, said that peroxide could help break up earwax, but in its pure form, it can irritate your ear canal.
Ear, nose and throat specialist professor Charles Myataza this year told Drum magazine that ears are self-cleaning organs and that "ear wax is not dirty. Ears are supposed to secrete wax." Nguyen-Huynh warned not to put concentrated hydrogen peroxide in your ears, but that over-the-counter ear cleaning drops were OK now and then.
The butter board trend was first popularised by food blogger Justine Doiron in September this year. The trend involved softened butter on a cutting board, topped with an assortment of sweet or savoury edibles, News24 recently reported.
Dr Zanephyn Keyser, a lecturer in the department of food science and technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, told News24 that cross-contamination might occur: "With butter boards, we have people sharing food, handling food and breathing on it for hours - this activity increases the risk of microorganism (MO) exchange. Our mouths harbour a range of MOs and are now spread between all individuals," he said.
Vabbing to attract men
In August, a South African doctor told News24 that "vabbing" (a portmanteau of vagina and dabbing) had "no conclusive evidence" to suggest that it was effective. The trend involved women using their vaginal secretions as a perfume to attract men.
Proponents claimed that the natural scent increases the chances of attracting potential partners by spreading pheromones - chemicals secreted outside the body, such as discharge, urine and sweat.
Dr Simone Zoepke, a Durban-based GP at Femina Health, said that vaginal secretions could also be carriers for diseases such as HIV, syphilis, herpes and gonorrhoea.
"By applying it to areas of the body, one increases the possibility of transmitting diseases to other people, especially through oral contact with these areas through kissing," she said.
Dry scooping before workouts
In February this year, "dry scooping" started trending, where people were encouraged to take pre-workout powders without water. Healthline reported that the practice was "very dangerous and may result in some potentially serious health effects, including … lung irritation or infection, and digestive issues." The trend was strongly discouraged by healthcare professionals.
Experts at the Cleveland Clinic also pointed to studies showing 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 as the package instructs," they advised.
Salt water flush
The latest TikTok trend to dominate feeds is the "salt water flush", wherein proponents are encouraging people to drink salt water to "clean and flush" the "sludge" out of their guts or to achieve short-term weight loss.
But health professionals and commenters alike are finding the advice hard to stomach. Reporting by Business Insider highlights experts warning that the cleanse is unnecessary and potentially dangerous, especially for people with health conditions.
Dietitian and YouTuber Abbey Sharp, whose TikTok content centres around "wellness culture BS busting", told viewers the trend was "literally napalm for your bowels" and "very dangerous for the masses."
She added: "The 'sludge' ... is actually straight-up stool and water. If you're struggling with constipation or poor elimination, it absolutely will clear you out; this is literally being used as an alternative to colonoscopy prep."
This viral trend was one that was hard to watch. In March, TikTokers started dragging ("fishing") the mucus out of their eyes by using a finger or cotton swab.
"The more you do this, the more mucus your body will create, so it's best to stop doing it," Anthony Youn, a plastic surgeon based in Detroit, said on TikTok. Ophthalmologist at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr Rony Sayegh, also said the practice could be a health concern and urged people to avoid mucus fishing as it could lead to eye irritation.
In September, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned people against cooking chicken in NyQuil, a cold and flu medicine, noting that it was "silly and unappetising" but, more importantly, could be very harmful and even lead to death, News24 reported.
This followed the "sleepy chicken" TikTok challenge, where users were allegedly encouraged to cook chicken in NyQuil (paracetamol, dextromethorphan and doxylamine) or a similar over-the-counter cold and flu medication, presumably to eat, noted the FDA.
"Boiling a medication can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways," said the FDA, adding: "Someone could take a dangerously high amount of the cough and cold medicine without even realising it." The warning was part of a broader FDA update about social media challenges. In 2018, there were confirmed reports about people eating laundry detergent packets, which was also spurred on by a "challenge".