Instagram has taken brands from indie to superstar status, catapulting many into million-dollar companies, but the platform also touts products that could do more damage than good. One popular trend you'll see on the 'gram is the rise of charcoal toothpaste. Photos and videos often depict people brushing their teeth, their grins covered in a black paste. It's equal parts disgusting and mesmerizing: they rinse, spit, and reveal brighter, whiter teeth.
But do your teeth look brighter because they have just been covered in a black paste? Have the influencers you've seen promoting this product recently gotten professional teeth whitening? We consulted several cosmetic dentists to ask how effective charcoal really is for teeth whitening and whether it can actually be harmful in the long run.
The good news is that a majority of experts said charcoal is safe to use; however, they do have concerns about consistent usage. Victoria Veytsman, DDS, who treats clients like Hailey Baldwin, says she's not 100 percent on board with charcoal toothpastes. "Maybe it's great for a face mask," she said. "Maybe it does pull out the toxins, but with your teeth, it's a little different because you can cause little micro scratches. Where you do want to exfoliate your skin, you don't want to exfoliate your teeth. Your skin regenerates. Your teeth do not."
Another reason to skip it? "Brushing your teeth with anything dark just doesn't make sense, because your teeth are porous — they'll just absorb color," Veytsman said.
While Veytsman has concerns about the abrasiveness of charcoal, celebrity dentist Dr. Jon Marashi sees it as a benefit. "Activated charcoal is a fun and effective, natural way to safely whiten teeth and helps to prevent cavities and gingivitis when it's properly formulated in toothpastes. They provide a mild abrasion to brighten teeth by lifting surface stains. They also remove the bacteria that forms plaque, which causes tooth decay, unwanted staining, and gum disease," he said.
Dr. Michael Apa, DDS, founder of Apa Rosenthal Group and Apa Beauty, mimics Marashi's thoughts. "Charcoal-infused oral care products can be safe to use and are effective at removing stains. The activated charcoal works as an absorbent, which in turn 'pulls' stains out of teeth and gives them a whiter appearance," he said, although he does have a disclaimer about using those toothpastes daily. "It's important to remember charcoal is not a substitute for fluoride or effective daily toothpaste that nourishes the teeth and makes them stronger over time," Apa said.
Charcoal toothpastes tout that they are made with natural ingredients and often exclude fluoride, an ingredient that helps with plaque. For instance, HiSmile, a popular Australian-based oral care brand on Instagram that touts over 1.1 million followers and celebrity endorsements from the Kardashians and Victoria's Secret Angel Romee Strijd, states on its website that it "utilises Sodium Bicarbonate, Xylitol and Propolis alongside natural ingredients like Aloe Vera and Calcium Carbonate to kill or dislodge the buildup of plaque in your teeth that causes staining and bad breath" instead of fluoride.
A representative for HiSmile said the brand understands the abrasive nature of charcoal. "Activated charcoal has an abrasive texture that could wear down enamel on the tooth if not used correctly," she said. "With this in mind, our Night Toothpaste contains only a small percentage of activated charcoal so no enamel can be harmed. We pair the activated charcoal in our formula with both bentonite clay and calcium that helps to remineralise and strengthen the enamel on teeth."
That said, Apa suggests alternating your charcoal toothpaste every other day with a noncharcoal option that includes fluoride and states that most of these whitening products tend to include hydrogen peroxide. Dr. Kevin Sands, DDS, suggests looking for silica as an ingredient in these toothpastes and to proceed with caution, although he mentions they're generally safe to use and supports the use of them as well as charcoal-infused-bristle toothbrushes.
"Charcoal-coated bristles increase the surface area of each bristle, which helps to remove impurities from the enamel," Sands said.
Bottom line? Charcoal is abrasive but typically safe enough to use on the teeth to help remove surface stains and whiten. But if you care about your overall oral health, make sure you're alternating your charcoal products with a product that includes fluoride.