At least twice per month, Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor debunks a social media trend that poses a threat to people’s health. This week, we have borax.
The granular substance is present in laundry detergent and is also sold as a standalone cleaning product. Boric acid, a different formulation of the same element, boron, is also utilized to eliminate insects and cockroaches.
Some TikTok users have falsely claimed that adding a pinch of borax to their water could reduce inflammation and help with joint pain, or that soaking in borax in the bathtub could “detoxify” the body.
Borax has been banned from U.S. food products. Several TikTok influencers with tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of followers recommended borax in videos that have since been removed.
Johnson-Arbor, a toxicology physician and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center, routinely writes corrective articles about hazardous health fads for the center’s website.
She stated that ingesting Borax may cause gastrointestinal irritation and result in blue-green vomit or diarrhea. She stated that over time it can cause anemia and seizures and that soaking in borax can cause rashes that make the skin appear as brilliant pink as a boiled lobster and cause it to flake off.
Johnson-Arbor stated that there is no evidence to support the use of borax in humans for inflammation, mitigation of oxidative stress, or anything similar.
As health misinformation continues to spread on TikTok, a growing number of medical professionals feel compelled to warn users about the hazards of so-called hacks and alternatives, both on and off the platform.
Last month, Johnson-Arbor said she published an article warning about berberine, a dietary supplement for weight loss that some on TikTok referred to as “nature’s Ozempic,” but which is known to cause gastrointestinal issues.
Similarly, some social media hype about the weight-gain supplement Apetamin has suggested that it can make individuals “slim-thick,” i.e., with a thin waist and a large posterior. However, it contains an antihistamine, and the Food and Drug Administration has warned that illegally imported amphetamine can cause vertigo, drowsiness, an irregular pulse, and liver damage.
The trend of inhaling fragrant salts, popularized on TikTok by a company called Nose Slap, can be poisonous if done incorrectly or for extended periods of time, as can the PRIME energy drink, whose caffeine content is roughly equivalent to six cans of Coca-Cola.
On Friday, a TikTok spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In its community guidelines, the platform provides guidance on combating misrepresentation, which it claims is enforced by “a combination of technology and moderation teams.”
“If fact-checkers determine content to be false and we deem it to be in violation of our policies, we may remove the video from our platform or make it ineligible for recommendation into For You feeds,” TikTok states in its policies.
It makes sense, according to Wendy Stephan, an epidemiologist at the Florida Poison Information Center, that people are attracted to these types of health fads. According to her, prescription medications can be expensive or in limited supply, and people can’t always get same-day doctor’s appointments, so many seek out quick, easy solutions.
On TikTok in particular, creators’ advice sounds plausible and is presented with entertaining visuals, according to Stephan.
“I can see how people would find it appealing when a person who seems very personable and trustworthy says, ‘This worked for me, and it’s great.”
She emphasized, however, that the creators of fake health videos “are also making money from these posts—tthey receive a lot of views.”
And erroneous health information can be extremely hazardous, Stephan continued.
“There have been fatalities linked to borax. It is extremely unlikely, but it is possible. “This is not a harmless substance,” she declared.
Some social media trends, according to Johnson-Arbor, originate from a misunderstanding of scientific research. In the case of borax, some TikTok creators referenced a researcher’s assertion that boron is “an essential nutrient for healthy bones and joints.”
Johnson-Arbor stated that health misinformation on social media frequently focuses on the same few themes.
In addition to losing weight and enhancing their appearance, “everyone desires better sleep,” she stated. “Everyone desires an extended lifespan. Everyone desires a reduction in inflammation.”
To combat misinformation, poison centers frequently create their own social media posts, according to Stephan, but “we don’t have the traction that a lot of these influencers do.”
Nor do the majority of physicians, who lack the time and resources to combat hazardous viral trends.
Nonetheless, a few have taken the initiative to speak out.
Dr. Meghan Martin, a pediatric emergency medicine physician and health educator on TikTok, stated that she strives to use straightforward, jargon-free language in her videos, warning users against misinformed trends.
“I also believe it is essential to avoid attacking others. She stated, “I want to be level-headed, even-keeled, and authentically nonjudgmental when addressing matters.”
Carlo Ledesma, a medical laboratory professional who occasionally shares his knowledge on TikTok, reported seeing videos of individuals drinking borax for the first time this year.
In April, he captioned a TikTok with “Just please do not consume this!”
He believed that warning about the potential side effects of borax was a necessary public service.
“Children are using this application. There are parents watching who are not medical professionals,” Ledesma said, adding: “As medical professionals, we swore an oath to safeguard the greater good.”