Forget the ‘Google or Bing’ debate when it comes to online search engine preferences. In 2022, TikTok has officially become the go-to platform where internet users seek advice on almost everything under the sun. Looking to cure your awful cold? Just defrost some chicken and marinate it in cough syrup. Want to prevent soreness after a vaccination instead? Windmill your arms in the parking lot of the hospital and you should be good to go!
Now, the so-called health and wellness ‘trends’ that I’ve mentioned above are bound to make those who are hearing it for the first time a little sceptical. Rightly so. Heck, the videos would still fail to convince you even if you’re halfway down the rabbithole. That being said, however, there are some health practices that have become a mainstay on TikTok—convincing users of their ‘miracle’ benefits every time they resurface on the platform. And one of the top contenders in this category is none other than ‘nose breathing’. More specifically, nose breathing by taping your mouth shut at night: Don’t Breathe style.
With 15 million views and counting, TikTok’s #nosebreathing is all about blocking the air passage through your mouth with bits of tape before bedtime—ultimately forcing you to breathe through your nose when you’re asleep. While some TikTokers are seen repurposing commercial-grade duct tape, others recommend using small strips of porous medical tape to avoid looking like a sleeping hostage.
“Mouth taping. Try it,” a user enthused, holding a skin-grade binding apparatus designed specifically for the practice. “Sleep with it… You’re going to start getting the deepest sleep you’ll ever experience.”
So how deep of a sleep are we talking about here? And why is mouth taping all the rage on TikTok again after it debuted on the platform and instantly vanished for good back in 2021? Well, according to users, mouth taping essentially helps reduce dry mouth, improve your oral health by curbing teeth grinding, cavities and gum recession, slow your breathing process and humidify the air (leading to better oxygen consumption), produce nitric oxide (which helps your body fight infections), as well as reduce your overall stress and anxiety—all the while promoting better sleep and ultimately stopping your bouts with snoring.
Now that’s a pretty long list of supposed benefits we’re talking about. At the same time, however, it should also be noted that all of these are the results of nose breathing in general, without the need to tape your mouth shut and “aid” the process. In fact, several professional experts claim the ‘miracle’ practice not only makes you look goofy but may actually do more harm than good. What a shocker, indeed.
For starters, let’s trace back to the root cause behind the popularity of mouth taping. Some of the major reasons for mouth breathing include nasal blockages, a deviated septum and sleep apnea—a sleep disorder where people have trouble breathing at night.
Now, respiring through your mouth isn’t exactly bad. However, it’s neither the healthiest nor the most effective way to breathe. It can also have some serious and long-term side effects, including low oxygen concentration in your blood—in turn contributing to health concerns like high blood pressure and heart problems. According to CNET, mouth breathing can further result in wear and fractures as well as caries and impacted teeth. Mouth breathers also have higher levels of gingivitis and halitosis.
Then comes the ‘habit’ aspect of the entire practice. Chances are that you’re not choosing to breathe through your mouth—and this is exactly what paves the way to the demand for retaining and retraining your nasal passage. Hence, the viral popularity of mouth taping. But as per Doctor Aarti Grover, medical director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Tufts Medical Center, covering your mouth won’t help solve the root issue and could make it even more difficult to breathe.
“Imagine you have an obstruction in your nasal cavity either from allergies or you’re congested and on top of that you tape your mouth, it could be problematic because you’re not getting enough air in from your nasal or your oral cavity,” Grover told USA Today, adding how it could ultimately result in a person not getting enough oxygen at night.
At the same time, the expert also noted the profound absence of data and studies on mouth taping. While a 2015 pilot study found that oral patches can help people with sleep apnea, it only included 30 participants—a sample size too small to draw significant conclusions. Another study in 2009 found that mouth taping isn’t effective for people with asthma. And that’s pretty much all the jury on the viral practice as of today.
Meanwhile, Doctor Kathryn Boling, a primary care expert at Mercy Medical Center in Maryland, explained that mouth taping is a terrible idea—harbouring other potential risk factors even for those who don’t have sleep-related conditions. “There are a lot of TikTok [trends] I see where I am like, ‘Goodness gracious, where do these things come from?’,” Boling admitted.
Most of the videos housed under #mouthtaping feature science journalist James Nestor’s 2020 book Breath: the New Science of a Lost Art. “[The book] completely changed my perspective about mouth taping and breathing through your nose,” a user commented, before reiterating the process and its alleged benefits. However, Dr. Chris Seton, Paediatric and Adolescent Sleep Physician with the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, doesn’t recommend the practice for both children and adults—although there are over-the-counter mouth taping products available in the market.
“If someone has a blocked nose, taping their mouth can lower their oxygen levels even more so they wake up more often,” the expert told The Sydney Morning Herald.
A quick scroll through the comments section of mouth taping tutorials on TikTok would plop you into unstable waters—manifested alongside remarks like, “This would just make me feel claustrophobic” and “The way my nose is set up I might sleep forever.”
So if you’re someone who stumbled across the trend on the platform but preferred staying in the comment section with all the justified uncertainty, here are three alternative tips to reap the same benefits of the practice—minus the residue stickiness of the tape and all of the risks that come along with it.
The first and foremost hack to reduce snoring and mouth breathing is to switch your sleeping position. On these terms, CNET noted how sleeping on your side is your best bet. “It’s actually pretty easy to train yourself to sleep on your side. Just use a few well-placed pillows to keep you from rolling over. You can use specialised pillows like lumbar or multiposition pillows, but that’s not essential,” the publication added.
Another tip is to take your 24-hour allergy medication at night, so it’s up and circulating in your bloodstream to bring you relief when you wake up. “Short-acting allergy medication is the most effective shortly after you take it. If you generally have trouble sleeping at night because of your allergy symptoms, try taking your short-acting allergy medication before you go to sleep,” CNET continued.
This is pretty much self-explanatory. For decades, doctors and sleep psychologists alike have highlighted how screen time is the enemy of sleep. The blue light emitted by electronic screens might impede production of the sleep hormone melatonin, while exciting content might arouse you rather than lull you to bed. Creating a nighttime routine free of digital devices has proven to result in better sleep that doesn’t leave you tired the next morning.
Think of it this way, if you’d put on some music or taken a bubble bath half an hour before your bedtime, you wouldn’t have stumbled across ‘Mouth TapingTok’ in the first place.
It has been proved that viral TikTok trends, especially when it comes to wellness and beauty, are bringing in big business for doctors. They’d kindly like it to stop. Because I’m also prone to my moments of online gullibility—I keep on meaning to try pesto eggs or cloud bread, along with a cup of lettuce water for a good’s night sleep, I just never find the time—I’ve made it my mission to help you pick the right trends to try at home. I’ve scoured the internet in search of the most viral ones, but I didn’t stop there. I made sure to get the opinion of real professionals (doctors, dermatologists, and beauty experts) before giving the green light to any of the following ‘tips and tricks’.
“I always know when something is trending on TikTok because I’ll have an influx of patients coming in and asking me about the same thing,” said Doctor Niket Sonpal, a gastroenterologist in New York, when speaking to The New York Times. Nine times out of ten, that “thing” is a beauty or wellness tip that’s gone viral on the app, without any evidence that it actually works or that it won’t harm you in the process. On the contrary, the advice given by some users may be outright dangerous, from drinking chlorophyll to lose weight to using sunscreen only in select areas of your face for a ‘natural’ contouring.
Even if their advice is not grounded in science, many content creators dare to share that kind of information if it means going viral on the video-sharing app. And what’s worse—it often works. Many users throw reason and caution to the wind when faced with these trends, underscoring a growing subversion of authority in which an influencer’s word is replacing that of experts.
Slugging is defined online as a Korean beauty skincare trend that includes coating your face in petroleum or Vaseline. “This prevents transepidermal water loss and keeps moisture in your skin. It’s best for dry skin types,” reads an article in the beauty-focused publication Byrdie.
The hashtag #slugging has just over 15 million views on the platform, and the trend has been promoted by influencers like Hyram Yarbro and Cait Kiernan. Yet dermatologists warn that it can have adverse effects on your skin.
“Putting an occlusive on your skin and letting it sit overnight sets you up for exacerbating clogged pores and breakouts,” Doctor Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in New York, explained to The New York Times.
Introduced on the app as “suntan contouring,” this trend encourages users to apply an initial layer of SPF 30 to their entire face and then layer a thicker SPF 90 only to its high points. The results, some TikTokers claim, make your face look “naturally snatched”—a term usually reserved for a sharp contour and healthy amount of highlighter.
What this ‘hack’ seems to completely ignore is the necessary (and dermatologist recommended) skincare practice we all know to be essential: protection from the sun. By adding the right amount of sunscreen only on high points like the top of the cheekbones and bridge of the nose, the rest of the face of many trend-followers is left to burn, not tan.
“What skin do you choose to age faster, expose to radiation more, and sacrifice to skin cancer? Do you want your cheeks to be more wrinkly? Or would you rather your jawline be saggier?” asked Doctor Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist, in another Byrdie article.
While this trend falls on the more harmless side of what fake hacks have to offer, it’s important to tell it like it is: drinking chlorophyll simply doesn’t work and is nothing more than a waste of your time and money. If people are seeing ‘results’ from drinking chlorophyll, it’s likely because they’re drinking more water than normal, so their skin is getting better and their bathroom trips are more regular. Other than that, not much to praise here.
Just as I was double-checking what I just stated above, Healthline confirmed what I initially thought, “Larger, more rigorous studies are needed to evaluate the potential health benefits of chlorophyll.” Until then, don’t waste your money and remember to drink (normal) water regularly.
Microneedling involves puncturing the skin with tiny needles in an effort to generate new collagen (usually on the face). On TikTok, conversation around at-home microneedling grew in 2020 and is already experiencing five times more engagement in 2021, according to Traackr as reported by The New York Times, but experts say it’s incredibly risky to do at home.
While some studies have shown that medical-grade microneedling can improve skin suppleness and lessen wrinkles, “it needs to be done in a really clean, safe setting,” Doctor Engelman said, pointing to the high risk of infection. “If you go hard enough on your skin, it can lead to colour change, textural change and scarring, essentially worsening what you’re trying to make look better, like fine lines and acne scars.”
Models like Aleece Wilson—who’s literally called @oddfreckles on Instagram—and Adwoa Aboah have been made famous by the perfect archipelago of the little brown specks across their faces. And fair enough, freckles can look amazing, even when fake. That being said, if you’ve been seduced by one of TikTok’s faux freckles trends, you’ve probably unknowingly played a good old game of Russian roulette with your face. Let me explain.
As freckles became very much in last year, TikTokers came up with a few different ways to get the look. Most of them were perfectly safe and usually resulted in a soft and natural look. All you had to do was to flick some henna at your face or draw teeny tiny dots on it using nothing more than an eyebrow pencil. So far so good.
Then appeared another fake freckles trend, one that I fully prohibit you from trying, which involves using a sewing needle and some ink to essentially tattoo freckles on your face. The needle is used to dot the ink onto the desired area of the skin.
The hack recently made headlines after Australian reality TV star Tilly Whitfeld ended up being hospitalised because of it. The celebrity posted a photo of her scarred face on Instagram, and wrote in the caption: “For those asking why I have my blue clay face mask on continuously throughout the show this is what my face looked like a week prior to entering the house hence why I always have makeup on and my skin is always covered. This is the result of attempting to remove scarring I inflicted on myself trying to replicate an at home beauty procedure I saw on a tik tok video 2 months before big brother… who bloody else would manage to do such a thing.”
According to HITC, Whitfeld used brown tattoo ink that she’d purchased off eBay to achieve the look. It turns out the ink she bought was counterfeit and had high levels of lead in it, which resulted in the nasty allergic reaction and infection on her face. Nope, thank you very much.
Stories like Whitfeld’s have doctors hoping that the companies running these platforms will place disclaimers on beauty content stating that it’s unverified or dangerous to try at home, but they’re not holding their breath. In the meantime, make sure you reach out to a real doctor before putting your faith in a TikTok video with millions of likes. Sounds almost counternatural, I know.