Why Are People Drinking Borax? Experts Warn Against Trying Dangerous TikTok Trend
Jun 03, 2023
Lauren A. Little/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images
Fact checked by Sarah Scott
A new trend has surfaced on TikTok, with some creators ingesting or bathing in borax and water.
Despite users' claims, there are no health benefits to ingesting or bathing in borax—instead, the practice can be quite dangerous and potentially deadly.
People should not automatically accept claims on TikTok as facts, and should be cautious before trying a new viral trend.
Lauren A. Little/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images
A new, potentially dangerous trend has surfaced on TikTok, with some viral creators ingesting or bathing in mixtures of borax and water—all for supposed "health benefits."
Though most of the videos showing people consuming borax in earnest have been taken down from the platform, quite a few exist of creators explaining why the trend is a bad idea, including one from TikTok user Chem Thug, whose video includes snippets of people who have "hopped on the borax train."
"Y'all need to get off this train," Chem Thug, who is a PhD candidate in synthetic organic chemistry, told his followers, while pleading with viewers not to eat anything that comes out of a laundry box. "This is patently dangerous."
Experts outside of TikTok are also warning people to avoid the trend at all costs.
"Everybody is looking to feel better, so I understand why it's tempting to try something," said Emily Cohen, MD, an emergency medical physician and medical toxicologist at NYU Langone Health. "But something that's objectively unsafe—like borax—won't work for anybody."
But certain questions remain, including: Why would people think a product like borax might infer health benefits? And what does ingesting borax to do the human body? Here's what to know.
Borax—also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate—is a white powdery substance that's used as a household cleaner or laundry detergent booster. The mineral itself is made up of sodium, oxygen, and boron.
Although borax is commonly confused with boric acid, the two aren't the same.
“Both borax and boric acid are readily available and are easy to confuse with one another," K. Ashley Garling, PharmD, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy, told Health. "Boric acid is used as a pesticide while borax is more in household products.”
Boric acid is created when a hydrogen or other acid is added to borax, making the new compound hydrogen borate, or boric acid. The compound is used as an insecticide—it kills bugs by disrupting their stomachs and nervous systems.
Both substances—borax or boric acid—are not intended for human consumption.
Related: Does TikTok's BORG Trend Really Promote Harm-Reduction—Or Is It Just Binge Drinking?
It's not entirely clear why people are ingesting borax, or which benefits they expect to experience in doing so.
In some now-deleted TikTok videos, one user suggested that soaking in a bathtub of borax mixed with water relieved body aches and pains. Another used the hashtags "#jointpainrelief" and "#painrelief" in a video about ingesting borax. Still, another connected the compound to relieving inflammation, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
Some TikTok creators who are working to debunk the borax trend are also suggesting that people may be conflating borax with boron, which is a trace element found in many foods. TikTok users have suggested that it could be a boron deficiency which is making people claim to "feel better" after ingesting borax.
But none of those claims about any health benefits of borax are accurate. First and potentially most important: Borax, the chemical compound—the stuff bought in the laundry aisle—is not intended to be consumed by humans, and there's a lack of evidence on borax and human health because of that.
Things get a little murkier when it comes to boron, the chemical element. Boron can be found in a variety of food sources—the main sources of boron in the U.S. diet are coffee, milk, apples, dried and cooked beans, and potatoes.
But boron is not considered an essential nutrient in the human diet, and the research is still out on whether it has a clear biological function (like how calcium is associated with healthy bones and teeth, or how iron is essential to blood production). There is no recommended dietary allowance (RDA), adequate intake (IA), or daily value (DV) for boron.
It's possible too that people are also confusing borax for boric acid. Currently, boric acid can be used to treat some vaginal yeast infections, due to its bacteriostatic properties, or its ability to make bacteria stop growing, said Emily Cohen, MD, an emergency medical physician and medical toxicologist at NYU Langone Health. But even then, boric acid is not meant to be ingested—it’s applied inside the vagina.
According to Cohen, ingesting Borax is at best unhelpful, and at worst quite dangerous.
Borax is toxic to humans and can have reproductive and developmental consequences, as well as effects on the nervous system and on kidney function. If it comes into contact with the skin or is inhaled it can cause irritation, and the most common symptoms of ingesting borax include: nausea, persistent vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, erythematous and exfoliative rash, unconsciousness, depression, and renal failure.
Ingesting boric acid is quite dangerous as well. “It should never be ingested,” Cohen told Health. “The most common clinical effects if somebody ingests boric acid are mostly gastrointestinal effects like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. And the vomit and diarrhea can actually be green-blue in color, which is alarming for people.”
There's also the issue of ingesting something not made for human consumption. In his now-viral TikTok video, user Chem Thug explains that facilities that don't make things for humans to consume don't have the same controls in place as facilities that do.
"What this ultimately means," he said, "is that not only is that final product may be contaminated with all sorts of other things, but they also don't have to say that on the list of ingredients because it's not really meant for human consumption."
Related: Cold Plunging Is All Over TikTok—But Is It Safe?
It's understandable that people want to feel their best, and will often try untested "home remedies" to cure what ails them—but it's important to remember that many people on TikTok aren't medical professionals.
If you have joint pain or believe they are dealing with other conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia, the first thing to do is consult with a healthcare professional to get an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment options.
“Inflammation, joint pain, arthritis all have evidence based, long standing, therapy and treatment," Garling said. "For short-term and minor discomfort talk to your pharmacist about something safe and over-the-counter. For long-term or severe discomfort see a doctor to ensure something more serious is not going on.”
And though it's unlikely, if someone believes they may not be getting enough boron on their diet, there are a number of safe dietary adjustments to make, including adding more legumes, fruits, or tubers to their diets—all of which are rich in boron. In particular, prune juice, avocado, raisins, and peaches have particularly high concentrations of boron and are still part of a healthy diet.
Finally, if someone has been ingesting borax or boric acid and they’re worried about negative gastrointestinal or other effects, they should get in touch with a poison control expert, said Cohen. The Poison Control hotline at 1-800-222-1222 is available 24/7, and people can call for free advice and support.
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Read the original article on Health.Fact checked by Sarah Scott