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These are the whitening strips, gels, LED light kits and more that actually work. derma roller
The focal point of a beautiful, confident smile? Sparkling white teeth, of course. And the benefits go even further: Having bright-white teeth can make you look up to five years younger, according to Karen Asp, author of Anti-Aging Hacks: 200+ Ways to Feel-and Look-Younger. But even with the aid of great dental products like water flossers, the best electric toothbrushes and natural toothpaste, daily wear-and-tear to your pearly whites can lead to stubborn surface stains over the years. Luckily, there are at-home teeth whiteners that effectively help erase stains and brighten teeth.
At-home teeth whitening kits are a more accessible alternative to professional whitening treatments, which can deliver instant and more dramatic results but at a higher price. DIY teeth whiteners can include whitening strips, trays, gels, pens, toothpastes, mouthwashes and LED lights as accelerators, which can provide noticeable effects both immediately and with use over time. "They use various chemical or abrasive agents to lighten or remove stains on your teeth to make them appear whiter," explains Marina Gonchar, DMD, orthodontist and owner of Skin to Smile in Morristown, New Jersey.
To find the best over-the-counter teeth whitening products that really work and rival professional treatments, Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab scientists rigorously evaluate them on consumer testers for factors such as ease of use, sensitivity and lightening of tooth color. Ahead, GH Beauty, Health & Sustainability Lab and dental experts share everything you need to know about the top at-home teeth whitening kits and treatments that are worth it, including options for sensitive teeth.
True to its claim of professional-level whitening, these Crest Whitestrips are the GH Beauty Lab's gold standard for smile brightening. Lab evaluations found that after 20 days of daily use, they lightened teeth a noticeable two to four shades. The strips simply stick on teeth and can be worn during daily activities for convenience. (Note that they must applied for 45 minutes to achieve best results and some reviewers experienced discomfort during use.)
They are touted by dental professionals, too: "These strips are the most effective at-home teeth whitening product," says Michael J. Wei, DDS, FIADFE, a cosmetic dentist in New York City. "They are designed to remove tough stains from coffee, tea and smoking, and they’re easy to use, since they don’t require any special trays or gels." Ellen Katz, DDS, Co-Founder of Maison BE Dental Studio in New York City, also recommends this kit and Dr. Gonchar calls it "one of my personal favorite over-the-counter whitening products."
Get noticeably whiter teeth at a bargain price by just brushing with Colgate’s groundbreaking whitening toothpaste, a GH Beauty Award winner, which contains high levels of the bleaching active hydrogen peroxide. Data shows that this formula, with 3% hydrogen peroxide, can remove up to 10 years of yellow stains on teeth in four weeks of twice-daily use, GH Beauty Lab analysis confirmed.
Though it may take longer to see results than stronger treatments, GH's Beauty Director found that it doesn't cause any sensitivity and her teeth are noticeably whiter when using this versus other toothpastes. GH Beauty Assistant Catharine Malzahn is a fan of the Colgate Optic White Pro Series Whitening Toothpaste, which contains an even higher level of hydrogen peroxide (5%): "This toothpaste works just as well as the whitening strips I’ve tried, without any irritation at all," she says. "It visibly whitened my teeth after just a couple weeks of brushing morning and night."
An easy-to-use Crest teeth whitening gel with a spatula applicator, this delivers real lightening effects in a single day, no rinsing necessary. (Some users commented that it didn't adhere to their teeth well, however.) "It painlessly whitened my sensitive teeth about two shades over one day — the difference is noticeable," marveled GH Beauty Lab Senior Chemist Sabina Wizemann. "It stayed put, and after a minute or two, I didn’t even feel it on."
No pesky cords attached to this innovative Snow LED teeth whitening kit, which has a wireless LED mouthpiece to use with the included hydrogen peroxide gel. In GH Beauty Lab testing, it received a perfect score for not sensitizing teeth or gums, was easy to use and brightened teeth by one shade after one week of use for the recommended nine minutes per day.
Though one tester found the LED device uncomfortable in the beginning, another liked the "durable" silicone mouthpiece and that she could "walk around and do things while using it." It earned raves for being painless: "This is the easiest and most painless whitening kit I've used," a fan said.
Brush with this Crest whitening toothpaste to keep teeth stains at bay and teeth vibrant, sans strong bleaching ingredients that can cause discomfort. "I cannot live without this product, my hands-down favorite toothpaste — it not only leaves my teeth feeling clean, but also keeps them looking sparkling white," GH Beauty Lab Senior Chemist Danusia Wnek raves. "It has a really nice minty taste that lasts quite a while too." A drawback: because it's made without an active whitening ingredient, it may not provide as strong teeth lightening effects.
Gentle on teeth and on the palette, Snow's refreshing teeth whitening strips dissolve in the mouth after about 15 minutes for no-fuss brightening. In GH Beauty Lab testing, users agreed they were easy to use, didn't sensitize teeth or gums and felt refreshing, although one complained about the "sticky consistency" as they dissolved.
"Other whiteners I've used tasted really bad, but this minty flavor was great," a tester commented. Another reported that it was "super convenient and less harsh than others, but still whitened my teeth."
The GH Beauty Lab top-tested and dentist-recommended Crest 3D Whitestrips also comes in a version specifically created with a more balanced level of active ingredients for those with teeth prone to sensitivity. "This formulation for sensitive teeth has gotten excellent feedback," Dr. Gonchar says, and the strips have the same strong adhesive technology that helps them stick to teeth without slipping. One drawback: These, like the original Whitestrips, have to be worn for 45 minutes at a time for best results.
Whiten your teeth while you sleep with Colgate's time-saving pen that contains 3% lightening hydrogen peroxide. "I used this three or four nights in a row and saw my teeth go from yellow to a nice, bright white," an Amazon reviewer reported. Though it's unlikely to cause tooth pain, the gel may harden on the applicator brush or your teeth.
A GH Beauty Award-winner, this Go Smile kit features a LED blue light toothbrush that's used with an included hydrogen peroxide gel for enhanced teeth whitening results, no extra steps in your routine needed. Just combine equal parts toothpaste and peroxide on the brush head, turn on the brush and scrub for two minutes.
GH Beauty Lab testing found that when used twice daily, the kit whitened the teeth of 90% of testers in just two days. "I actually saw results," a tester marveled. Although it's a splurge, GH's Beauty Director used this for years and loved that it saved time, giving you clean teeth, fresh breath and an effective whitening treatment in one. The system also didn't cause any irritation.
Moon's innovative minty teeth whitening strips with hydrogen peroxide are self-dissolving after about 15 minutes on teeth, so you can stick them on and forget about them. Dr. Katz also recommends these strips, as they are "easy to use and can provide noticeable results over time." GH's Beauty Director didn't experience any sensitivity when using these, although they did produce a lot of residue in the mouth.
This simple (plastic-free!) teeth whitening kit from Bite contains a bottle of carbamide peroxide gel, which tends to be milder on teeth, plus a small brush to paint on the no-rinse formula. While the GH Beauty Lab hasn't tested this, reviewers raved about how well it works and liked that the brush allows you to target specific discolored teeth."It’s very simple, just painting the whitening gel on your teeth and waiting two minutes, and I have noticed a significant improvement in my teeth color," one said. Note that the gel formulation may clump after repeated use.
Portable whitening pens like this one from Go Smile won't drastically lighten your teeth due to a lesser percentage of hydrogen peroxide, but a lower dose of the active ingredient also means it's less likely to irritate teeth. True to its name, it's a good pick-me-up for on the go — use as needed after teeth-staining culprits, like coffee and red wine. The wand "does brighten up my smile and my teeth everyday," a user remarked.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab rigorously tests all types of teeth whitening products including toothpaste, strips, pens and more. In the Lab, scientists measure testers' tooth shades under standardized lighting before and after using a label-masked teeth whitening product as directed over a specified time period to gauge changes in tooth color.
Testers also evaluate the products at home on factors such as ease of use, flavor, tooth sensitivity, cleaning efficacy (if applicable) and perceived whitening effects. Beauty Lab scientists then tally hundreds of data points to find out whether each product performs before determining the best whitening kits.
✔️ Active ingredients: For optimal teeth whitening results at home, "look for the active lightening ingredients hydrogen or carbamide peroxide," advises Sharon Huang, D.D.S., MICOI, a cosmetic dentist and founder of Les Belles NYC in New York City. Note that although hydrogen peroxide produces excellent whitening effects, it can sometimes result in temporary tooth sensitivity, Dr. Gonchar says.
✔️ Potency level: The maximum percentage of active teeth lightening ingredients is 10% for over-the-counter products, Dr. Huang says. "Higher concentrations will result in faster and better results, yet may cause tooth sensitivity," Dr. Gonchar explains. "Lower-concentration products will take longer to achieve the desired results, but may be more appropriate for those with sensitive teeth or other dental needs."
✔️ Sensitivity-friendly ingredients: If you have sensitive teeth, "carbamide peroxide is less sensitizing than hydrogen peroxide because it takes more time for the whitening action to occur," Dr. Huang explains. For extremely sensitive teeth, there are also products that don’t contain peroxide, and instead are made with ingredients like aloe vera and coconut oil, which have natural whitening effects that pull stains from the teeth, she says. "They're not as effective as peroxide, but are a good natural option that’s gentler on the teeth," Dr. Huang notes.
✔️ Form: As for the best teeth whitener form,"I recommend whitening strips and use them personally," Dr. Huang says. "Since the strip wraps around the teeth, the whitening solution has constant contact with teeth, and they’re the easiest to keep in the mouth for the prescribed amount of time." (See below for a list and description of of teeth whitener forms.)
There are four main types of at-home teeth whitenining products: whitening strips and trays, LED light devices, pens or gels and toothpastes. "The effectiveness of at-home teeth whitening products can vary from person to person, and what works best for one individual may not yield the same results for another," Dr. Katz notes. Here's a guide to what differentiates each of the options and how they function so you can choose the right form for you, according to the dental experts:
✔️ Whitening strips and trays: These kits contain a plastic strip, tray or mold, which is used to apply the bleaching ingredient hydrogen peroxide directly to teeth. Each session lasts 30 minutes to two hours (follow the directions on the teeth whitening kit's packaging for how to use), so results can be visible in one day, though you'll need up to three weeks of repeated application for full results. If you want to make your teeth white fast or you want to turn yellow teeth white, strips are one of the most effective OTC teeth whiteners, as the active ingredient is left on teeth for an extended period of time.
✔️ Whitening light devices: A whitening agent is directly applied to teeth; then a blue LED light is held over them to increase penetration and accelerate results. Like teeth whitening strips, light devices are very effective because of the amount of time the active ingredient makes full contact with your teeth.
✔️ Whitening pens or gels: These formulas contain the active teeth lightening ingredient hydrogen peroxide in a pen or gel form that you glide over your teeth to whiten them. Some are left on teeth (even created to be left on overnight), while others are meant to be rinsed off. Because the ingredients can be diluted or washed away in your mouth over time, the whitening results are generally more moderate.
✔️ Whitening toothpaste: Pastes typically contain mild abrasives like hydrated silica, sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate to polish and remove surface stains and/or low concentrations of the active teeth whitening ingredient hydrogen peroxide to bleach teeth. "Most conventional whitening toothpastes largely work by using an abrasive called silica to mechanically scrape stains off of teeth, hence the 'whitened' result, not by actual bleaching," explains Justin Rashbaum, D.M.D., a general and cosmetic dentist in New York City for Supersmile. Look for pastes that contain hydrogen peroxide if you want noticeable results. You can expect to see visible effects after five or more days of twice-daily use, but only expect minimal to moderate whitening results, due to lower levels of bleaching ingredients.
Yes, as mentioned above, LED light can be an effective option for teeth whitening. "LED light helps to activate the whitening agent that is applied to the teeth, which helps to break down and dissolve stains caused by food, drinks and smoking," Dr. Wei explains. "The light also helps speed up the whitening process, allowing the bleaching agent to penetrate the enamel and dentin of the teeth to remove discoloration."
But note that using an LED light by itself on teeth won't whiten them. "LED lights alone do not have a whitening effect, but used in conjunction with chemical agents [like hydrogen peroxide] are meant to accelerate and enhance the whitening process," Dr. Gonchar says. "LED lights do not damage teeth and can be used safely, though you should avoid them if you have sensitive teeth."
If you have sensitive teeth, you'll want to take some extra precautions before using at-home whitening products. "I recommend seeing your dentist if you have sensitive teeth, as they may be a sign of dental problems," says Timothy Chase, D.M.D., cosmetic dentist and practicing partner at SmilesNY. "If your teeth are okay but you simply have sensitivity, your dentist can help with desensitizing treatments."
Look for products with a very low concentration of the teeth lightening active ingredient carbamide peroxide, Dr. Gonchar suggests. "It causes less tooth sensitivity compared to hydrogen peroxide," she says. "Other ingredients that provide active relief from sensitivity include fluoride and potassium nitrate." Just pay attention to how your teeth react. "If you experience sensitivity or if the edges of your teeth start to appear see-through, you should stop the whitening regimen," warns Dr. Chase.
It depends on whether you go pro and your lifestyle habits. "Professional whitening will provide results that last longer — people usually get touch-ups every six months to a year," Dr. Huang says, but "with at-home products like teeth whitening strips, you may need a touch-up every month to take the superficial stains off and keep teeth white over time."
What you eat and drink and whether you smoke also contribute to the longevity of teeth whitening effects. "If you’re meticulous at avoiding anything that will stain teeth and upkeep with whitening touch-up products, results will last longer," she explains. "Some of the most teeth-staining foods and drinks are tea (which actually stains more than coffee!), tobacco and red wine, then dark foods and juices like turmeric, beets, curry and blueberries."
To avoid darkening teeth, drink any colored beverage through a straw to keep it from coming in contact with your teeth, Dr. Huang advises. Or try rinsing your mouth with water immediately after drinking or eating to prevent staining (but don’t brush, because the enzymes in your mouth can make enamel softer and more prone to staining at that time), she says.
Pia Velasco is a beauty and fashion editor with over a decade experience at publications including Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, Prevention and more. She contributed to the researching and writing of this article.
April Franzino is the Beauty Director of Good Housekeeping and contributed to the researching and writing of this article. She has over 15 years of experience researching, writing and editing beauty-related content across topics including teeth whitening, utilizing the expertise of Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab scientists and top industry professionals.
Pia is a beauty and fashion editor with a decade of experience at publications including Hello Giggles, InStyle, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Prevention, People en Español and HELLO!/HOLA! She has also written for People, Elite Daily and Bustle. She received a B.A. in creative writing from NYU and a Master of Science at Columbia’s journalism school. She is based in New York City.
April (she/her) is the beauty director at Good Housekeeping, Prevention and Woman's Day, where she oversees all beauty content. She has over 15 years of experience under her belt, starting her career as an assistant beauty editor at GH in 2007, and working in the beauty departments of SELF and Fitness magazines.
Chiara (she/her) is a reviews analyst in the Beauty, Health and Sustainability Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, where she conducts hands-on testing of health and beauty products. She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Columbia University. Before joining GH in 2022, she worked as a cosmetic chemist, formulating skincare products for a variety of brands and learning to decode ingredient lists, evaluate ingredient efficacy and scrutinize product claims.
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