I brushed my teeth with charcoal for six weeks because a Facebook ad told me to
In my defence, I’m very self-conscious about the colour of my teeth. That’s how products that rely on social media advertising and blogger/influencer endorsements lure you in – they prey on your insecurities.
Hate that you don’t have a perfect hourglass figure? A waist trainer, promoted on Instagram by almost every member of the Kardashian/Jenner clan, will do just the trick. Want to lose weight and don’t believe that “eat well and exercise” nonsense? Try Skinny Me Tea, an Australian ‘teatox’ brand that has an entire page of testimonials from beautiful, blonde Instagram influencers.
I’m not normally one who’s taken in by Facebook or Instagram ads. I was a beauty blogger for years – I know how to spot manufactured hype, I know that a company’s own Facebook page isn’t the best source of objective reviews. And yet, after seeing an ad for Carbon Coco’s organic teeth-whitening system, I was intrigued. I read reviews, as well as articles on whether oil pulling was actually beneficial, and since I had some extra cash burning a hole in my pocket, I bought the ‘Complete Coco Kit’ for $89.95.
The kit comes with 14 oil pulling sachets, 40g of Activated Carbon Teeth Whitening Powder, a toothbrush with bamboo bristles, and a tongue cleaner. I haven’t used the tongue cleaner because that seems like a completely made-up product that nobody needs, but I have used everything else.
I followed the instructions and brushed my teeth with the charcoal powder every morning and night before brushing them with regular toothpaste, and used one oil pulling sachet every morning. At first, oil-pulling with spearmint flavoured coconut oil was extremely difficult and unpleasant, but I got used to it, and by the end of the 14 days, was able to swish it around my mouth for 15 minutes or longer.
Unlike the oil-pulling sachets, the charcoal powder lasts for longer than two weeks; I’ve been using it since April 8, and I still have about half a jar left. Unfortunately, a month into the program, the bamboo toothbrush that came with the kit snapped in half. Luckily, my trusty Colgate stepped in and saved the day.
So I used the oil-pulling sachets for the two week period, and brushed with the activated charcoal powder morning and night for almost two months. Did I notice a difference?
You be the judge.
Maybe your eyes are better than mine, but I see very minimal difference between the before photo and the current one. I don’t expect results overnight, but with users on the brand’s testimonials page saying they noticed a difference after eight days, I would expect a bit more than a subtle change after six weeks.
On that note – some of the testimonial photos on the brand’s own website show very little difference between the before and after photos, and many others have clearly had the brightness turned up (I took all of my photos in the same lighting to avoid this problem). Hardly a winning endorsement.
The activated charcoal powder is a mess to use – the site advises keeping your mouth as tightly closed as possible while brushing to avoid making a mess, but I find that fairly difficult. I have to clean my bathroom counter after every use, and it’s a hassle and a half, especially at night when all I want to do is collapse into bed.
Snake oil salesmen don’t travel from town to town hawking their wares from the back of a makeshift wagon anymore, they use advertorials, celebrity endorsements and quid pro quo arrangements with bloggers and reviewers to entice you to buy from within the comfort and safety of your very own home.
So please learn from my mistakes, and don’t shell out $100 on a product you’ve seen advertised on Facebook or Instagram without doing some serious searching for genuine and honest reviews. While harmful side-effects aren’t a concern here, they can be for things like waist trainers and diuretic teas, and it’s important to know what you’re getting into.
Just because a celebrity posts an Instagram photo of them wearing, using or consuming something, doesn’t mean they genuinely would do so if they weren’t being paid $250k for it – and despite new advertising standards in Australia and the US, many do not label their sponsored posts as such (Kendall Jenner is currently under fire for not clearly labelling her sponsored posts for the infamous Fyre Festival).
If you can’t find at least one negative or neutral review about a product, hold off on buying it. Even the most popular products in the beauty blogosphere have at least one critic – if you can’t find a single one, that suggests to me that most reviews are being written by people who were sent the product by the brand in exchange for a review.
While bloggers do claim to be impartial, a negative review runs the risk of alienating the brand/PR contact and never being sent products again. More than once was I asked to not publish reviews of my bad experiences with products (one inflamed my skin and was clearly an issue on my end, and still the brand asked me not to go ahead with the review).
My advice? Wait until genuine consumers are buying and talking about the product away from the promotional material on social media before you go ahead and purchase a hyped-up item.
This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald
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