20 Worst Pieces of Health Advice on the Internet
Some of the tips you see on social media and "healthy-living" blogs won't work, and others are downright dangerous.
Using dental floss to remove moles
“There’s some pretty scary skin-care advice out there,” says New York City dermatologist Bobby Buka, MD, founder and chief science officer of the First Aid Beauty. One of the worst ideas he’s ever seen: Tying dental floss around a mole or skin tag to reduce blood flow and make it fall off. Any mishaps could lead to dangerous infection or even kill skin tissue—both way more serious than any concerns about your appearance. A quick in-office removal is always a smart bet. “You get the benefit of a sterile environment, a practiced hand, and some lidocaine to numb the pain,” says Dr. Buka. Learn more myths about skin tags you need to stop believing.
Treating depression with essential oils
“I’ve recently seen a couple of posts suggesting essential oils and ‘psychedelic medicine’ as treatments for anxiety and depression,” says Shiri Macri, MA, a licensed mental health counselor at Vermont wellness retreat center Green Mountain at Fox Run. “While essential oils are wonderful and can be a great addition to a repertoire of self-care strategies, depression and anxiety are very real mental health conditions that often need more than simple self-care to heal.” As for the psychedelics: Using illicit and unregulated substances to “cure” mental health conditions can exacerbate the struggle and even contribute to addiction. Here are more mental health myths that need to be set straight.
Getting “flat abs” in 10 minutes
Countless Instagram posts, YouTube videos, and online articles promise to deliver a workout (in some cases just one exercise move) that’ll give you a flat stomach in mere minutes a day. Unless you have very low levels of body fat, the muscles in the abdomen are naturally covered by a layer of fat, says Jasmine Marcus, DPT, a physical therapist in Ithaca, New York. “Even if you did a great abdominal workout five times a week, you still probably wouldn’t be able to see them,” she says. They might feel stronger, but they’ll keep hiding under that layer of fat until you lose weight. No one exercise has magical results. Here are some more common myths about ab workouts.
Drinking charcoal to “detox”
None of those benefits you hear about activated charcoal supplements are based on evidence, says registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS. “It started a few years ago when Kim Kardashian started drinking activated charcoal lemonade. Then it spiraled into pills and supplements in more concentrated forms, which are very dangerous,” she says. “A more concentrated form of charcoal, such as in a pill, causes major [gastrointestinal] disturbances and may cause you to have bouts of diarrhea, cramping and massive bloating. It also disrupts the normal absorptive process in your gut, which can leave you unable to absorb the vitamins and minerals from food or unable to obtain benefits from any medications you may be taking.” Learn the truth behind activated charcoal for skin and teeth too.
Never going to bed angry
“The worst health advice I’ve seen on the Internet, and no doubt you’ve heard this elsewhere as well, is to ‘never go to bed angry,'” says therapist Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of Baltimore Therapy Center. “This supposedly is good for your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships. But the truth is, this is a recipe for disaster!” Trying to resolve an argument when you are tired and angry is likely to make things worse, not better—for your relationship, as well as your mental and physical health. Lack of sleep hurts your mood, disrupts metabolism and hunger cues, and weakens your immune system. Acknowledge to your partner that you’re angry and still want to resolve the issue, then try to get some sleep, says Bilek. Return to the problem in the morning, when you’re feeling refreshed. Here’s more surprising marriage advice from happily married couples.
Washing your mouth out with oil
Recently, the lifestyle gurus at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop have started selling an ancient practice called “oil pulling” as a tooth-whitening treatment. They claim swishing an expensive cold-pressed coconut oil around in your mouth—for a solid five to 20 minutes!—will pull toxins from your gums and teeth. As you might imagine, there’s absolutely no evidence that this is the case. A mouthful of oil isn’t likely to hurt you, experts say, but it also won’t help you in the way folks online are claiming that it will. Learn more things nutritionists wish you knew about coconut oil.
Using household products to fight acne
“You can’t imagine some of the terrible skin advice we hear and see,” says Rhonda Q. Klein, MD, a dermatologist in Connecticut. “Do not use sandpaper to exfoliate and even out skin tone and texture! While we use something similar in-office to help with tone and scars, do not try this at home,” she says. It can scar, wear away skin, or leave dark marks if done improperly. One more bonus myth-buster: “Don’t use kitty litter for a DIY ‘clay’ face mask,” says Dr. Klein. “Even though many of these do contain clay, please stick with safe, tested cosmeceuticals.” Learn more of the worst skin-care myths dermatologists wish you’d ignore.
“Resting” your colon
“The worst piece of nutrition advice I have seen on the Internet is that you need to do a juice cleanse to ‘rest’ the colon and remove ‘toxins’ from the body,” says registered dietitian and podcaster Jessica Jones, MS, CDE, co-founder of Food Heaven Made Easy. “Many of my patients who come to me after completing a restrictive cleanse report feeling weak and tired. They are typically under the impression that this fatigue and brain fog is a proof of the ‘toxins’ leaving the body. In reality, their body is functioning sub-optimally from not getting enough calories, fat, and protein. In order to keep your colon healthy, you have to basically do the opposite of a juice cleanse: have plenty of fiber, pre- and probiotics such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, soy products, and/or beans.” Find out the truth behind 50 more myths about the human body that could damage your health.
Sipping “raw” water
Companies selling unfiltered, unsterilized bottled water claim that this so-called “raw” water is healing and offers healthy probiotic bacteria to the drinker. Any supposed benefits are unproven, and health experts warn that untreated water can carry some extremely dangerous pathogens including E. coli and cholera. Don’t miss these other widespread myths about hydration.
Skipping sunscreen to get vitamin D
Vitamin D is vital to health and UV radiation triggers our skin to produce it. Because sunscreen blocks some of these rays, misguided claims sometimes circulate online that people should stop wearing SPF. Bad idea, says dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the University of Southern California. Large studies have found no connection between sunscreen and vitamin D deficiencies. “Moreover, it’s easy and inexpensive to get your recommended daily vitamin D dose through food and supplements,” says Dr. Shainhouse. Check out these other 15 health myths that make doctors cringe.
Exercising to “cancel out” what you eat
“Something I’ve always loathed seeing online are those charts that tell you how long you would have to work out in order to burn the number of calories in that brownie/burger/pizza,” says licensed professional counselor Tori Rodriguez, MA, author of The Little Book of Bettie: Taking a Page from the Queen of Pinups. “This is problematic on so many levels. First, it reinforces the diet-culture concept that you have to earn your food—that you can’t simply enjoy some fries or sweets without doing something to cancel it out. This can lead to the dangerous ‘counting’ trap that is often a part of disordered eating and makes exercise a form of punishment for food ‘mistakes’ instead of a way to feel good. This kind of thinking basically leeches all the joy out of both food and fitness and makes them—and by extension, your body—all about shame.” Quit associating exercise with burning off those calories, and don’t feel forced to burn off every bite that passes your lips, she says.
Popping pimples the “right” way
This is a ridiculous idea, says Adam Friedman, MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences—because you shouldn’t pop pimples at all. Messing with a pimple increases your risk of scars and more breakouts. “Technically all acne is inflammatory, meaning inflammation around the oil gland/hair follicle is brewing before you even see the early signs of a pimple,” says Dr. Friedman. “Think of it this way: Acne is inappropriate inflammation, and injury to the skin creates more inflammation, like picking at an open wound. Not a good plan.” Check out these other myths about acne adults need to stop believing.
Curing cancer with a weed
One of the most-shared articles on Facebook about cancer in 2016 was on claiming that dandelion root “builds up blood and immune system—cures prostate, lung, and other cancers better than chemotherapy.” Many medications do begin with chemicals and extracts from plants, herbs, and other natural substances, but there’s no evidence that ingesting dandelion roots—in whole form or supplements—treats cancer. Find out more about 50 other cancer myths that won’t go away.
Taking magic diet pills
One persistent myth is that “appetite-crushing” diet pills actually work, says wellness coach and nutrition educator KJ Landis, CPT, CFI. “Whether prescription or herbal, we must remember that the mind is part of the equation,” she says. “No pill or potion will reduce appetite unless we are ready emotionally and mentally to shift our lifestyle permanently. The promises of reduced appetite and subsequent weight loss and fat burning with a potion or pill are just nonsense. Otherwise, we would all have had successful long-term weight loss years ago.”
Getting stung by bees in the name of health
Another winner from wellness-guru Gwyneth Paltrow: apitherapy—which in some cases involves getting stung by bees. “People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring. It’s actually pretty incredible if you research it. But, man, it’s painful,” she told the New York Times. But if you do your own research outside of Goop, you’ll learn experts warn that bee venom could lead to blood clots, kidney failure, or stroke. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it has no side effects, W. Clay Jackson, MD, vice president of the board of the American Academy of Pain Management, tells Business Insider.
Going without antidepressants
Not everyone suffering from depression needs medication, but others truly do, says Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, MA, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, California. “I have clients who come to my office who have been struggling with depression for years—they have been to therapy, have made many changes in their life and they still continue to struggle,” she says. “Some are very resistant to speaking with the doctor about medication because they’ve read online that antidepressants are ‘bad.’ The truth is, some people need them! You can do all the therapy in the world, make dietary changes, be doing everything that you are supposed to be doing, and you can still suffer if the depression is caused by something biological.” Watch for these other silent signs you need antidepressants.
Going on fasts
Fasting is a big trend at the moment, but it’s also “one of the worst pieces of health advice out there,” says Sarah J. Thompson, an eating disorder recovery coach and certified Body Trust advocate. “When we restrict, our bodies can only interpret this as starvation or semi-starvation. We set ourselves up for our bodies to crave and think about food all the time. It’s because our bodies need food, and it’s a built-in mechanism to get us to eat. Restriction like this puts you at risk for developing disordered eating. Regular meals throughout the day are the best way to nourish your body and maintain your weight.” Quit falling for these other 21 food myths that are wildly untrue.
Using “black salve” on moles
Despite the lack of evidence that the alternative treatment is safe or effective, online vendors and wellness bloggers promote something called “black salve” as a natural remedy for skin cancer. “Using it can lead to extensive scarring, deformity, and incomplete destruction of cancer cells,” says dermatologist Lauren Snitzer, MD, FAAD. “Not only does the salve damage normal tissue as well, [but] using it can delay diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers, which in some cases can be life-threatening.” The Food and Drug Administration includes black salve on its list of illegally sold cancer cures that consumers should avoid. If you want to avoid surgery, your doctor can recommend safer non-surgical solutions. Check out these 14 health myths even some doctors believe.
Posting “thinspiration” as motivation
You might think that looking at an image of someone who has an “ideal” body on your fridge or Instagram feed will motivate you to eat better or exercise more. But posting a picture like this sends the message that you should be ashamed of your body and should be focusing on how you look instead of your body’s real needs, says Rodriguez. “Plus, as many of us know by now thanks to social media, photos rarely tell the whole story. They’re often heavily filtered or edited and shot at strategic angles,” she says. “Instead, put up a pic of yourself that reminds you of a time when you felt especially healthy, content, loved, or any other wonderful feeling. Don’t use it as motivation for anything at all—just use it as a reminder of that feeling and let it feed you.”
Falling for #NaturalNonsense
Scientific research is building that certain complementary, herbal, and Eastern medicine therapies can be helpful for everything from chronic pain to anxiety. Unfortunately, the boom in natural wellness information has given a platform to medical conspiracy theorists slinging fake health news. Some particularly egregious headlines: “Doctors kill 2,450 percent more Americans than all gun-related deaths combined” and “Microwave ovens ‘fluke’ your heart while they ‘nuke’ your food.” Doctors and scientists have started labeling repeat offenders #NaturalNonsense on social media. Outlandish headlines make excellent click bait, so beware the next time you see a Facebook friend share a health story that’s either too good or too awful to be true—it probably isn’t. Don’t fall for these other 55 health myths that need to die.