Usually on Electric Teeth we provide a quick answer or summary at the top of the article, but it’s not quite so easy when it comes to whitening strips.
Teeth whitening is a confusing topic, and the use of whitening strips is further complicated by the significant difference between products available in the UK and the US.
Whitening strips can seem like an appealing option because you can buy them online, or in shops, and they look relatively simple to use.
Furthermore they are popular in the US, although as we explain below, many of these US products are not legal in the UK.
Products that are available over-the-counter in the UK are likely to be ineffective, and any results that you do get may be patchy.
If you’re considering buying whitening strips, we strongly urge you to read the content below, and also advise checking out the rest of our educational content on teeth whitening.
Our main advice is to go for professional bleaching trays instead of strips or other over-the-counter whitening products such as strips.
To help explain strips and how they (theoretically) work, we’ve put together the following demonstration and explainer video:
Whitening Strips Key Points
- Many of the whitening strip products that are popular in the US are illegal in the UK
- Whitening strips that are legal to buy online or in shops in the UK will be less effective because they don’t contain the same ingredients as US products.
- By law, over-the-counter (OTC) products in the UK can only contain 0.1% hydrogen peroxide, whereas US products can contain more. The American Dental Association recommends products should not contain more than 10% hydrogen peroxide (which is 100x more than UK products can use!)
- If you do plan to buy whitening strips in the UK, be careful and do your research
- Remember, you cannot always trust online reviews
- Our advice is to use custom made bleaching trays instead
- If you do want to use high-strength teeth whitening strips (up to 6% hydrogen peroxide), you may be able to order them on prescription from your dentist
UK vs US Whitening Strips
In the US, whitening strips seem to be a popular way to whiten teeth.
In the UK however, many of the popular US products are illegal because of the concentration of whitening chemicals they contain.
For example, Crest 3d white strips are a popular choice, but they contain 10% hydrogen peroxide.
In the UK the highest concentration of hydrogen peroxide permitted in over-the-counter products such as strips is 0.1%.
For this reason you will not find Crest 3d white strips with well-known UK retailers, such as Amazon, Boots, etc.
You may find them on eBay, or on lesser known UK websites, but their sale within the UK is illegal and it’s possible you’ll be sold counterfeits.
We have written more about UK vs US teeth whitening regulations here.
If you do want whitening strips that contain a high percentage of hydrogen peroxide, you may be able to order them on prescription from your dentist.
Our advice would still be to go for custom trays because typically they achieve more consistent results.
Popular whitening strips in the US
To help differentiate between the two countries, we have included a couple of lists below.
This first list contains whitening strips that are popular in the US, but are illegal to sell in the UK because of their hydrogen peroxide content.
Crest is the market leader for strips. The products listed below achieve the same thing but vary depending on their box contents and the strength of the hydrogen peroxide included with the strips.
- Crest 3D White Strips Professional Effects (view on Amazon.com)
- Crest 3D White Strips Vivid Plus (view on Amazon.com)
- Crest 3D White Strips Glamorous White (view on Amazon.com)
Whitening strips that are legal in the UK
This second list contains whitening strips that are legal to sell in the UK. These will be less effective than the US products above because of their lack of peroxide, but they do technically carry less risk as a result.
These products may remove surface stains, but they will not bleach teeth like a professional procedure would.
- SwiftWhite teeth whitening strips (view on Amazon.co.uk)
- Pro Teeth Whitening Co teeth whitening strips (view on Amazon.co.uk)
- Mr Blanc teeth whitening strips (view on Amazon.co.uk)
It’s worth noting that you can buy higher strength hydrogen peroxide strips from some dentists. Whitewash Laboratories offer 6% hydrogen peroxide strips, but these are available on prescription from your dentist only.
Can you buy Crest Whitening Strips in the UK?
Yes, the popular US-versions of this product (those that contain a strong concentration of hydrogen peroxide) can be found for sale on the internet. However, their sale within the UK is illegal, as we explain in the section above, which means you could end up buying counterfeits.
We decided to cover this question because while we were creating our educational series on teeth whitening, we found that there is a lot of interest around Crest whitening strips in particular.
In the US, where they can be sold legally online and in stores — they are undeniably a popular product. The situation is different here in the UK, though, where their sale is illegal, as we covered in the section above.
That being said, you may have seen forum posts saying how great they are, and seen some lesser-known UK sites selling them.
Needless to say there are risks if you do buy them. Firstly, you may end up buying counterfeit goods if you’re buying from a seller that isn’t well-known. Beyond this, there are risks to using them because of the chemicals involved, as we explain in more detail in the next section.
What are the risks of whitening strips?
Whitening strips are not customised to fit your teeth specifically, they are one-size-fits-all.
Compared to a custom moulded tray, there is more chance that the chemicals they contain will come into contact with your gums and other soft tissues in the mouth.
The risks are therefore going to be slightly different depending on whether you’re using a product that’s legal in the UK, or one that’s imported from the US (and not legal for sale in the UK).
Products sold over-the-counter within the UK contain very little (up to 0.1%) hydrogen peroxide, whereas popular US products tend to contain around 10% hydrogen peroxide, or sometimes more.
It is hydrogen peroxide that poses the most risk (see our FAQ on hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening more more info), although incorrectly exposing your mouth to any chemical poses some degree of risk.
In that sense, products imported from the US have the potential to be more effective, but also pose more risk. We advise against using imported products. See our post on safe teeth whitening – it’s risky using any product without first consulting your dentist.
Do whitening strips work?
If you were to use US whitening strips containing a strong concentration of hydrogen peroxide (e.g 10%) then you would be much more likely to see results than if you were using UK over-the-counter whitening strips.
Because of their lack of peroxide, UK whitening strips available online or on the high street are only likely to remove stains, rather than bleaching teeth.
Even if you’re using US strips, the results of whitening treatment can vary.
What are the downsides of whitening strips?
One of the main downsides with whitening strips, besides the risks mentioned above, is that they can produce uneven results. This is particularly true if your teeth are not straight.
Whitening strips are flat, whereas teeth are curved. Even if you have very straight and relatively flat teeth, it can still be hard for strips to get into all the curves in your teeth. This can create patchy results, or teeth may look whiter in the middle than they do on the edges.
With custom moulded trays it is different because they are created to fit exactly over your tooth, whilst also avoiding contact with your gums, meaning that the application of the whitening gel is evenly spread. With trays the gel is also less likely to come into contact with your gums and other soft tissue in the mouth, which can lead to burns and other issues.