The Best Teeth Whitening Products
Grin and bear ‘em
What makes the best teeth whitening products is no big secret. According to the American Dental Association and the dentists we spoke with, only hydrogen and carbamide peroxide work. The real difference between treatments is the amount of peroxide and their method of delivery: trays, strips, or a paint-it-on approach.
We looked for which products capped their peroxide at 10 percent — the amount the ADA says is safe for over-the-counter use — then had 32 testers report back with their results. Surprise! Go Smile's paint-on treatments outperformed industry favorite Crest Whitestrips in both ease of use and tooth and gum sensitivity.
Think teeth whitening is simply an exercise in vanity? There may be more to it than that — at least in the United States. According to a 2007 study, people were more likely to be hired and received higher salary offerings after their teeth had been whitened, and, according to Charles Guthrie, a senior research analyst at Penn State University, whiter teeth are associated with a healthier mouth, something that plays a role in mate selection. “A less attractive smile would be an implied negative nonverbal communication,” he told us. “Is this person going to be a good mate? Or, is this person going to bring about harm in one way or another?”
Sure, that study was commissioned by the parent company behind Crest Whitestrips to prove its product’s point, and there are plenty of people with not-so-pearly teeth in happy relationships. But like manicuring facial hair or plucking eyebrows, teeth whitening has become a mainstay in the beauty routines of millions of Americans, and out of the dozens of products available, a few victors emerged in our research and usability tests. Two of our top picks for best teeth whitener are Go Smile Double Action 6-Day Whitening Kit and Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips, but all five we recommend garnered positive reviews from our testers, and also include the American Dental Association’s recommended percentage of peroxide to be both safe and effective.
How We Found the Best Teeth Whitener
To separate the products that will actually improve your smile from the duds that’ll only take a bite out of your wallet (and maybe even hurt your mouth in the process), we interviewed dentists, reviewed the research, and conducted at-home tests with over 30 participants.
We started with 86 products culled from beauty magazine “best of” lists, recommendations from dentists, and Amazon ratings of 4 stars or higher. What we didn’t include: whitening toothpastes, gums, or lipsticks that claimed to create the illusion of whiter teeth. And, all of our products had to be available without a visit to — or prescription from — a dentist, which eliminated popular whitening systems Opalescence and Philips Zoom right off the bat.
We cut products that didn’t explicitly list their ingredients.
If a product is going to be hanging out in your mouth day after day, we want you to know what’s in it. The FDA does not currently regulate tooth bleaching products, so shady products do exist (like this whitener we found on Amazon that boasts its gel is “made fresh every seven days!”).
The other reason why an ingredients list is important: to know if it’s actually going to work. For a teeth whitener to be really effective, it needs to contain hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as an active ingredient. (Only peroxides remove both surface and deep stains, whereas whitening products like toothpastes and gums can only target surface stains.) If we couldn’t confirm these active ingredients — and at what percentage — we didn’t bother.
3-Month 12 White Maintenance Swabs, 3-Month 12-Stain Out Maintenance Swabs, 7 Stain-Out Swabs, AuraGlow Deluxe Home Whitening System, Beautiful Smile Teeth Whitening Kit, Brilliant HD Deluxe Teeth Whitening Kit, Crystal Smile Professional Teeth Whitening Home Kit, Dazzling White Instant Whitening Pen, Dazzling White Professional Strength Whitening Pen, Dental Cos Teeth Whitening Kit, Dr Song Home Teeth Whitening Kit, Dr. Dazzle Complete 3D At Home Whitening Kit, Dr. Kidd’s Professional Teeth Whitening Kit, Dr. Whitening Nano Whitening Brush, Easy-Smile Kit Tooth Whitening, EZGO Teeth Whitening Pro System, Finishing Touch Smile Whiter Pen, GenKent Professional Teeth Whitening Kit, GLO Brilliant Personal Teeth Whitening Device, GLO POP 3-Day Teeth Whitening Treatment, GLO pop Premium Teeth Whitening, Grind Free Teeth Whitening Strips, Home Professional Teeth Whitening Kit, IWantWhiteTeeth Whitening Pen and Treatment System, Just Pure White Teeth Whitening Kit, Lovely Smile Premium Line Bright White Teeth Whitening Strips, Lovely Smile Premium Line Express Whitening Teeth Whitening Strips, Luster 1-Hour White Light Tooth Whitening System, Luster 2-Minute White, Luster Power White Deep Stain Eraser, Luster Premium Light Pro White Teeth Whitening System, MagicBrite Complete Teeth Whitening Kit, Pearl Drops Tea & Coffee Stain Remover, Rembrandt Deeply White 2-Hour Whitening Kit, Rembrandt Intense Stain Stain Dissolving Whitening Strips, Sheer White Professional Teeth Whitening Strips Films Kit, Shine Whitening 1st Class Edition Whitening Kit, Shine Whitening Kit, Shine Whitening Teeth Whitening Pen, Smart Smile Professional Teeth Whitening Kit, SmileActive Easy-Click Tooth Whitening, SparkleWhite Complete 3D At Home Whitening Kit, Sparkling White Smiles Advanced Teeth Whitening Strips, Sparkling White Smiles Bright White Pro System, Start Pure Blue Teeth Whitening Kit, Ultra White Teeth Whitening Gel, Viva Bright At Home 3D Professional Teeth Whitening Kit, White Swabs Ultra, White Teeth Global
We eliminated anything with more than 10 percent hydrogen peroxide or 35 percent carbamide peroxide.
An American Dental Association (ADA) brief on teeth whitening spelled it out: “It is known that at concentrations of 10 percent hydrogen peroxide or higher, the chemical is potentially corrosive to mucous membranes or skin, and can cause a burning sensation and tissue damage.” (Note that, while there is some disagreement as to the exact exchange rate of hydrogen peroxide to carbamide peroxide, the ADA and the dentists we spoke with mentioned between 28 and 35 percent carbamide as equal in power to 10 percent hydrogen peroxide.)
This is where we leave you, Aquafresh White Trays. Despite earning a spot on a list of best teeth whiteners from Consumer Reports and Men’s Health magazine online, Aquafresh has 11 percent hydrogen peroxide, which is just over our limit. Is it safe to use? Probably. Still, we’re standing by ADA guidelines.
If you go above 10 percent hydrogen peroxide or 35 percent carbamide peroxide, “then you’re getting into the professional grade,” says Seattle-based dentist Dr. Paul Amato, DDS, FAGD, referring to whitening products that should only be used with oversight from a dentist. “If the tray or whitening strip does not fit accurately, you can cause damage to the gum tissue or the root surfaces.” Dentists can give patients products with much higher percentages of active ingredients (think 25 to 40 percent hydrogen peroxide) because they first completely protect gum tissues with a rubber dam or gel.
We found some teeth whitening products touting 16 percent hydrogen peroxide and 44 percent carbamide peroxide. While most tissue irritation is temporary and goes away after you stop treatment, the ADA says that irreversible tooth damage has been reported on rare occasions. Which brings up a good point: the ADA cautions that there have not been enough studies done “to support unsupervised long-term and/or repeated use of bleaching products.” So, consult your dentist before you begin any whitening regimen.
Aquafresh White Trays, Cool Teeth Whitening Advanced Teeth Whitening System, Crest 3D White Luxe Glamorous White Whitestrips, Dr. Wyte Deluxe Teeth Whitening Kit, Iconic Very White Professional Teeth Whitening Kit, Justified Laboratories Premium Teeth Whitening Kit, Lumeeno Teeth Whitening Kit, Luster Pro White Dental Whitening System, Luster Smile Illuminator Instant Whitening Kit, MaxxGel Whitening Pen, Pearl Teeth Whitening Kit, Whiter Smile Labs Home Teeth Whitening Kit
We picked the tops products from each brand.
We discovered that several brands had nearly identical products that differed only in little things: time to see best results, for example, or the inclusion of an LED light (more on those later). Crest 3D White Luxe Supreme Flexfit Whitestrips are virtually identical to Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips, except the strips of the former are bendier — the whitening properties between the two are exactly the same. In these cases, we chose to eliminate the less established product with fewer reviews.
Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects + 1-Hour Express Whitestrips, Crest 3D White Luxe Supreme Flexfit Whitestrips, Crest 3D White Whitestrips 1-Hour Express, Go Smile Double Action 12-Day Whitening Kit, Go Smile Go Whiter Speed Whitening System, Go Smile On the Go Anytime and Anywhere Teeth Whitening Pen, Go Smile Whitening Light System, Plus White 5-Minute Premier Whitening Gel, Plus White 5-Minute Premier Whitening Kit
And, then we got to testing.
With our narrowed field of 16 whiteners, we set out to see them in action on real human teeth. It wasn’t anything too fancy: We recruited 32 participants across a wide range of ages to try out our top products. The experiment began with each tester recording his or her pre-whitening teeth shade against a dentist-provided teeth shade guide and snapping a “before” pic. After using the teeth whitening product for the recommended length of time, our testers took an “after” photo, evaluated their new teeth shade, and completed an exit survey describing the experience. Using these findings, along with ratings from beauty sites such as TotalBeauty.com, Men’s Health, and Consumer Reports, we were able to determine our top picks.
Our Picks for the Best Teeth Whitener
This whitening kit was a complete surprise. Its signature ampoules (little pockets filled with gel that you mix and rub on your teeth) seemed like a gimmick compared to the strips we were all used to. But once we tried them out, we were sold. The Go Smile Double Action 6-Day treatment whitened our testers’ teeth an average of three shades — among the most of any product we tested — in just six days. Pretty speedy, considering the average time until full results for the products we tested was 13 days.
The gel was quick to apply and really wearable — you could whiten during the course of a day, which was a major bonus compared to messy trays or strips that, for better or worse, end up making you drool. One tester remarked, “It was super easy to apply after brushing my teeth. It was a quick habit to form.”
We also liked that sensitivity was minimal. Although Go Smile won’t disclose the exact percentage of peroxide it uses, it does confirm that it’s less than the ADA-approved 10 percent. Plus, the paint-on approach meant we were more in control of how much of the whitener got on our gums than having to manipulate and place one-size-fits-all strips.
Crest Whitestrips is a veteran in this space; it began advertising over-the-counter teeth whitening to the masses all the way back in 2001. We had high expectations for such a household name — and because of its 10 percent hydrogen peroxide levels, the maximum amount recommended by the ADA.
Crest delivered well enough. Our testers were all pleased with the look of their teeth after 20 days, but their teeth only whitened an average of 1.5 shades. Could it be because their teeth were already pretty white to begin with? Sure. An avid fan base, plus more than 800 4.5-star reviews on Crest.com and nearly 5,000 4.3-star reviews on Amazon, helps prove that more impressive results are common.
Crest makes a lot of lofty claims about its Whitestrips, not all of which pan out. Its website says you can drink water while wearing them — but one gulp turned our water into a whitening gel cocktail. No thanks.
Crest also says these strips grant results that last up to 12 months, which means you can do this whitening regimen just once per year; we didn’t have a full year to test this out, but on its FAQ page, Crest admits that, “The length of time your teeth will stay whiter is influenced by several factors, including how often you drink coffee, tea, dark colas, red wine, or smoke.” (Right. The weight you lost on a month-long diet will also stay off if you don’t eat carbs, sugar, or alcohol.)
But that stuff is just marketing. The only real downside was two of our testers reported uncomfortable gums while wearing Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips, again probably due to the high hydrogen peroxide content. Gum sensitivity occurs when the whitening gel directly interacts with your gums — this can happen if you apply the strips imprecisely or too high up on your teeth.
Tooth sensitivity, on the other hand, is highly subjective from one patient to another. If your pearly whites are prone to pain, we suggest Crest 3D White Whitestrips Gentle Routine.
Crest’s Gentle Routine strips have a lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide (only 3–7 percent) and you wear them for five minutes per day as opposed to 30. None of our testers experienced any sensitivity throughout their four-week testing period, but all reported some level of whitening and an appreciation for the lesser time commitment. “I put them on every night before I started my bedtime routine,” one explained. “By the time I was finished washing my face and applying moisturizer, I could remove the strips and go to bed. So easy!”
That said, it takes 28 days to see full results with the Gentle Routine — a full week longer than Luxe Professional Effects, which is something to keep in mind if you’re whitening for an upcoming event.
These teeth whitening strips punched above their weight. A 14-day supply of 28 strips will set you back just $12.43 on Amazon — that’s around $40 cheaper than a 20-day supply of Crest 3D White Luxe Professional Effects Whitestrips, and less than half the average $27 of all our testing products.
Our testers experienced little-to-no sensitivity (the levels of peroxide are at 6 percent with these guys) and an average whiteness increase of two to three shades — even more than our Crest 3D testers, although that has as much to do with our testers teeth than the strips themselves. Like the Crest 3D Luxe strips, you have to wear them for 30 minutes per day.
Downsides: one tester didn’t like that the gel seemed to stick to her teeth even after she removed the strips and rinsed with water. These guys may require a quick toothbrush scrub before you’re ready to go about your day.
Whitening pens bring out the skeptic in us all. As one tester puts it, “I expected to hate this thing. It seemed cheap and like it wasn’t going to work, but I like the way my teeth look. And it was truly convenient.” Start to finish, whitening takes about 30 seconds: twist the end to release the serum and paint it on twice daily for seven days. (Again, Go Smile wouldn’t say how much peroxide is inside, just that it’s less than 10 percent.) Both of our testers brightened their smiles by a shade in just a week. Not standout results, but not nothing either.
Theoretically, this little guy is so discreet you could whiten anywhere — in the office bathroom on a quick break or even stopped at a red light. “You can paint it on and then go about your day; no need to brush your teeth again or take off strips. There’s nothing to even throw in the trash!” one tester said.
Several recent Amazon reviewers have dinged the product for crappy manufacturing, claiming they couldn’t get the gel out no matter how many times they twisted the pen. Neither of our testers reported this, but, unfortunately, if it does happen to you, you may be out of luck. If you order the product over the phone via GoSmile, you can take advantage of the GoSmile return policy: return the pen with its unused materials up to 30 days after the purchase for a full refund or exchange. But if you order via Amazon, you’re subject to their return policy: if you open the pen and it doesn’t work, you’re stuck with it.
Other Teeth Whiteners to Consider
Lumeeno Teeth Whitening Strips whitened our testers’ teeth an average of three shades — that’s huge, especially considering they only required 15 minutes of daily wear for two weeks. (One tester reported seeing results almost immediately.) Lumeeno didn’t make it into our top picks because another tester complained about an icky residue left behind by the strips.
The ampoules used in the Go Smile Teeth Whitening System are identical to the ones in our top pick Go Smile Double Action 6-Day Whitening Kit, with one major difference: They only contain 6 percent hydrogen peroxide, which is why our testers agreed that this kit was easy to use, but didn’t feel it was that effective in whitening their teeth.
Plus White 5 Minute Premier Whitening System was lauded by our testers for its whitening properties (an average of two shades in two weeks), but they didn’t love that the bulky trays made talking impossible.
Our testers were divided on Harmony Life Teeth Whitening Strips. One tester whitened her teeth four shades (!!) in just 14 days. Another complained of having to brush her teeth again after removing the strips each night because they left behind a gel residue. Overall, our testers rated it 3.5 stars out of 5 — just average.
Some Teeth Whiteners to Avoid
Dr. George’s Dental White Patented Dental Whitening System does a doozy on the mouth — it’s complicated to use, uncomfortable to wear, and a tongue twister to pronounce. The whitening process has an inauspicious start; before you whiten, you first have to boil the plastic trays in hot water before molding them to your teeth. One tester expressed “annoyance at the product and Dr. George personally.” Another tester admitted that it did whiten her teeth somewhat, but she didn’t feel it was worth the hassle.
Cool Teeth Whitening Strips were a massive miss as well. Our testers complained of not being able to talk well while wearing the strips due to low adhesiveness. They also didn’t notice a change in their teeth whiteness. Indeed, one tester went just a single shade lighter in 14 days of using this product; another actually went a shade darker.
Crest 3D White Whitestrips Classic Vivid ranked fourth on TotalBeauty.com’s list of Best Teeth Whiteners, but our testers thought the product was just OK. It didn’t perform as well as the other Crest Whitestrips we tried, likely due to a lower 6 percent peroxide concentration.
Dreow Teeth Whitening Kit, Grinigh Bright Touch Teeth Whitening Strips, Smilebriter Teeth Whitening Gel Pens (60-day supply), Ultimate Smile Professional At-Home Teeth Whitening Kit
Did You Know?
Teeth whiteners work by getting where non-bleaching products can’t.
Each of your teeth is made up of multiple layers. There’s an inner dentin layer and a hardshell outer enamel layer, which acts as a barrier to protect your teeth. Over time, the stuff you eat and drink — berries, red wine, coffee — forms another layer, the pellicle layer, on top of the enamel. (You don’t have to be a chain smoker or red wine guzzler to have stains on your teeth; all adults have both surface-level and deep stains from everyday living.)
Over the years, the pellicle layer may begin to penetrate the porous enamel layer. In other words, stains from your three-cups-a-day coffee habit seep into the enamel and take up permanent residence. No amount of surface-level scrubbing can get rid of these stains once they’ve penetrated the enamel layer.
Enter: teeth whiteners with bleaching chemicals, aka peroxides. These can penetrate the tooth enamel and initiate a chemical reaction that breaks up the staining compounds.
Not everyone’s teeth will react to whitening.
Not all teeth are capable of being whitened by over-the-counter products; this is especially true for patients with many fillings, crowns, or very dark stains. Color matters too. Patients with yellow teeth (a natural result of aging) generally respond better to teeth whitening products than those with gray teeth. Gray teeth are most often caused by smoking and taking certain medications (such as tetracycline); these stains aren’t dramatically changed by teeth whitening.
Age is also a factor. “Remember that young teeth whiten a lot better than older teeth,” says Dr. Amato. “Over-the-counter products might work as good as dentist products for 16–24 year olds because they haven’t drank as much coffee or red wine to stain their teeth, unlike adults.”
Teeth sensitivity can make whitening painful.
If a bite of ice cream sends shooting pain up and down your teeth, you probably suffer from sensitive teeth. According to the ADA, sensitivity can occur for a variety of reasons: cavities, fractured teeth, worn fillings, gum disease, worn tooth enamel, or an exposed tooth root.
A healthy tooth has a series of protectors in place. These layers are like bodyguards protecting the dentin, the innermost portion of your teeth. First, a layer of enamel offers defense for the crowns of your teeth, the part that exists above the gum line. Another layer below that, called cementum, protects the tooth root. Finally, underneath the enamel and the cementum lies the vulnerable dentin layer.
When enamel and cementum fail to do their job, the dentin is exposed to hot, cold, or acidic foods and drinks, which reach the nerves and cells inside your tooth — and send painful zingers that make you want to chuck the ice cream cone across the room. When the hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide in a bleaching product reaches these nerves, it’s equally painful.
There are treatments for hypersensitivity, including desensitizing toothpaste, fluoride gel that’s applied in-office by your dentist, or, in severe cases, a root canal.
LED lights or lasers probably won’t whiten your teeth any faster.
Some professionally applied products (and some OTC products) include a hand-held LED light or laser that claims to accelerate the teeth whitening process. In most cases, this is bunk. The ADA says that, “Most studies have reported no additional long-term benefit with light-activated systems.” It won’t harm your teeth to use an LED light, but it’s probably a waste of time and money. Skip it.
The Bottom Line
There are two things to look for when you’re picking a teeth whitening treatment: a full ingredients list and hydrogen peroxide levels no higher than 10 percent. Beyond that, it’s personal preference, although we were surprised by how much we preferred paint-on treatments to the more traditional strips — they’re easier, just as effective, and with less chance of gum sensitivity.
Visit your dentist. Before you spend a single dollar on a whitening product, find out if you’re a good fit for over-the-counter teeth whitening. Remember: Yellow teeth whiten easier than gray, and veneers cannot be whitened at all.
Plan ahead. This is especially important if you’re whitening before a big event, like a wedding or a graduation. If a treatment claims it takes 14 days to achieve full results, you’ll want to be sure you have enough time to finish using the product as intended. If you try to double up on the amount you use per day, you’ll likely end up with painful sensitivity.
If it hurts, don’t do it. You can try brushing with Pronamel Sensodyne toothpaste to cut down on sensitivity during the whitening process. However, if you’re in real pain, give your teeth a break! You can always come back to whitening later.