Home Remedies That May Do More Harm Than Good

It can be tempting to solve minor ailments with home remedies. After all, medications, serums, and ointments can be expensive, and there’s something comforting about old wives’ tales. Maybe it was your grandmother who taught you to put butter on a burn, or perhaps a close friend swears by lemon juice for brightening skin. While some of these remedies may seem promising, looking at what science has to say can save you time and money. Read on to see which home remedies may be doing you more harm than good.

Butter Makes Burns Worse, Not Better

Miguel Villagran/Getty Images
Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

Applying butter to a burn is an old remedy akin to placing a slab of steak over a black eye. In recent years, we’ve learned that just because something is good to eat, it doesn’t mean it’s safe to lather on your skin.

In reality, butter can makes burns a whole lot worse. Since butter is so greasy, it will slow down the release of heat and create a breeding ground for bacteria. You’re much better off sticking with cold water and aloe vera.

Lemon Juice Can Increase Skin Damage From The Sun

lemon
Wodickaullstein bild via Getty Images
Dmitry FeoktistovTASS via Getty Images

Lemon juice has become all the rage in recent years for its ability to lighten hair and dark spots on the skin. However, it’s extremely acidic, which can be a recipe for disaster, especially when combined with sunlight.

The low pH of lemon juice can negatively impact the skin’s outer layer, resulting in less protection. This causes higher sensitivity to the sun, skin irritation, and even hyperpigmentation. True Skin Care Center warns that the worst-case scenario from using lemon juice on your skin is a chemical burn!

Overuse Of Hydrogen Peroxide Can Cause Skin Damage

hydrogen-peroxide
The Rusted Garden/YouTube
The Rusted Garden/YouTube

Hydrogen peroxide is a household staple that is often a go-to when a cut or scrape occurs. While the over-the-counter solution only contains about 3% of the acid, it can still cause skin irritation when used in excess.

This means that you should be frugal when using it to treat the skin since too much can damage healthy cells. Some have even gone so far as to use it as an acne treatment, but Healthline reports that the potential side effects of doing so can make your skin condition worse.

Toothpaste On Acne Can Result In Marks And Irritation

Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Due to ingredients like baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, toothpaste has been long considered an effective way to shrink a pimple overnight. While it’s true that these ingredients may help kill the bacteria, it also can dry out the skin.

The result is irritated skin that can result in noticeable marks once the pimple is gone, according to Colorado dermatologist Adrienne Stewart. You’re far better off using a formulated spot treatment or tea tree oil.

Mayo Doesn’t Effectively Destroy Lice Eggs

Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images

When it comes to head lice, there are many alternative ways to get rid of them. One home remedy is to smother your head in mayo, the thought being that the thick condiment will suffocate the lice.

While it’s true that mayo can destroy active lice, you have to leave it on your head for several hours. Worst of all, it does nothing to get rid of lice eggs. Instead, medical director Laurie Steelsmith recommends using oil and vinegar, which will both smother active lice and break down the egg casings.

Cinnamon Can Cause Contact Dermatitis

Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A quick Google search will bring up a plethora of DIY cinnamon masks and exfoliants. The spice’s sudden popularity comes down to the antimicrobial properties found in cinnamon, which can be effective at killing certain bacteria responsible for acne. However, facialist Andy Millward warns that cinnamon’s active ingredient, cinnamaldehyde, is highly irritating and can lead to contact dermatitis.

In low doses, it’s unlikely you’ll react, but that also means the cinnamon is probably doing little to fight bacteria. Since many cinnamon facial routines also call for honey, the antibacterial benefits are likely coming from the sugary ingredient, not the cinnamon.

Egg Whites Can Contain Harmful Bacteria

Guido Kirchner/picture alliance via Getty Images
Guido Kirchner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Many DIY face masks contain egg whites because their protein is believed to have skin-tightening effects. In addition to there being little scientific evidence to back up these claims, there is also the risk of spreading bacteria.

Since raw eggs can carry Salmonella, using them in a face mask can be hazardous since the bacteria can enter broken skin. Also, since eggs are a common allergen, it’s especially important to use precaution around young children.

Witch Hazel Can Dry Out Skin

BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Witch hazel is a solution made from the bark and leaves of the Hamamelis virginiana plant. Since its tannins act as an astringent, some beauty gurus promote the product as a skin toner.

While the product can be useful in treating some skin ailments, using it every day can lead to skin problems. Since witch hazel is often preserved and distilled with alcohol, overuse can dry out the skin and cause flaking. Additionally, the eugenol found in witch hazel can cause irritation.

St. John’s Wort Can Interfere With Certain Medications

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Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

St. John’s Wort is a flowering plant that has been used to treat a variety of illnesses, but most recently is said to help with depression. The National Center For Complementary and Integrative Health reports that studies show mixed results concerning the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort on depression.

What’s worse is that taking the herb can weaken certain prescription medicines, including birth control pills, some cancer medications, and, ironically, antidepressants. Furthermore, NCCIH reports, “Combining St. John’s wort with certain antidepressants can lead to a potentially life-threatening increase of serotonin.”

Kava May Cause Liver Damage

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Kirstin Scholtz/World Surf League via Getty Images
Kirstin Scholtz/World Surf League via Getty Images

Derived from the Piper methysticum plant, Kava was traditionally made into a drink, but can also come in powder or tablet form. Since it has a calming effect, Kava is used to treat anxiety and aid sleep.

Medical News Today warns that Kava has been shown to cause liver damage, which is why several countries have restrictions on the substance. Furthermore, long-term use may lead to heart or eye problems and dry or yellowing skin.

Ipecac Syrup Is Not Recommended By Poison Control

ipecac-syrup
Golding/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Golding/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Ipecac syrup is a medicine that used to be popular in households. Since it induces vomiting, parents would keep it on hand in case their children accidentally swallowed poison. Though pediatricians used to recommend the solution, experts today strongly discourage its use.

Research shows that though ipecac syrup is effective at emptying the stomach, the remedy itself is ineffective at treating poisoning. In some cases, it can even complicate treatment. As a result, Poison Control discourages the use of ipecac, recommending people to call them right away instead.

Activated Charcoal Can Lead To Intestinal Blockage

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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to WebMD, activated charcoal is effective at treating poisoning since it traps chemicals. It also may be helpful in aiding certain digestive ailments and wound healing, though more research is needed.

While activated charcoal may be useful in certain instances, experts discourage its use as a detox. Since gastrointestinal blockage is a potential side effect of the substance, you would be better off drinking more water and letting the body detox itself naturally.

Ginger Ale Contains More Sugar Than Ginger

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Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ginger ale sounds like the perfect drink for an upset stomach. While studies back up the claim that ginger is a helpful treatment for nausea and other digestive ailments, soda isn’t exactly the best treatment.

Many ginger ales contain little to no actual ginger, and instead rely on artificial flavors and a ton of sugar. Gastroenterologist Gina Sam warns that sugar can feed pain-causing bacteria in the gut, exacerbating the problem. Instead, opt for ginger tea.

Olive Oil May Actually Increase Ear Wax

DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

A few drops of olive oil is said to help soothe ear pain and to assist in ear wax removal. However, Medical News Today states that there is no research to prove either claim. To the contrary, studies have shown olive oil to increase the amount of earwax in the ear.

Some experts warn that using olive oil in the ear may increase pain by increasing wax buildup and pressure. Other possible side effects include itching, irritation, infection, and dizziness.

Cranberry Juice Cannot Cure A UTI

cranberry juice
vasile23/Flickr
vasile23/Flickr

While cranberry juice may have a positive impact on preventing urinary tract infections, it is not recommended as a treatment for the problem. According to Medical News Today, cranberries may help inhibit bacteria growth because of their acidity.

Experts also hypothesize that cranberry juice may help prevent bacteria from attaching to urinary tract walls. However, by the time you have symptoms, you already have an infection. While cranberries may help prevent a UTI, they are not proven to cure one.

Urine Isn’t The Cure For A Jellyfish Sting

Inger Vandyke /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Inger Vandyke /VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you live along the coast, you’ve probably heard the old wives’ tale about urinating on a jellyfish sting. Scientific American disproved this claim, revealing that the key to relief is salt! Since the sodium content in urine varies, the results aren’t always effective, and can even make symptoms worse.

Jellyfish cells cling to the skin and release more venom as their environment changes. That’s why fresh water can make the sting even worse. Scientific American recommends vinegar, baking soda, and seawater paste as potential solutions to a jellyfish sting.

Copper Bracelets Haven’t Been Proven To Help Arthritis

copper-bracelet
Clint Budd/Flickr
Clint Budd/Flickr

Some claim that copper bracelets help relieve arthritis. The idea is that the surrounding skin absorbs small copper particles that work to regrow joint cartilage. Scientists at the University of York decided to put this claim to the test.

They gave participants either a copper bracelet, magnetic wrist strap, or a placebo band. The results showed no difference in relief between all three. Researchers think that the unproven belief may stem from the fact that arthritis pain comes in waves.

Garlic May Not Benefit Your Cholesterol

JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images
JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

According to the Mayo Clinic, the long-held belief that garlic improves cholesterol may be inaccurate. While older studies produced inconclusive results, recent studies suggest that garlic may be ineffective when it comes to treating poor cholesterol.

A 2009 review did find that garlic lowered triglycerides slightly, but had no impact on LDL or HDL levels. The good news is that garlic has a ton of other health benefits, like being packed with antioxidants and reducing blood pressure.

Citrus Fruits Can Damage Teeth

Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Some beauty gurus suggest using citrus fruits to whiten teeth. The high acidity may result in pearly whites temporarily, but in the long term, it can leech the calcium from your teeth. The result is an off-white stain that is even harder to improve.

The Oral Health Foundation warns that foods with a low pH, like citrus fruits, may cause erosion, especially when combined with brushing. Avoid DIY teeth whitening instructions that suggest mixing baking soda with lemon juice and brushing it over your teeth.

Gargling Mouthwash May Irritate A Sore Throat

A photograph of a man gargling with a glass of water
SSPL/Getty Images
SSPL/Getty Images

When you have a sore throat, you may be tempted to gargle mouthwash. While doing so can kill bacteria, it won’t serve to fight viral infections like strep throat. Worse, the ingredients in mouthwash can be very irritating on a sore throat.

Likewise, apple cider vinegar can be harsh when gargled on a sore throat. To kill bacteria without irritating the throat, experts generally advise mixing salt into a cup of warm water and gargling.