We Tried Popular Teeth Whitening Products — & Here's What We Thought

Any dentist will tell you coffee and wine are enemies no. 1 and 2 when it comes to a white smile. But there's just one problem — both are essential for us to remain sane throughout the week. There's no way we'd get through a 10 a.m. meeting without a double espresso shot. And who the heck wants to watch The Haunting of Hill House sans a nerve-calming glass of merlot? Unfortunately, these drinking essentials stain our teeth, and honestly, it's a consequence we are willing to live with.
Thankfully, there's an array of products out there to erase our sipping sins, keeping our smile white and giving us carte blanche to drink all the caffeine and vino we want. But while everything in the dental care aisle, from toothpaste to mouthwash, claims to give you a brighter smile, it's hard to know which ones will actually work and won't leave you with a toothache. So, R29 staffers set out to try the most popular and innovative teeth whitening products out there. Their honest opinions, ahead.
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At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
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The Product: Lumineux Whitening Strips

The Claim: Whiter teeth within minutes without the sensitivity, and can whiten up to 12 shades in two weeks.
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The Verdict:

"I like to think that brushing with an electric toothbrush every day and flossing (almost) every night are conducive to shiny, white teeth. But when I really think about it, I'm a morning coffee drinker, I like herbal tea, and I drink soda every time it comes with vodka, so my chompers are probably not living up to their brightest potential."

"The biggest difference between these strips and the ones I've used before is that the adhesive is super sticky. After I pop them over my teeth, they're really suctioned on, so I don't have to avoid talking (or salivating) to keep them from sliding around. I also like that they don't leave my teeth tingling — only the subtle taste of coconut is left over. As for the results, I wouldn't say I notice a huge difference, but my teeth definitely look a lot cleaner and shinier after I use them."

- Megan Decker, Beauty Assistant
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— PAID —

The Product: SmileDirectClub bright on™ Whitening Kit

The Claim: 3x faster than strips, removes even the most set-in stains.
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— PAID —

The Verdict:

"Iced coffee and red wine are (almost) always on my list of daily activities, so when I say I'm in desperate need of a whitening treatment, I'm not exaggerating."

"As someone with relatively sensitive teeth, I'm wary of whitening treatments that can make the cooling — and sometimes painful — sensation that much worse. This treatment, however, didn't make my teeth any more sensitive to cool drinks, which means I can keep indulging in said iced coffee (yes, please!). After using the gel pens — and pro-level LED light they come with — a.m. and p.m. for seven days, I ended up with a visibly whiter, shinier smile. And that, my friends, really made me smile."

— Claire Fontanetta, Senior Beauty Editor of Branded Content
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The Product: Luster Pro Light Teeth Whitening System

The Claim: Gently whitens up to six shades in 30 minutes with light technology.
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The Verdict:

“The thought of whitening my teeth sends chills down my spine. I have pretty sensitive teeth that freak out in the cold or when my coffee is too hot, so putting a whitening light to my grill was scary. With my sensitivity top of mind, I was extremely careful when trying this kit out. I followed the instructions exactly: pre-treat rinse, whitening serum, then gel. When I turned the light on and lifted it to my mouth, I held my breath and waited for my teeth to start hurting but, surprisingly, they didn’t."

"I kept the light on my mouth for a full two minutes and couldn’t help but think, 'Is this gonna give me wrinkles?' as I grinned extra wide activating every smile line on my face. But when my time was up, my teeth looked polished and shiny, and — most importantly — they weren’t sensitive. While I don’t think it made my teeth dramatically whiter than they already were, I do think that this is a great system to try the day of a big event, when you need your smile to sparkle just a little more.”

- Aimee Simeon, Beauty Writer
7 of 14
The Product: APA White Duo Kit

The Claim: An easy to use, two-step process that gives you brighter teeth in five days with zero mess.
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8 of 14
The Verdict:

"I really put my teeth through the ringer: I consume several coffee drinks per day, enjoy several glasses of red wine per week, and occasionally use my molars to tackle stubborn twist-off packaging in a pinch. So maybe they're less than perfect, but as long as they're in there, who really cares?"

"Based solely on the price of this kit, I expected it to do a little more to fix that; I found the overall experience — and the results — middling at best. The strips were too large for my teeth, so it was a struggle to put them on, but the biggest problem is just... it didn't make my teeth as white as I expected. It didn't irritate my sensitive gums, though, so that's a positive."

- Rachel Krause, Senior Beauty Writer
9 of 14
The Product: Colgate Essentials Daily Toothbrush + Toothpaste with Charcoal

The Claim: A daily toothpaste with charcoal that removes stains and impurities for whiter teeth and freshens breath.
10 of 14
The Verdict:

"The twice-daily ritual of brushing my teeth has never been a habit I gave much thought to, that is, beyond wanting to keep cavities and bad breath at bay. But after seeing an influx of charcoal toothpaste launches hit my inbox, I started changing up my tubes to see if it really makes a difference to scrub charcoal-infused paste onto your teeth. I've tried many varieties and this one is my favorite — not necessarily because it whitened my teeth more than the others — but because it is a pale gray rather than black, which means it doesn't leave a mess in my sink."

"Charcoal, like baking soda in toothpaste, really only buffs away surface stains, and while I did notice that my smile was a little brighter after a week of use, this toothpaste didn't give my smile a makeover by any means. But since I do indulge in frequent sips of wine and coffee, a little dental exfoliation twice daily is a welcome — albeit not entirely necessary — addition to my oral care routine."

- Mi-Anne Chan, Beauty Writer and Host
11 of 14
The Product: Tarte Pearly Girl Vegan Teeth Whitening Pen

The Claim: A bleach-free, vegan teeth whitening pen that applies with zero mess and doesn't require rinsing. It instantly reveals visibly whiter teeth while protecting tooth enamel.
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The Verdict:

"As someone who uses whitening strips and a blue light before every big occasion, I wasn’t expecting much from a product that claims to give instant results. I have to admit I was wrong. When I first swiped on this gel, I could see a change taking place right away. The yellow stains near my gums started to disappear. And then it started to bubble up a bit. I was literally foaming at the mouth, which was a funny sight for my coworkers, but I couldn’t close my mouth for 30 seconds per the instructions. So, I’d recommend using this pen in the privacy of the bathroom instead of at your desk in an open floor plan office."

"There was a weird moment where I didn’t know whether to swallow or spit out all the excess saliva and gel that built up. I ended up swallowing it… but at least it’s vegan. I immediately wanted to rinse my mouth with water, which is a no-no because you can’t eat and drink for 15 minutes. But I couldn’t stop smiling at myself in the mirror because my teeth were so white! There was a visible difference. I used the pen again before heading out to happy hour — you can use it up to four times a day — but the results weren’t as impressive the second time around."

- Jessica Cruel, Deputy Beauty Director
13 of 14
The Product: Dr. Ginger's Natural Coconut Teeth Whitening Gel Pen

The Claim: An alternative to oil pulling that removes stains and brightens teeth but is more convenient and better tasting.
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The Verdict:

"Putting this whitening gel on felt like a treat. The applicator itself is just like a lipgloss, with a fuzzy end that allows you easily swipe the clear, invisible liquid in circles over your teeth. Then you smile wide for a minute so your lips don't touch the product as it dries (you look crazy, but it's all good). There's no burning or stinging or sensitivity, just a sweet little coconut taste in your mouth."

"I actually just got a partial veneer and bonding on my two front teeth, so couldn't touch those with this product, but I did see a visible difference in my other teeth after using it once a day for one week. The difference isn't startling, but this was so incredibly easy to use I'll definitely keep going until this product completely runs out."

- Rachel Lubitz, Senior Beauty Writer
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