Heard about the borax trend? Jumping onto it is dangerous

By: nabeela khan&
August 16 2023

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Heard about the borax trend? Jumping onto it is dangerous

Source: Flickr

The internet is full of videos suggesting home remedies for various health conditions. From improved immunity to cancer, there is nothing the internet doesn’t provide a solution for. But this time, influencers turned “health experts” have gone too far. An online trend suggesting that adding borax — a common ingredient found in household cleaners — to water or smoothies can help treat joint pain, osteoporosis, and inflammation is going viral. Several videos also suggest bathing and dipping toes in borax can cure fungal infections and detoxify the human body.

Screenshots of claims being shared on social media. (Source: Altered by Logically Facts)

Borax is a chemical compound found in cleaning agents such as laundry detergents. The U.S. National Poison Control Centre states, “Borax is not intended for human consumption and may cause toxic effects when swallowed, inhaled, or applied to the skin.”

But if the substance is toxic to humans, how did it gain popularity? 

Borax is a boron compound in the Earth’s crust and is naturally found in many plants and foods. Boron deficiency can affect bone and brain health, but a sufficient amount required for the human body is obtained through food. Consuming boron, other than what is found in food, can be harmful. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Exposure to large amounts of boron (about 30g of boric acid) over short periods can affect the stomach, intestines, liver, kidney, brain and can eventually lead to death.

How influencers became ‘health experts’

There are traces of information about boron’s anti-inflammatory effect from animal research. But a strong cause-and-effect relationship on human health has not been established.

Search results, including blog posts, suggest that boron is good for health, may improve bone health, and increase testosterone levels. A review published in 2020 analyzed 11 studies on the supplementation of boron and highlighted that further studies are needed stating, “Unfortunately, due to insufficient data available, recommended intake levels (RDA) for boron have not yet been established.”

Despite a clear lack of evidence, ingesting borax - referred to as the ‘borax challenge’ on TikTok, has garnered over 35 million views. Started by a user named Leah Anduiza whose video was removed, the challenge gained traction on other platforms. Several videos and posts on Instagram and YouTube claim borax can cure arthritis, osteoporosis, hormone imbalance, and insomnia. One such post uploaded on Instagram on February 23 referred to borax as a “super cure.”

(Source: Instagram/Screenshot)

Another Instagram user claims that borax is beneficial for the human body. The video has garnered over 12,000 likes and has been shared over 11,000 times.

(Source: Instagram/Screenshot) 

Speaking to Logically Facts, biochemist Dr. Eram Hussain Pasha said, “It’s crucial to approach health-related information critically. Claims suggesting that borax improves fertility and cures skin allergies lack robust scientific support. Exercise caution and stop experimenting with hazardous substances like borax.” 

Facebook also has private groups dedicated to borax. One group describes itself for those “who have a special place for Borax.” Another group’s description reads, “I was battling Candida overgrowth and no answers from doctors. Just adding a little amount of borax to green tea with milk and honey washed it out of my system.” 

There are few private groups on Facebook that advocate for the use of borax. (Source: Facebook/Screenshot)

The amount of borax-related misinformation on the internet is alarming and highlights that health misinformation thrives online. So, how does it impact individuals? 

What are the repercussions of health misinformation?

A 2022 study on the repercussions of health-related misinformation on social media noted that “infodemics during health emergencies have an adverse effect on society.” It advocates for creating and promoting awareness campaigns, digital and health literacy, and developing legal policies.  

Krish Ashok, science communicator and author of the book Masala Lab, says that this is a part of the challenge of dealing with science communication on social media. “It’s very hard to exactly nail down what precise effect a single ingredient or food has on the body. So we have to rely on aggregate studies over several years. In the short run, it’s easy for people to misinform anyone about what a particular paper actually means.”

We also looked at Google Search Trends and found some activity of the search term ‘drinking borax’ over the past 12 months (between mid-August 2022 till mid-August 2023). The highest interest was between April 16 to April 22 this year and from July 16 to July 22. Canada and the U.S.A have the highest searches for this term. The searches also included “are people drinking borax” and “why are people drinking borax.” 

Screenshot of Google Trends search results for the term drinking borax between mid August 2022 till mid August 2023. 

However, Pasha stresses that "Using borax for boron is unsafe. Studies highlight that borax is a toxic substance and health agencies warn against ingesting borax". 

Why are these trends still viral on social media?

"Platforms tend to amplify problematic content once users consume or interact with it. This is mainly because platforms want to increase user engagement so they feed them the content they think users are most likely to like and engage with," according to Prerna Juneja, a social computing researcher at the University of Washington. 

By auditing online platforms like YouTube and Amazon, Juneja told Logically Facts, "I have empirically established that how once users start engaging with misinformative content, for example, watching a conspiratorial YouTube video or clicking on an anti-vaccine book on Amazon, the platforms amplify misinformation by recommending more misinformative content to users." 

A study focusing on vaccine conversation on TikTok Italy points to the presence of non-expert figures providing vaccine related-information on social media is a popular trend and noted that there is a very limited presence of healthcare professionals. While the study focuses on one platform and one country, Ashok points towards the incentives that content creators receive for creating sensational content. 

"Social media incentives are not designed to promote factual or scientific information. They do not have any kind of moderation nor is it practical for them to have moderation to fact-check information. So the platform rewards sensational things, platform rewards negativity, platforms reward scaring people," Ashok said. "These incentives force content creators to try and grow their audiences because that is monetizable for advertisers by misrepresenting science. They are exploiting the fact that people want it to sound scientific, but they do not have the skills to understand the nuances and the complexities and caveats." 

For Juneja, platforms can enlighten users about the credibility of the information they encounter. "On a longer timescale, more profound interventions could include refinement of search, ranking, and recommendation algorithms. It's crucial for platforms to adjust their algorithms to account for misinformation biases, thereby diminishing exposure to misleading content," she said.

(Editor's Note: We have contacted TikTok and Meta to understand what action is being taken against content promoting the use of borax on their platforms. This story will be updated if and when we receive a response.) 

(Disclosure: Logically Facts is an official fact-checking partner for Meta and TikTok in the U.K. and other select European regions.)


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We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before