Teeth-whitening is one of the largest growing procedures in the UK. With more and more celebrities and sports stars turning to teeth-whitening more and more people are looking to copy their idols and try and improve their smile.

The teeth-whitening industry is worth billions of pounds and is a growing industry globally.

With more and more people looking for cheap ways to secure the “perfect smile”, and beauty entrepreneurs looking for the next service to offer, what are the dangers to both clients and beauticians and what is the legal position?


  • Singles are twice as likely to opt for teeth-whitening than those in a relationship
  • Half the single clients/patients have admitted doing so illegally
  • In 2019 there were 732 cases of illegal-teeth whitening reported to the General Dental Council, a 26% increase from 582 in 2018

The law

On 31 October 2012, the EU Council Directive 2011/84/EU came into force in the UK. In the UK, the changes were brought into force by the European Communities (Cosmetic Products) Regulations 2004 to 2013 in respect of teeth-whitening.

The Regulations say that products releasing up to 6% hydrogen peroxide can be used subject to:

  • Products of this strength are sold only to dental practitioners
  • A dentist has examined the patient to make sure there are no risks or any concern about their oral condition
  • Patient is over 18 years of age
  • For each cycle of use, first use is by a dental practitioner or under their direct supervision by a dental hygienist or dental therapist.
  • The percentage of Hydrogen Peroxide (contained or released) must be clearly and appropriately labelled.

Over the counter products

Tooth-whitening products and kits bought on the internet or in a shop can legally only contain up to 0.1 per cent hydrogen peroxide. It is stated this concentration is too low to have any noticeable effect on the colour of the teeth. Products that contain over 0.1 per cent hydrogen peroxide can legally only be sold to a dentist.

Beware illegal activity and the risk to your health

The risk to beauticians is there is an obvious temptation to enter this market as there is a demand and therefore many will want to create the supply. There are “beauty schools” alleging, to the BBC, to have provided thousands of beauticians with illegitimate qualifications and incorrect advice on the legal position of teeth-whitening. Many have been advised the processes are “legal” as clients would be asked to carry out parts of the procedure themselves.

From reading the legal position it appears that handing a client a tooth whitening kit and advising them on how to process and use this kit could constitute “advice and attendance” in respect of an interpretation of the law and would therefore equal a criminal offence equalling jail or an unlimited fine.

For the client, there are huge health risks in using illegal teeth-whitening processes. There have been reports of:

  • Tooth loss
  • Blisters
  • Burns with permanent scarring
  • Heart attacks

Best practice

For people interested in teeth-whitening for themselves the advice from the industry leaders is “that tooth whitening is the practice of dentistry and anybody considering getting their teeth whitened to do so should contact a registered dentist. Although this may cost a little more at the dentist you are removing yourself from great risk by placing yourself in the hands of a qualified professional.”

For beauticians, the advice is to beware and stay away from mis-leading advertisements and offers to undergo training in this area under false pretences with promises of the beautician receiving a certificate and ability to perform an illegal activity. The risk of jail and unlimited fines is a real one for those who breach the law.

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References: Oral Health Foundation (2017) ‘National Smile Month 2017 United Kingdom Survey’, Atomik Research, Survey, 21 March 2017, Sample 1,015 and General Dental Council via the BBC News article -Teeth-whitening: Reports of illegal procedures up 26%