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Teeth whitening: how to find the right product

There are lots of different teeth whitening products available. On this page we:

  • Take you through the options
  • Help you understand which one is best for you
  • Offer some safety tips

What are the options?

The main differences between teeth whitening products are the effort involved in using them and the intensity of the clean. You need to balance these two factors to select the right product.

Factors like price also come in to it.

Intensity of clean/ Effort involved


How many treatments?

Daily treatments for 2-4 weeks.

How long does each treatment take?

30-60 mins.

Effort involved?

A lot.

Effectiveness 1-5 (1 not that effective, 5 effective)



  • Best results


  • More work than alternatives
  • Gel can seep out and irritate gums if not applied correctly.

Kits include trays that are a bit like mouth guards. You push them up on to your teeth and leave them on for a set amount of time to get the whitening effect. Trays are either pre-filled or have to be filled using a syringe which is a bit more work.

We recommend using kits if you want a thorough clean but don’t want to spend the money on professional whitening.

Find out about costs, ingredients and how to use trays here.


Dissolvable strips

How many treatments?

Daily treatments for 1-3 weeks.

How long does each treatment take?

5-15 mins.

Effort involved?


Effectiveness 1-5 (1 not that effective, 5 effective)



  • Quick
  • No faffing with trays
  • Often non-peroxide


  • Can move when on teeth, meaning uneven results of content with gums that can cause irritation
  • Some people find them uncomfortable

Non-dissolvable strips

How many treatments?

Daily treatments for 1-3 weeks.

How long does each treatment take?

30-60 mins.

Effort involved?


Effectiveness 1-5 (1 not that effective, 5 effective)



  • Effective at whitening
  • Easy than using trays


  • Can move when on teeth, meaning uneven results of content with gums that can cause irritation
  • Some people find them uncomfortable
  • Can be a bit messy to remove

Strips are a bit easier than kits but you still have to keep them in your mouth for a set amount of time which some people find uncomfortable.

We recommend you try strips if you want good results but aren’t quite ready to use a full tray. Strips are a good product to find out whether a regular teeth whitening routine will give you what you want.

To find out how to use strips, what’s in them, the best products and how much they cost, click here.

Activated charcoal

How many treatments?

daily treatments for 3-5 days

How long does each treatment take?

5-10 mins.

Effort involved?


Effectiveness 1-5 (1 not that effective, 5 effective)



  • Quick
  • Just like brushing


  • No clinical evidence to prove it whitens teeth
  • Can wear down enamel and harm teeth
  • Gets your sink dirty

Activated charcoal comes as powder that you brush your teeth with. Unlike other teeth whitening products there isn’t any scientific evidence to say that it works, but lots of anecdotes from around the internet say that it does.

Be careful not to overuse it as you may risk damaging the enamel on your teeth. Activated charcoal is good if you don’t like the sensation of a tray or strip in your mouth. However, it does make your sink a bit messy!

Click here to find out more about what activated charcoal is, how to use it and recommended products.


How many treatments?


How long does each treatment take?

5 mins

Effort involved?

A little

Effectiveness 1-5 (1 not that effective, 5 effective)

2-3 depending on quality of product


  • Very convenient
  • A good starter product
  • Perfect quick fix when out and about


  • Less intense treatment so subtler long-term result

Teeth whitening pens are great for on the go use, and when you are looking for subtler results. They don’t involve the same amount of effort as strips, charcoal or trays. If you’re curious about teeth whitening but don’t want a treatment that is too involved, pens may be the choice for you.

Click here to find out how pens, work and how much they cost.

Safety tips

Buy from reputable brands—especially when shopping online—to make sure you are exposed to safe levels of hydrogen peroxide.

EU regulations stipulate that teeth whitening products cannot be administered or supplied if they contain over 6% of hydrogen peroxide. Products with 0.1%–6% of hydrogen peroxide have to be sold and administered by a dentist and cannot be sold over the counter.

However, you may be able to find sellers online who supply teeth whitening products that exceed both the 0.1% and the 6% rules. These products are unsafe to use and we strongly recommend you avoid them. Always buy from reputable brands and well-known stores.

Click here to read more about tooth whitening regulations

  • Before you treat your teeth, read the enclosed instructions in full and follow them carefully.
  • Don’t leave the whitening solution on for any longer than advised, as it could cause problems (such as teeth sensitivity or sore gums).
  • Don’t use home teeth whitening strips or gels if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there is no evidence that these are safe to use at this time.
  • If at any point your teeth or gums feel uncomfortable, stop the process and consult your doctor.
  • Don’t exceed the recommended usage.

Professional teeth whitening—gels and lasers (UV)
how many treatments?

2-4 sessions

How long does each treatment take?

30-60 mins, every 1-2 weeks.

Effort involved?

A lot.

Effectiveness 1-5 (1 not that effective, 5 effective)



  • Administered by a professional, who can recommend the best course of treatment for your teeth
  • Very effective, as dentists can use stronger whitening formulas
  • Works quickly


  • A lot more expensive than home treatments
  • You have to attend several dental appointments

What you get

Dentists offer two kinds of professional teeth whitening services.

1. Traditional gels and kits using hydrogen peroxide

Like home treatment kits, it’s the contact between the whitener and the teeth that bleaches the teeth.

2. Laser treatments that use UV lights to activate the whitening agent

Lasers don’t actually whiten your teeth—they speed up the whitening process by heating the whitening agent. So rather than having to use a tray over a few weeks, all stains should be gone after two to four 30-minute applications.

What happens during the treatment

Your dentist will:

  1. check your teeth in good health and that you’re a suitable candidate for teeth whitening
  2. thoroughly clean your teeth to remove any bacteria or plaque
  3. create a mould of your teeth and use this to make a tray to fit your upper and lower teeth
  4. at your next appointment, fill the custom-made trays with whitening gel and place them over your teeth
  5. activate the whitening gel with a laser (if you’re having laser whitening treatment)

Your teeth should look whiter immediately after either treatment.

For the best possible results, your dentist will provide you with trays and whitening gel so you can repeat the procedure at home.

They will give you exact instructions but you’ll need to regularly apply the gel over 2–4 weeks.


Dentists are allowed to use a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide than products you buy over the counter, which will whiten your teeth more rapidly and effectively.

Do they work?

Teeth whitening trays are effective. However, there are conflicting studies into the effectiveness of lasers, and no concrete evidence to support their use.

Peroxide vs non-peroxide

What is hydrogen peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent used in lots of teeth whitening products. It is safe to use but if you have sensitive teeth or gums you may experience some irritation, which is why non-peroxide treatments are available.

What are non-peroxide whitening products?

Non-peroxide products use alternative whitening agents to hydrogen peroxide and are suitable for those with sensitive gums and teeth. The whitening agent included in non-peroxide is often a sodium compound such as sodium chlorite or sodium bicarbonate.  

Best teeth whitening products:

1. Spotlight whitening pen

Easiest to use

  • €14.99
  • two months with daily use
  • Takes seconds to apply
  • Great for on-the-go, temporary touch-up

2. iWhite Dark Stains Teeth whitening kit

Best for dark stains

  • €22.49 (approx. €5 per treatment)
  • Five treatments
  • Works in 20 minutes, faster than some other kits
  • Special technology that absorbs dark pigments in your teeth

3. Spotlight teeth white strips

Best value

  • €39.95 (approx. €2.85 per treatment)
  • 14 treatments
  • Works in one hour
  • Instant results in one hour

4. Beam Teeth Whitening Kit

Best whitening kit

  • €49.95
  • two weeks of daily treatments
  • Whiter teeth in one week
  • Peroxide-free and suitable for sensitive teeth

McCabes recommends:

Spotlight are an Irish brand of teeth whitening products created by cosmetic dentists Dr Lisa and Dr Vanessa Creaven. Still both practising dentists, their hands-on experience gives them a unique insight into what patients want and what formulas actually work. That means they can create safe, effective and easy to use systems.

Spotlight whitening pen

Spotlight teeth white strips

Spotlight whitening toothpaste

Related content:

Teeth whitening FAQs

Full range of teeth whitening products


Back to Teeth Whitening


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