I tried $50 teeth whitening strips for 2 months before my wedding. They left me with a dazzling smile - but lighting matters more for your photos of the big day.

·7 min read
Anna teeth thumb
Two weeks after inconsistently using white strips vs. wedding day 6 weeks later. The strips help, but good makeup and a good photographer work wonders. Anna Medaris Miller/Daphne Youree

My teeth have always been fine, but there's definitely room for improvement.

Anna teeth before with dog
Here's my natural, pre-wedding smile from fall 2020. Ryan Lynch

A couple months before my September wedding, I took advantage of a free dental consultation. One of my bottom teeth is crooked (a clear consequence of me never wearing the retainer I got post-braces decades ago) and all my teeth are, shall we say, "off-white."

Next to lipstick and the bright white of a wedding dress, I worried they'd appear yellow.

I asked the dentist: How much improvement is possible in 10 weeks?

The dentist said I could use Invisalign for straightening, but any change would be barely noticeable by the big day. As for whitening, I had two options.

Dentist
I went to Dntl Bar (not pictured) in New York City for my consultation. I was so impressed by the dentist's bedside manner and thorough explanations. LGK/Getty images

One was a $275 "express" whitening said to improve teeth two to three shades in an hour. The other was a $575 "zoom" whitening session that's supposed to improve your teeth up to eight shades in a 90-minute session. That option also included a whitening tray so I could give my teeth an extra boost right ahead of wedding day.

However, after consulting with a pearly-white-toothed friend who uses whitening strips sold on Amazon for $50 per 21-day pack, I decided to save some money for other wedding expenses and give the strips a shot.

Teeth Whitening Strips (small)

Here's a close up of my teeth on June 20, before I started using the strips on July 12, exactly 8 weeks ahead of my wedding.

Anna teeth June 20
This isn't my "smile," per se, but rather an attempt to capture the toothiest look. Anna Medaris Miller

In addition to being slightly yellow, my smile has always had what I call an "oatmeal" on the bottom of my right front tooth. The dentist compared it to a freckle, saying it's a natural discoloration that will always be there, no matter how much or what kind of whitening I pursue.

I opted for Lumineux, based on my friend's recommendation. They're "non-toxic" and not supposed to cause any tooth sensitivity.

Teeth whitening strips
$50 seems relatively standard for a box of whitening strips, but that can add up to the cost of a professional whitening if use them daily for months or more. Anna Medaris Miller

I'd never used any sort of tooth whitening strips, so the process at first was surprisingly slimy. I kind of thought they just stuck on like stickers, but I learned they get gooey when wet. Plus, you have to fold part of each strip over the tops of your teeth, which can take a few tries to keep them centered.

After my first application, I didn't feel any tooth sensitivity — but I did feel nauseous.

I think it was anxiety — the idea of accidentally swallowing the chemicals creeped me out, but after reading the ingredients list (things like coconut oil and lemon peel), I relaxed and never felt nauseous again.

Most whitening strips use peroxide to achieve their aim, which can irritate the tooth nerve and cause pain or sensitivity in some people, according to VeryWell Health.

That could be why Lumineux boasts a "certified non-toxic" label, but that doesn't mean other whitening strips, which the American Dental Association supports, are harmful.

Here's a closeup of my teeth on July 23, after about two weeks of admittedly inconsistent use.

Anna teeth July 23
I noticed that where I stood in my apartment and even what time of day changed how white my teeth looked, regardless of how long I'd been using the strips. Anna Medaris Miller

I mostly got into a routine of using the strips in the morning, after a workout and before any meals or coffee. They only take 30 minutes and you need to wait another 30 after before eating or drinking.

That gave me time to wear them while starting work, since I typically didn't have phone or video calls in that first 30 minutes. (Attempting to talk to anyone who doesn't love you unconditionally while wearing them is not a good idea.)

A few days later, I snapped a picture of my teeth while covered in the translucent strips.

Anna teeth July 28
I would set a 30-minute alarm to remind me to take them off, and another 30-minute alarm to remind me not to eat or drink right afterwards. Anna Medaris Miller

I did notice that as soon as I was done with the strips and had rinsed out my mouth, my teeth were brighter. But the distribution was spotty, with bright white patches on some tips of teeth for example. That unevenness faded a bit over the next hour or so.

About 3 and a half weeks in, I did notice improvement but wanted more, so I stepped it up.

Anna teeth August 4
As the wedding approached, I thought I'd dedicate more time to a beauty routine, but the reverse was true. Anna Medaris Miller

Part of my lackluster results were likely user-related. I probably only used the strips on about two-thirds of the days.

Travel for another wedding and my bachelorette party threw me off, and on days I went into the office, I couldn't pull off the morning routine. For better or worse, I'm not someone who does self-care at night.

I ended up ordering the Lumineux toothpaste ($10) along with another box of strips in an attempt to cram ahead of the big day.

Toothpaste (small)

After a few days of whitening strips plus whitening toothpaste, my teeth seemed to be continuing to get brighter but it definitely wasn't dramatic.

Anna teeth August 9
Here you can see my "oatmeal" or "freckle" is especially prominent. Anna Medaris Miller

I didn't particularly like the toothpaste — I'm usually a fan of the Arm & Hammer brand that's loaded with baking soda. That makes me feel like my teeth are getting whiter, but maybe the Lumineux was doing a better job.

Five weeks in, or three ahead of the wedding, my tan from plenty of outdoor pool visits and a couple of beach trips could have made my teeth look brighter.

Anna teeth August 17
I still don't think I could pull off a red lipstick, though. Anna Medaris Miller

Exactly a week before the wedding, I tried to double down and use two strips a day.

August 27 Anna teeth
Here you can see how the white patches are uneven right after strip application. Anna Medaris Miller

That plan lasted only one day, with the chaos of last-minute wedding planning disrupting any sort of beauty routine.

Still, my teeth seemed brighter.

When picking up our rings, my then-fiancé commented, unprompted, on how good they looked. Perhaps it was the lighting in the jewelry store, but I took the compliment.

On the wedding day, my teeth were the last thing on my mind. But when I got the photos, I was impressed by my pearly whites.

Anna teeth wedding (smaller size)
My neighbor, whom I met through our dogs, was my photographer. Daphne Youree Photography

Ultimately, however, I credit the photographer, the lighting, my makeup artist — and dare I say love? — far more than the whitening strips for my sparkly smile.

Still, I found the strips a relatively accessible, affordable, and discomfort-free way to give your mouth a modest upgrade.

Related Article Module: The 6 best at-home teeth whitening kits in 2021, according to dentists

I've never tried other at-home products like bleaching kits or peroxide-based whitening strips, but based on Insider's review of teeth-whitening products, other options like Crest's 3D Professional Effects Whitestrips may have been more effective — if I was willing to risk discomfort.

Read the original article on Insider