We asked experts if using distilled garlic water to open up your sinuses is safe and effective.
We’re as obsessed as anyone over Busy Philipps’ hilarious, entertaining, and all-to-real Instagram Stories, but something she tried yesterday made us cringe: Our girl filled a small syringe with distilled garlic water and shot the thing up her nose. Yes, really.
After telling followers that she strained the mixture through cheesecloth, we see her hang her head over the side of a bed and go to work. The immediate change in her facial expression says it all, but in case you didn’t catch it, here are a few snippets of her reaction: “Oh, that’s terrible… oh no… oh my god it really burns…my eyes are immediately watering.” Like many of her followers, we were left wondering… couldn’t you just use a Neti pot?!
Turns out, experts aren’t quite as surprised by this one as we were. “People put just about anything in a nasal rinse,” says Richard Lebowitz, MD, chief of rhinology at NYU Langone Health. “It’s not even really a shocking one to be honest with you.”
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Nasal rinsing—usually with a saline solution—is an effective tool against a whole host of nose and sinus issues, Dr. Lebowitz says, including sinus pressure and congestion. “It irrigates the nose,” he explains, which can help flush out mucus and allow you to breathe more easily. (Let’s clear up a common misconception while we’re at it: Unless you’ve had surgery to open your sinuses, a nasal rinse doesn’t actually enter those cavities, despite the fact that they’re often called “sinus rinses,” Dr. Lebowitz says. “It can still be beneficial [for the sinuses] by treating the nose.” Learn something new every day!)
There are lots of over-the-counter nasal rinses available, in squeeze bottle, spray, and other forms Philipps probably could have used, although admittedly they’d be harder to add garlic to. The form itself doesn’t matter much as long as you pick a product you’re comfortable with, Dr. Lebowitz says. Doctors often add prescription meds to a rinse for delivery right to the source of the issue, but he tells us they’re well aware patients often use home remedies too. (Manuka honey is a popular one for its antibacterial properties, he says.)
So why garlic? The bulb is known for its immune-boosting properties. “Garlic is an all-natural remedy that is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and has anti-fungal properties,” says Neeta Ogden, MD, a board-certified asthma and allergy specialist and spokesperson for Blueair. “Garlic has compounds…that can decrease swelling and may help reduce bacteria in the nasal cavity,” she says.
But just because someone is deemed healthy to eat doesn’t necessarily mean you should put it up your nose. “Garlic is a pretty strong food—to smell, taste, and touch,” Dr. Ogden says. “I think people should first try a small amount to make sure they don’t have a strong irritant reaction.” Definitely stay away from solid pieces of the bulb, Dr. Lebowitz says, which could make things really uncomfortable.
Despite her smart moves to use distilled water—which is filtered or treated to get rid of lurking bacteria or other organisms that could actually cause worse problems for your health, according to the FDA—and strain her solution through cheesecloth, we think it’s pretty safe to say Philipps was more than a little uncomfortable. Just look at this screen grab.
Still, after the garlic administering ended, she admitted: “I literally can breathe for the first time in weeks,” before adding, “I’m not recommending it to you, but it’s working.”
We’re glad you can breathe again, Busy—because we need more of your stories!—but if you’re reading this, please, stick to a Neti pot.