Z-list celebs flashing chiselled abs on Instagram. Soap stars squeezing into last-minute wedding dresses. Even middle-aged ex-boxers battling back to fighting weight. All papped sipping new detox teas that controversially claim to melt fat.

Converts report bountiful energy, stubborn flab shrinking, and junk food cravings cured. “Life changing.” “Amazing.” “My body is so free of toxins and so much lighter,” gush reviews.

The proof is in the pictures. Hundreds of them. Galleries of before and after shots shared by young women showing off their shrinking waists after as little as 14 days, results that have unsurprisingly fuelled a surge in the popularity of the ‘Teatox’.

There’s a backlash brewing, though. Behind benign branding and celeb selfies lie serious concerns about the ingredients used by brands to deliver these results.

A petition calling for the removal of “dangerous laxatives” in many detox teas attracted 28,000 signatures last month, diet watchdogs have labelled the craze “unsafe”, and influential publications including Teen Vogue have warned young women to steer clear.

So who’s flogging detox teas? What is the evidence against them? And do the brands and retailers currently cashing in on detox teas have a leg to stand on, or will they get burned?

Sold as 14 day to four-month plans, the majority of detox teas claim to improve health and help users slim down with a two-step system. One daytime tea, often containing a mix of green tea, caffeinates or ‘Eastern botanicals’ to energise is drunk daily, with a nighttime tea added in every other day to ‘cleanse the colon’.

Wielding weight loss transformations online and shipping samples to Insta-icons like Kylie Jenner (who shared a snap clutching a pack of SkinnyMint with her 78 million Instagram followers), the popularity of detox tea has soared. A quick search on Google brings up 11 million hits, market leader Bootea has twice the Twitter followers (53.4k) of PG Tips. And the sales are huge. A year ago, Holland & Barrett CEO Peter Aldis told The Grocer leading brand Bootea was his favourite product after performing “very well” across the health chain’s 620 UK outlets.

Success is certainly working for Bootea’s bottom line. Charging 14 times the price of an average cuppa (42p/teabag compared with 3p), sales skyrocketed 84% last year and profits climbed 54%, though the brand refused countless tweets and emails from The Grocer to talk this through. As did many of its rivals.

That doesn’t surprise Dr Lauretta D’Honneur. Ever since the nutrition and weight loss specialist added her voice to a growing number of Teatox critics, she says UK-based Bootea has been poor at engaging over concerns they and other brands both mislead young women and put them at risk. Two cups of tea per day may “seem a very convenient approach to weight loss” she says, but there is no science to back up the claim it works at all. Despite approaching a number of leading brands for their evidence, all were “mysteriously silent” - except for Slendertox, a brand set up three years ago selling teas, shakes and capsules.

Slendertox claims its teas help “to break down the fatty deposits that adhere to the gastrointestinal tract” but only cited “500 positive reviews” as evidence of this. “This makes absolutely no sense. How is it legal for them to be making these crazy claims with absolutely no evidence?” says D’Honneur.

Scientific evidence to back up the craze simply doesn’t exist, adds British Dietetic Association (BDA) spokeswoman Sian Porter.

“How is it legal for them to be making these crazy claims with absolutely no evidence?”

Bootea has already fallen foul of the ASA in 2014. Owner Eight Twenty Ventures was ordered to remove 10 health claims from its website including ‘allows you to reach weight loss goals’, ‘cleanse and detoxify’ and ‘counteract fat storage’ after failing to provide any scientific evidence for the statements. It has since calmed down the rhetoric to ‘assisting with the overall health and wellbeing’ of its one million customers instead, who are left feeling ‘energised and motivated to reach their goals’.

Other brands free from a regulatory slap on the wrists are less cautious. Slendertox still claims its products break down fat, while Teami UK says its teas ‘aid in weight management,’ and ‘reduce bloating’.

But customers that do shed pounds only do so as a result of “the halo effect” insists Porter, as they substitute high-calorie food and drink for detox teas despite advice to eat a normal healthy diet along with exercise. And short-term effects include “pooing out everything”, as many leading detox teas contain a laxative, often senna leaf.

Senna leaf

senna leaf

Used in both over-the-counter and prescription laxatives, senna is a herb containing chemicals known as sennosides, which irritate the lining of the bowel, triggering a laxative effect.

Though many detox teas do not specify the quantity of Senna used Skinny Mint says it uses 1,025mg per teabag, which is nearly 10 times the quantity contained in a single Senokot tablet (though the tea is only recommended for use once every two days and may contain less active ingredient than a tablet.)

Although the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency have no public assessment available of leading detox teas, it also warns that over-the-counter laxative tablets using senna leaf should not be used by under-18s due to “insufficient data” on the side effects.

It adds that “if stimulant laxatives are taken for longer than a brief period of treatment, this may lead to impaired function of the intestine and dependence on laxatives.”

“It can make you feel like you’re losing weight, you’re slimmer and cleansed,” explains D’Honneur, but the negative side effects prompted her and the BDA to speak publicly on the potential danger of many detox tea programmes, launching a petition that called for the removal of the ingredient, attracting 28,000 signatures in a little under two months.

“I had the worst cramps of my life and it lasted two days,” she says of her own experience with a detox tea. “I’ve never had that when I’ve taken a single tablet of senna.”

She isn’t alone. Reviews report “sharp pains” capable of waking them in the night and “rushing to the loo” to relieve themselves. “From the petition I got so many emails, comments and tweets saying: I had no idea, I just thought it was a cup of tea,” she adds. “I had two girls who said they brewed it for a long time as they thought the stronger it was, the more cleansing, and then had no idea why they were so ill.”

Use of a laxative can be far more dangerous than a few unwanted cramps, she adds. In the shorter term loss of fluids and electrolytes can lead to dehydration, while prolonged use can contribute to muscle damage, heart arrhythmia and a lazy bowel dependent on laxatives. “You’ve got side effects that aren’t overly pleasant and people aren’t aware of it because of the way they’ve been marketed as something totally benign.”

Embarrassing situations

But the brands behind the trend refute the allegations. “We don’t have any concerns about senna as an ingredient,” says Shannon Bruce, spokeswoman at Slendertox. “It’s FDA approved and used quite frequently in other teas. It’s a gentle laxative and we only included it in our ‘sleeptoxes’, which are supposed to be taken every two days.”

And yet brands do warn customers of unpleasant side effects. SkinnyMint says customers “may feel a churning tummy and visit the bathroom more often”, while Bootea recommends customers begin a plan either on a weekend or day off so they “can go to the toilet when necessary” and avoid “embarrassing situations”.

Both advise products should be taken only for the recommended period of time, with SkinnyMint specifying a six-week break between packs.

Yet Bootea appears to run roughshod over its own advice by offering savings for those who sign up to repeat subscription packages delivering new tea programmes monthly, and several published reviews refer to continued use, including a 15-year-old “seeing results” from her second consecutive Teatox.

The trouble lies largely in this young, female demographic, say critics. “Endorsed by celebrities like the Kardashians, these brands shamelessly plug their products to a very susceptible audience, particularly teenage girls and young women,” says Porter. “Often people say, where’s the harm? But in something like this, there is a lot of harm.”

“These brands shamelessly plug their products to a very susceptible audience”

“It’s the maturity level of knowing when something is off or not,” adds D’Honneur. “I spoke to a 15-year-old who took it for two months and she tweeted me to say ‘I’m having these pains and feeling dizzy, might it be the tea?’ It didn’t occur to her, she just wanted to be thin so she powered on through the cramps and the illness.”

Some brands are already backing away from laxatives. Though insisting it’s had “no complaints” about the senna in its nighttime teas, Slendertoxtea says it will strip the ingredient from future products. “There was such controversy around it, we didn’t want to be involved in anything that could cause health issues or sell things people were concerned about,” says Bruce.

And brands that purposely position themselves as an antidote to the laxative trend have begun to emerge.

“Since our launch we’ve become slightly wary of being on the ‘skinny tea’ bandwagon,” says the Skinny Tea Co. “The majority of skinny teas come nicely packaged but only contain senna, which has then been blended with various other herbs and additives of dubious value. All of our teas are 100% laxative-free.”

But with “cash rolling in week in and week out”, according to Slendertoxtea head of buying Andrew Watt, are market leaders such as Bootea and SkinnyMint likely to make the same change?

Quietly it seems they already are. The brand has recently amended its packaging to clarify the inclusion of senna, according to Holland & Barrett, while the retailer has begun selling a laxative-free version in stores “for those customers who would prefer this.”

Along with Ocado and Amazon, the high street retailer should continue to keep a close eye on developments or risk being swept up in controversy going forward, suggests branding expert Allyson Stewart-Allen.

They could “consider delisting as or when more authorities prove the product is dangerous” she adds. “Alternatively, these retailers could take a stand now to delist these products, which would enhance their reputations among their target market segments.”

That might rob them of the fruits of the detox tea trend in the short term. But it might also win them plaudits when, and if, the backlash against teatox reaches boiling point.

Who’s who in the detox tea market



Products : Upbeat pink and green packaged Teatoxes, spanning 14 or 28 days. Nighttime teas contain senna leaf though the brand does sell a senna-free variety

Price : £19.99 for 14-day plan

Claims : After landing itself in trouble with the ASA over unsubstantiated claims, the brand now keeps things vague. It is focused on “assisting with overall health and wellbeing”

Success : Huge. Turnover at the UK company soared 83.9% to £17.2m in 2015, according to its latest set of accounts, with pre-tax profits at £6.3m. It’s also one of the few to secure listings in UK retailers including Holland & Barrett, Ocado and Amazon


Skinny Mint

Products : Emblazoned with its #Daretobegorgeous hashtag, Skinny Mint distributes two to four-week Teatox plans containing senna from warehouses in the US and Singapore

Price : £22.90 for a starter 14-day Teatox

Claims : The brand avoids the need to make direct claims relying on “real results” from its customers instead, captured in before and after shots

Success : UK parent company Bodyboost might be too small to file full accounts but with global celebs like Kylie Jenner calling on her 78.7 million Instagram followers to sign up, the brand seems to be making a name for itself. It sells to the UK via its own website and Amazon



Products : This UK brand’s pink and blue detox tea programmes range from 14 days to three months and until recently contained senna leaf. However, this is now set to be replaced.

Price : £19.99 for 14 days

Claims : The brand says its tea works by “helping to break down the fatty deposits that adhere to the gastrointestinal tract enabling it to work more efficiently”

Success : Exempt from publicly filing its sales figures, Slendertoxtea products have been featured across national newspapers and magazines, accruing 100,000 followers on Twitter, with its original tea products its most popular product, according to the brand

Teami UK


Products : A 30-day supply, two-week plan, and four-month detox treatment are among the tea plans aimed at weight loss. Its Colon Cleanse tea bags contain senna leaf, as well as another laxative, psyllium husk seed

Price : £19.99 for its two-week ‘Skinny’ plan

Claims : “Getting rid of the toxins that your body is holding on to will allow it to function properly, burn the correct amount of calories and have natural energy levels every day.”

Success : The brand sounds confident. It boldly asserts it is the “world’s bestselling skinny tea”

The Skinny Tea Co


Products : Pushing its “100% laxative free” credentials, the Skinny Tea Co sells four to 12-week teatoxes in sweet flavours such as summer berry jam, ice cream and milk chocolate, all of which incorporate “a secret blend of handpicked, naturally scented and organic whole leaf oolongs”

Price : Cheapest pack is £49.95

Claims : Aims for its teas to emulate detox teas sipped in South East Asia, which “speed up your metabolism, burn fat, and help to build lean muscle tone”

Success : Says it’s built up a “large and loyal” fan base since 2013, with over 500,000 cups brewed so far by customers across 50 countries

Fit Tea

Fit Tea

Products : Sells simpler one-step plans with a single tea across its Teatox plans made using of a mix of Chinese gunpowder, dandelion, ginger and Tulsi rather than a laxative.

Price : £13.60 for a two-week detox

Claims : Its teas “promote fat-burning and support your metabolism”

Success : Claims that 300,000 customers “trust” its products and has received endorsement from the Kardashian clan

Fuel Station

Fuel station

Products : Consumers can pick from three pillar-box red Teatox plans spanning 10 to 30 days and including a day and night tea, with the brand opting for a blend that includes green tea, violet, milk thistle and liquorice, which has mild laxative effects

Price : £16.99 for a 10 day Teatox

Claims : “Aims to give your energy levels a total reboot and aid your metabolism, allowing you to get back to your best and ditch the bloated feeling,” says the brand

Success : The brand is featured in a number of consumer titles and endorsed by athletes but sales data isn’t publicly available

Skinny Boo

Skinny Boo

Products : Containing natural diuretic Nettle, Skinny Boo teas offers one of the longest teatoxes on the market, with plans ranging from 15 days to six months

Price : £24.99 for 15-day plan

Claims : “Our skinny tea is handpicked when they contain the highest concentrations of fat-burning antioxidants and polyohenols” to speed up the metabolism

Success : Says it is “fast becoming the detox tea of choice” and one of the UK’s bestselling brands, but it isn’t clear on what figures this is based