Have you ever reached for something in your medicine cabinet only to find it’s expired? I recently grabbed an ointment only to learn it expired five years ago. With spring officially here, cleaning your medicine cabinet may be on your to-do list.
Here are some tips that may help.
1. Check expiration dates. Expiration dates have been regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 1979 with the goal of improving medication safety. Time flies, so I recommend looking at everything in your cabinet.
2. Dispose of discontinued medication. If you’re no longer taking a medication, it’s a good idea to dispose of it. Saving a medication just in case you may need it again someday will cause unnecessary clutter and can lead to it expiring.
3. Don’t guess. If you have unused medication in unmarked containers don’t try to guess what it is. Some medications can have look similar. This may be relevant if you use daily pill dispensers or use a pill box when traveling. Often when I pull out my travel pill box, I find leftover pills from my last trip. Depending on how often you travel, these pills may be expired or discontinued.
4. Consider moving your medications. While it’s most common to store medications and other items in your bathroom cabinets, it may not be the safest place for your family. Small children and pets are nosey and can get into things unexpectantly and quickly. Also, bathroom humidity can impact medication efficacy if not stored properly. Storing items on a high shelf in a kitchen cabinet or pantry may be a better place. Or put safety latches on your bathroom cabinet doors to prevent them from being opened by children.
Expiration guidelines for medications and other common items
1. Medication. If you discover your over-the-counter (OTC) headache medication like ibuprofen has expired, it may still be safe and effective to use. Some dates set by manufacturers only represent a quality guarantee. For prescriptions, it’s a good rule of thumb to discard unused medications after a year.
2. Topical ointments. Depending on the ointment and it’s use, it still may be safe to use up to a year after expiration. For example, a psoriasis ointment may still work, but be less effective if used after the expiration date. Antibacterial ointments shouldn’t be used much past the expiration date because this type of ointment is used to help prevent infection.
3. Sunscreen. The FDA requires sunscreens to remain effective for at least three years. So, depending on how often you use it, you can use sunscreen from year to year. Just double check the expiration date before applying it. We all know having a sunburn isn’t fun or good for our skin.
4. Lip balm. I’ve never thought much about lip balm. I tend to use it only during the cold, dry winter months and kind of assumed it lasted forever. But like everything else, it does have an expiration date. Lip balm should only be used up to a year after it has been opened. Expired lip balm can cause skin irritation and contain bacteria or fungus growth.
5. Toothbrush. While this isn’t an ointment or medication, it’s still important to know when to get rid of a used toothbrush due to bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a new one every three to four months or whenever worn. Another way to remember to replace it is to do it when daylight saving time (DST) begins and ends.
6. Hydrogen peroxide. This product has a shelf-life of up to three years. However, once it’s opened, it’s only good for six months.
1. Visit a drop-off site. Periodically throughout the year, you may hear advertisements on the radio about dropping off medications in your community. This is an effective and safe way to get rid of them. Local pharmacies may also take them back. To find a site in your area, click here.
2. Review the flush list. If a local drop-off isn’t available where you live, some medications can be flushed down the toilet. To learn what drugs are on the list and more about the environmental impact, click here.
3. Review the garbage list. Lastly, to learn about what medications can be thrown in your garbage, click here.
Not all expired medications are harmful or dangerous. They may simply be ineffective. If you’re not sure or have questions, it’s best to contact your local pharmacist or doctor’s office before using it.
Do you have any tips or ideas you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them; please share them in the box below.