Medical experts say yes. We surveyed nurses to get their take on what they would never keep in their own medicine cabinets and why you shouldn’t either. Their answers may surprise you.
1. Makeup that’s beyond its expiration date
“Repeated use of expired makeup, especially foundation and eyeliners, can cause infection,” said Sandy Cayo, a clinical assistant professor of nursing at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing. She added that with every use of expired makeup, “you increase the chances of bacterial growth —and in turn breakouts and infections.”
Your makeup products should have an expiration date listed on the packaging, but in the event that they don’t, here is a rough guideline as to how long things should last:
- Mascara: three months to six months
- Eyeliner: six months to one year
- Foundation: two years
- Lipstick: two years
- Blush, eye shadow, face powders: one year to two years
- Natural, preservative-free cosmetics: three months to six months
Any drug that you don’t want into the hands of kids or home guests should be stored somewhere more secure than a medicine cabinet, said Teri Dreher, a registered nurse and owner of NShore Patient Advocates in Chicago.
Dreher said narcotics, in particular, should be under lock and key, or safely hidden. (Examples of these include medications like codeine and oxycodone.) And when they’re no longer needed, they should be disposed of at special boxes at pharmacies or police stations.
“There is a nationwide opioid epidemic and you can never be more careful that narcotics do not end up in the wrong hands,” Dreher explained.
It’s also a good idea to get rid of any narcotics that are expired and you no longer need. “If you have been treated for an injury or a surgery and were prescribed narcotics but didn’t use them all, they should be properly disposed,” explained Ashley Cook, the patient safety manager at Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville Colorado.
Not storing your medications in a medicine cabinet may sound counterintuitive, but Gail Trauco, a patient advocate and CEO of medical retail store The PharmaKon LLC in Atlanta, doesn’t recommend keeping them there.
“All medications have [expiration] dates and temperature storage requirements,” Trauco said, adding that it can be challenging to read what’s on labels as they fade in a medicine cabinet.
Crystal Polson, a nurse practitioner and founder of patient advocacy blog Prudent Patient, pointed out that bathroom conditions can degrade what’s outside and inside medicine containers. “Many medications are sensitive to heat and moisture from your shower, bath or sink. They can break down from the humidity or become less potent due to the change in temperature,” she said.
Polson said it’s best to store your medications in a cool, dry place. “If there are young children around, be sure to keep drugs in a locked box or cabinet,” she added.
4. Retinol and vitamin C-based products
Skin care products that contain retinol should never be stored in a medicine cabinet, Trauco said. Light, air and heat alter the chemical structure of retinol, limiting its efficacy. And the same goes with vitamin C-infused products.
“Skin care products filled with vitamin C are very popular,” Trauco said. “Unfortunately, heat reduces its potency, so store those serums and moisturizers someplace else, away from heat and light.”
5. Emergency medications
Tiffany Parker, an emergency nurse in Jacksonville, North Carolina, said to keep the following out of your medicine cabinet: EpiPens, sublingual nitroglycerine tablets, rescue inhalers, insulin, glucose tablets, and blood glucose level measuring supplies for diabetics.
“Those should never be left in the medicine cabinet because there is a potential to forget and leave the house without them,” Parker explained.
She recommended keeping these items in a purse or an easily carried “go bag” so you are never without these lifesaving supplies. (Just don’t leave them in a hot car or somewhere that puts them at risk.)
6. Your toothbrush
Kathy Frerk, a registered nurse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, explained that a cabinet can hoard the heat and humidity of your bathroom, allowing harmful organisms to grow. That can be bad news for a device that you then stick in your mouth.
“After using, store your toothbrush standing upright so it can air dry and not harbor moisture,” Frerk said. And to cut down on gum disease, Frerk also recommended soaking your toothbrush in Listerine to kill bacteria. And don’t forget to replace your toothbrush every three months.
7. Used razor blades
How many times have you tossed your razor into your medicine cabinet, then pulled it out later to reuse over and over for longer than you should?
“An old blade and irritated skin is a dangerous combination — and just because you don’t see the cuts on your skin doesn’t mean they’re not there,” Cayo said. She added that this is because a worn-out blade can cause microscopic tears in your skin and introduce bacteria, which in turn can increase the risk for infection.
Some tips for helping to keep your razor blade clean include rinsing it with warm water between strokes to remove hair clogging it, towel drying it once you finish shaving, and allowing it to air out when you store it. (Avoid closed-off cabinets.) Experts also suggest replacing a disposable razor blade after every five to 10 uses, and refraining from sharing one with a friend or family member.
8. Gummy vitamins
This is more of an access issue. Gummy vitamins taste like candy, and you don’t want kids going into the medicine cabinet looking for them, Parker explained. Medicine cabinets are easy to get into for young children, and they may take it upon themselves to eat the vitamins when they’re not under supervision. And ingesting too many vitamins can be extremely toxic, Parker said. She recommended storing them out of a kid’s reach and with a childproof lid.
9. Hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol
This is something Polson said she generally avoids keeping around in her bathroom, medicine cabinet or otherwise.
“Why? Contrary to popular belief, these two agents are not appropriate for cleaning minor cuts and scrapes. In fact, they can both harm skin tissue and delay wound healing,” Polson said.
She added that the best way to take care of a minor injury is with clean water and mild soap. Sticking your cut under cool water, gently lathering up, and rinsing it for five minutes can do the job of removing any debris, bacteria and dirt. And an emergency physician should handle larger or deeper cuts.
10. Liquid bandage
This specific product is not something that Catherine Burger, a registered nurse and media specialist for RegisteredNursing.org, recommended having in your medicine cabinet’s first aid kit. While a liquid bandage-based product can work on cuts if administered correctly, it’s often not applied well at home in a hurry.
“We have had to pick these products out of too many infected wounds. Plus, the products can be very painful for superficial cuts,” Burger explained.
They also have an array of potential side effects, including hives, itching, skin redness and a stinging sensation. Best to stick with regular bandages if you’re unsure.