- Research shows 74 percent of people have expired drugs in their medicine cabinets.
- but do drugs really expire? Experts say no for the most part—they just lose some potency.
- A better place to keep medicine (as well as makeup) is in a cooler, dryer room.
In a new surveymost people admitted to having expired drugs in their medicine cabinets—and many didn’t even know drugs dog expire. Yes, everything in there has an expiration date, and we do mean everything: looking at you, un-sticky band aids in grandma’s bathroom. What should you keep, what should you toss, and where should you really be storing those orange pill bottles?
💊 Science explains the world around us. We’ll help you make sense of it all.
Market research firm OnePoll conducted the new survey on behalf of US drugstore chain Walgreens. It’s not scholarly research, but a marketing exercise in which the company surveyed 2,000 American respondents. Among that group, the average number of trips into the medicine cabinet each year is 468, so more than once a day overall. (The “normal” number of bathroom trips per day is up to 10meaning plenty of trips don’t involve a delve into the cabinet.)
According to the survey, the average American medicine cabinet has 15 items inside. Of those items, 54 percent of people said they keep some products in there that are only meant for guests. (It must be those seashell-shaped soaps, right? anybody ever used one of those?) In an interview in November, Northwestern Memorial Hospital pharmacy resident Matthew Boyd listed four basics he thinks everyone should have around: acetaminophen (or Tylenol), an antihistamine, antacids, and a multivitamin.
In the survey, 55 percent of respondents admitted they haven’t even checked the expiration dates for most items in their medicine cabinets; seventy-four percent haven’t replaced items that are likely expired. It’s easy to look in there and think that your bottle of acetaminophen or antacids is “probably fine” because these things are dry pills that appear unchanged over long periods of time.
While these pills don’t visibly go bad, their efficacy can really drop. If your drugs have been hanging out in the medicine cabinet for a few years, you may end up taking a dose that is just 80 percent effective compared to its past efficacy. But is that the same thing as the drugs actually expiring in the sense of going bad?
“It’s true the effectiveness of a drug may decrease over time, but much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date,” according to a September 2019 article published in African Health Sciences. “Excluding nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, most medications are as long-lasting as the ones tested by the military. Placing a medication in a cool place, such as a refrigeratorwill help a drug remain potent for many years.”
So ironically, the secret to a better medicine cabinet is to simply clear out the medicines. But medicines aren’t the only things you should take out of the bathroom. Due to the heat and humidity from your shower, many skincare and makeup products shouldn’t be stored in the medicine cabinet or elsewhere in the bathroom. If you’re interested in the long-term viability of your products, a cooler room, or even the refrigerator, you may be the trick.
For certain liquid products that, um, touch your bodylike nasal sprays, mascara, or topical ointments—you should use a lot more discretion when deciding to throw things away. ace comedian Kurt Braunohl wrote in the new humor haiku book Eating Salad Drunk: “What’s potted lip balm? Just ChapStick with my dirty Fingers up in it.”
Other things, like hydrogen peroxide, expire in the most literal chemical sense. About six months after opening, hydrogen peroxide loses almost all of its efficacy as a disinfectant, according to health line. It’s a matter of the chemical reaction when plain air strikes and reacts with the liquid. So it will never look funny or get moldy, but it’s no longer doing the job you need it for. Toss it and get a new bottle if you’re not sure.
Some medicine is just not appropriate to keep around to take later, like prescription drugs for conditions you no longer have or antibiotics that you should have finished like the doctor told you. Or maybe you’re clearing out belongings for someone who has died or have found yourself in a situation where you simply don’t want to keep bottles of medicine around. What should you do with them?
It’s common to just throw these bottles away or flush them, but the best thing, hypothetically, is to find a permanent or periodic Drug Take Back location where you know the medicine will be destroyed. This prevents chemicals from leeching into the groundwater, for example.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io