Don’t get us wrong, we’re all for living as waste-free a life as possible. And we know how hard it can be to bid farewell to something you’ve barely used, but sometimes you just have to toss items in your bathroom—empty or not.
That brings us to the question of the hour: How long is too long to keep personal hygiene items stashed in your medicine cabinet? And, what will happen if you keep them on hand for longer than that? While each product is different, it’s probably time to clear out several items in your bathroom, stat. Here, experts give us the lowdown on when to say au revoir to medications, skincare products, and more.
Change it once a month, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Since they sit in the wet bathroom environment, fungi like mildew can build up between the fibers,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Bacteria can also colonize, which can lead to an infection if you use it on open skin.” And as with all items listed here, ditch it if there is visible discoloration or an odor that was not there when you opened it.
First of all, get these out of your bathroom, says Shilpi Agarwal, MD, family medicine physician and author of The 10-Day Total Body Transformation ($15; amazon.com).”Condensation can affect potency and make medication go bad quickly,” she explains. In or out of your bathroom, though, leftover prescription medications should always be thrown out by the expiration date. “Not only do you run the risk of not having a complete course, but also the medication may become ineffective,” says Dr. Agarwal. Taking expired medication can also cause you to develop antibiotic resistance, which will make it useless when you really need it.
“When in doubt, toss it out,” says Stacy Atnip, RDH, and global educator for Curaprox USA. As a general rule of thumb, if an item that you put in your mouth looks, smells, or tastes strange, you should replace it, says Atnip. That said, you typically have 12 to 18 months for toothpaste. After that, the fluoride will begin to lose its power, ingredients will separate or crystalize, and flavor can start to fade. To make sure it stays fresh until the last squeeze, be sure to put the cap back on after each use and store it in a place that is neither too hot or too cold.
“Medicated healing ointment like Neosporin has active, antibacterial ingredients,” explains Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, founder of Capital Laser & Skin Care and assistant clinical professor at the George Washington University Medical Center. “So, it can lose its effectiveness much faster than something like Aquaphor.” As a general rule, wound-healing ointments and creams should get the boot within three months from their expiration date.
Err on the safe side with these: Even though the box might say otherwise, it’s best to get rid of tampons after a year, or two max, says Mary L. Rosser, MD, PhD, director of obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Health System in New York City. And while it’s commonplace to stash your tampons under the sink, that’s an absolute no-no, according to Dr. Rosser. “You never know when your sink will leak or create moisture,” she says. “If they are not stored in a clean, dry place, bacteria or mold can grow on them just like anything else—even with the wrapper on.
Like fine wine, an unopened bar of soap can last for years. However, the same rule does not apply once it’s been exposed to water. If your soap starts to feel mushy or becomes discolored, it might be contaminated and you should chuck it, says Dr. Zeichner. “Using it could cause irritations or infection, especially on open or raw skin,” he says. To make it last, keep the bar in a dish that lets it dry off easily. “If it’s sitting in water, it can become a breeding ground for microorganisms,” says Dr. Zeichner. In order words, dump it.
It’s time throw it out when the bristles become frayed and worn out, says Brian Kantor, DDS, cosmetic dentist at Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor in New York City. “After three months of normal wear and tear, toothbrushes become much less effective at removing plaque from teeth and gums,” he explains. “Germs can also hide in bristles and lead to infection.” Make your life easier by purchasing them in bulk. This way, you’ll have a new one ready to go when it’s time to swap it out
It should go without saying that a rusted razor blade should be tossed—even if it calls for an outfit change (think: pants instead of shorts). Otherwise, a razor blade’s life span really depends on use, says Dr. Tanzi. “Change it after every three to five uses, or every two weeks,” she says. “In addition to becoming less effective with each use, irritation from dull razors can increase the risk of nicks and bacterial infection.
Acne spot treatments
Treatments you don’t use daily tend to stick around way longer than they should. While some acne products have expiration dates on them (which you should most definitely listen to), most do not. Spot treatments can last between three to six months, says Dr. Zeichner. “After that time, they may not be as effective because the active ingredient can lose its potency.”
Teeth whitening strips
Teeth whitening strips will typically last you a year, says Atnip. However, you can extend the shelf life by storing them in the refrigerator, she says. Still, don’t expect the same results if they’re expired: “Although using strips passed the expiration date are safe, it’s not recommended as the whitening ingredient efficacy will be weakened.”Sunscreen
“If the sunscreen is labeled with an expiration date—listen to it,” says Dr Zeichner. “If there isn’t one, discard it two years after purchase.” If the consistency has changed, that’s also an indicator that the ingredients have become ineffective and it’s time to replace. If not, it will serve no purpose—and you risk getting sunburned.