Organize & Clean

Time to Toss: A Guide to Expiration Dates in the Bathroom

updated May 5, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Whether you have a lot of storage space in your bathroom or a little, chances are your drawers and cabinets are full to capacity. It seems that the more space we have, the more stuff we buy.

Our need for bathroom storage seems to be growing. Has our collective skin become more zitty? Are we stinkier? Or do we just get seduced too easily by the promises made by the growing panopoly of beauty and self-care products?

Or maybe having more storage area prompts us to stockpile cans of shaving cream and bottles of sunscreen bought in bulk from Costco. Whatever the reason, as with any decorating or homemaking project, there comes a time to purge the bathroom. First, look closely at the items in your bathroom. Is it essential that they be stored there? Could those surplus bottles from Costco be kept in a closet or cupboard elsewhere where space is not so tight? Next, start tossing products that have expired. Easier said than done! Here is a guide to help you know what you should toss and when.

The FDA requires that all sunscreens maintain optimal strength for at least three years. Check the expiration date and make note of how the sunscreen smells and looks. “Most commonly, a foul odor indicates that the preservative has failed,” says Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist in North Carolina. If the product has gone bad, it will no longer be effective and may even cause skin irritation. For more info on sunscreen expiration, check out Real Simple.

According to a Harvard Family Health Guide, most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study the FDA conducted for the military. With a large and pricey stockpile of medicines, the military faced throwing out and replacing its drugs every few years. The study found that 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were safe and effective even 15 years after the expiration date. Medical authorities state expired drugs are safe to take, even those that expired years ago. Much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date. With the exception of some drugs (nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics), most medications are as long-lasting as the ones tested in the FDA research. According to the Harvard article, if the expiration date is long past and it is critical that your medication is absolutely 100% effective, you might want to consider a new bottle. As for tossing the old ones, find a local service that will allow you to safely dispose of unused meds so they don’t just end up in our water supply!

Makeup and Skin & Hair Products
According to Real Simple, most cosmetics and beauty products will last several years, in part because they often contain preservatives and alcohol. If you still haven’t gone through that bottle of lotion or that deodorant in 3 years, it’s obviously not a major player in your daily bathroom routine!

Mascara lasts the shortest amount of time and is the most likely to cause infections like pinkeye. The same logic applies to anything cream-based that goes near your eyes. Toss it after several months. Many acne creams shouldn’t be kept for more than a year because they are very temperature sensitive and degrade quickly at any temperature much above room temperature, according to a very cool blog by scientists called The Beauty Brains.

Beauty products and toiletries should be stored in a dry, cool place, and you should watch out for any changes in texture or smell. As for that collection of lipsticks and eye shadows vast enough to prep the cast of Cirque de Soleil? Who needs all that clutter? Keep the 1–2 products you actually use and ditch the rest.

(Image: Shutterstock)