The Unhealthiest Things in Your Medicine Cabinet

Your medicine cabinet is home to a number of beauty, health, and wellness products—but the unhealthiest things in your medicine cabinet may surprise you. Next to your old tweezers and behind that bag of cotton balls, there may be products lurking that simply need to be thrown out for your […]

Your medicine cabinet is home to a number of beauty, health, and wellness products—but the unhealthiest things in your medicine cabinet may surprise you. Next to your old tweezers and behind that bag of cotton balls, there may be products lurking that simply need to be thrown out for your own safety. “Look out for your own health, and ensure the proper storage and safe condition of your medications. At the same time, be absolutely sure to take action to keep others who share your home safe,” Gay Alcenius, a pharmacist who has managed the acute care pharmacy at Henry Ford Allegiance Health for the last 19 years, says in an article by the Henry Ford hospital staff. Here are some of the unhealthiest things in your medicine cabinet, from the experts at the CDC, FDA and other expert organizations.

White prescription pills spilled onto a table with many prescription bottles in the background

Your doctor prescribed you drugs for a specific ailment, such as antibiotics for a sinus infection or painkillers for back pain. Saving these drugs to use whenever you need can cause negative side effects, such as building a tolerance to antibiotics. “Taking antibiotics only when they are needed is an important way you can protect yourself and your family from antibiotic resistance,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you hang on to painkillers and stash them in your medicine cabinet, they’re easily accessible to the wrong hands, such as your kids. “About 2,460 people per week are estimated to die from drugs that were properly prescribed, and that’s based on detailed chart reviews of hospitalized patients,” says Donald Light, Ph.D. from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. 

Get rid of your old prescriptions by attending a take-back event in your area or grinding up the medications and mixing them with coffee grinds or kitty litter before throwing them in the trash.

multi-colored blisters with pills. drug treatment of various diseases. place for text

When’s the last time you check your meds’ expiration dates? If it’s been a while, you may want to add it to your to-do list. While expired medication isn’t harmful to your health, these products simply aren’t effective. 

“Once the expiration date has passed there is no guarantee that the medicine will be safe and effective,” says Ilisa Bernstein, Pharm.D., J.D., former Deputy Director of the Office of Compliance in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, “If your medicine has expired, do not use it.”

RELATED: The Unhealthiest Supplements You Shouldn’t Take

Take medicine and water

Diet pills, even herbal ones, can cause dangerous side effects, including an irregular heartbeat, headache, dizziness, high blood pressure, or stomach issues. 23,005 emergency visits per year are attributed to weight-loss pills, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine

Out of these visits, 2,154 resulted in hospitalizations. The study concluded that most of these visits “involved cardiovascular manifestations from weight-loss or energy products among young adults and swallowing problems, often associated with micronutrients, among older adults.”

Want to lose weight but stay healthy? Throw out your diet pills. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly.

talcum powder to hand

Talcum powder is sometimes used to absorb moisture on the skin to prevent chafing, rashes, and skin irritation. But talc with trace amounts of asbestos were linked to an increase in ovarian cancer cases. So, in 1976, the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association (CTFA) implemented guidelines that concluded “all talc used in cosmetic products in the United States should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos.” 

While talcum powders no longer contain asbestos, it’s still unclear whether talcum powder is safe. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) labels talc without asbestos as “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans.” 

However, when used on sensitive areas, such as the genitals, the agency claims it may be “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” With murky studies, it’s best to simply stop using talcum powder altogether.

Woman is cleaning ear with a cotton swab

Cotton swabs are seemingly harmless but almost everyone uses them incorrectly. You may be surprised to find out that you shouldn’t be using them to clean your ears at all. 

“Using a cotton swab like a plunger in the ear canal pushes earwax deeper and deeper in. One problem is that if you push the wax deeper inside, there’s no way for the wax to get swept out of the ear,” says Dr. Yu-Tung Wong, MD from Cedars-Sinai. 

“Also, cotton swabs can cause punctured ear drums and hearing loss. In severe cases, the cotton swab can damage many sensitive structures behind the ear canal and cause complete deafness, prolonged vertigo with nausea and vomiting, loss of taste function, and even facial paralysis.”

Inserting a cotton swab into your ear is dangerous and if you’re tempted to do it, just clear that box out of your medicine cabinet.


Heartburn medication can save you from pain if you overdid it on pizza or red wine. But, if your heartburn medicine contains ranitidine, it’s time to toss it. On April 1, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked all ranitidine drug manufacturers to pull their products from the market, effective immediately, due to the presence of N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a known cancer-causing agent. 

“The FDA is also advising consumers taking OTC ranitidine to stop taking this medication, including any unused ranitidine medication they may still have at home,” says Joshua Gagne, PharmD, ScD from Harvard Health.

vitamins and supplements on white background with a brown bottle.

Vitamin supplements are designed to provide your body with the nutrients it needs and doesn’t necessarily get from your diet. However, it’s possible to overdose on supplements, which can lead to negative health effects. 

Some supplements don’t mix well with certain medications, which can also be dangerous. For example, gingko is a natural supplement that may thin the blood, making it dangerous for patients already on blood thinning medication. A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found a “possible causal association between using ginkgo and bleeding events.”

“Consumers should expect nothing from supplements because we don’t have any clear evidence that they’re beneficial, and they should be leery that they could be putting themselves at risk,” says S. Bryn Austin from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. And to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.

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