Essential Health Items That You Should Always Keep In Your Medicine Cabinet

While stocking a medicine cabinet, you should always prepare for some health complications. Bug bites, burns, rashes, or stomach ailments can happen anytime. Although these may not be emergencies, a little relief can still go a long way.

Your medicine cabinet isn’t just for band-aids. It’s also for wound-cleaning supplies, sunburn relief, and moisturizers can that soothe you during a serious or minor ailment. For the sake of you and your family’s health, keep these items in your medicine cabinet or bathroom.

Sunscreen

A woman rubs sunscreen into her shoulder on the beach.
Clara Margais/picture alliance via Getty Images
Clara Margais/picture alliance via Getty Images

Even if it’s cloudy outside, and even if you’re staying at home for most of the day, you should wear sunscreen. It’s the ultimate anti-aging and skin-protecting product. Dermatologist Dr. Shilesh Iyer says that ultraviolet rays are always present; they are not blocked by clouds or windows.

If you want to protect your skin against wrinkles and cancer, stock up on sunscreen. Some face lotions and serums include sunscreen for convenience. You’ll want a waterproof product with an SPF of at least 30. Apply every morning.

Bandages Of Varying Sizes

A first aid kit sits next to several different packages of Band-Aids.
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for NYCWFF
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for NYCWFF

If you accidentally slice your finger, you don’t want to be stuck without bandages. Every bathroom needs a first aid kit, and you should include bandages of varying sizes. The American Red Cross recommends at least 25 band-aids for a family of four.

Buy the variety pack with different sizes. Waterproof bandages may also help you, and if nothing else, keep a roll of adhesive cloth tape on hand. With cloth tape, you can even seal pipes and wall patches if you have a leak somewhere.

A Sunburn Relief Gel

A woman with a sunburn on the back of her neck walks around outside.
Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images
Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images

What’s more annoying than a bright red sunburn that’s peeling? For the occasional sunburn, keep a gel on hand. Aloe Vera is the most natural, says dermatology instructor Dr. Bobby Y. Reddy. It has no added alcohol, color, or fragrances, so it’ll assuage sensitive skin.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a gel containing aloe vera or soy. Regular lotions may sting, especially if they contain fragrance. While your burn is healing, take a cool bath or shower, and stay out of the sun.

Safe Painkillers

Acetaminophen are displayed on a shelf at a pharmacy.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Painkillers don’t just relieve headaches. They also assuage swelling, reduce fevers, and quell inflammation. If you want the healthiest painkiller, cardiologists praise naproxen. “From a cardiovascular standpoint, naproxen appears to have the least risk,” says cardiologist and Harvard professor Dr. Elliott Antma.

The FDA has warned that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could harm the heart. Aspirin is the exception. The American Heart Association recommends Tylenol (acetaminophen) in doses under 3,000 mg a day. This amount is perfectly safe for adults, which is why you should keep one in your bathroom.

Tweezers (For More Than Just Eyebrows)

A person wearing gloves holds black tweezers.
Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images
Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images

Tweezers don’t only pluck eyebrow hairs. They can also remove splinters, ticks, and tiny crumbs caught in your sweater. You can even use tweezers to untangle necklaces or peel stuck tape. That’s why you should store at least one pair in your medicine cabinet.

There are several types of tweezers to choose from. Flat-tip and round-tip tweezers are not recommended for hairs or splinters. For the best use, opt for point-tip and slant-tip tweezers. After each use, clean the tweezers with some rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball or tissue.

Activated Charcoal

A photo shows a pile of charcoal pieces.
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Parents with young children may want to keep activated charcoal on hand. This odorless powder is used during emergency poisonings or overdoses. It doesn’t just prompt people to vomit; it can also relieve abdominal cramping and diarrhea, according to a 2017 study in PLoS ONE.

Although activated charcoal has unpleasant side effects, it’s safe if you use it correctly. Because it’s a fine powder, it can travel to the lungs instead of the stomach. Follow the dose recommendations and talk to a doctor before giving it to children.

Anti-Bacterial Cream Or Ointment

Anti-bacterial cream pours out of a tube.
@HarvardHealth/Twitter
@HarvardHealth/Twitter

Wounds require special care. Although rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide will kill bacteria on a wound, they may also destroy healthy tissue. Instead, wash a cut with soap and water and use an anti-bacterial cream, says Nurse practitioner Evan Minior.

Dr. Paul Holder, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice, says that there’s a difference between a cream and an ointment. Creams dissolve in water, while ointments are oil-based and can survive in water. If you wash your wound beforehand, dry it before applying an anti-bacterial cream.

Cotton Swabs, If You Use Them Correctly

A clear container holds cotton swabs.
Al-DOUMY / AFP) (Photo by SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images
Al-DOUMY / AFP) (Photo by SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images

Although cotton swabs are useful, many people use them incorrectly. Never stick cotton swabs inside your ear, says Dr. Eugene Chio, assistant professor otolaryngology at Ohio State University. It could damage your ear canal and cause an infection.

Only dab the outer grooves of your ear with a cotton swab. If you need to dampen it, use tap water; don’t lick it. If you need to get rid of ear wax, place a couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide in your ear. Leave it for ten minutes before tilting your head and pouring the rest out.

Petroleum Jelly

A woman digs into a container of Vaseline.
akiko yanagawa/Flickr
akiko yanagawa/Flickr

Petroleum jelly (also called Vaseline) is a jelly-like lotion made from petroleum. Because it seals your skin with a hydrating barrier, it is incredibly gentle and hydrating. It can even work on some pets with cracked paws. Research in the Journal of Emergency Medicine shows that it’s safe to use around the eyes, on burns, and for minor rashes.

According to registered nurse Deborah Weatherspoon, there is no major difference between Vaseline and petroleum jelly. Vaseline is the original name brand that uses reliable, pure ingredients for its medicine.

A Digital Thermometer

A person measures a child's temperature with a digital thermometer.
Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images
Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images

If you or someone you live with is burning up, you’ll need a thermometer. It’s hard to tell how serious someone’s fever is by feeling it with your hand. According to Summit Medical Group, if the internal temperature is above 103ºF (39.4ºC) or lasts for a few weeks, see a doctor.

Digital thermometers are the easiest option for many people. You can buy varieties that work in the ear, mouth, armpit, or across the forehead. Cleveland Clinic does not recommend pacifier thermometers, plastic strips, or smartphone apps. These are not always accurate.

Eye Drops

A man places eye drops into his eye for allergies.
Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images
Angelika Warmuth/picture alliance via Getty Images

Whenever your eyes are irritated, itchy, or injured, eye drops will save the day. The type of eye drops you get will depend on the condition, says Dr. Liji Thomas of News Medical Life Sciences. Artificial tears can relieve dryness and speed up the healing of a wounded eye. Anti-allergic drops are medicated to tackle burning and stinging sensations.

Before stocking your medicine cabinet, beware of the risks. Some eye drops conflict with medications, while others can only be used for a few days at most. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor.

Calamine Lotion

A bottle of calamine lotion sits next to its box.
Taj Pharma/Pinterest
Taj Pharma/Pinterest

Calamine is a medicated lotion that relieves pain and itchiness. You can use it for bug bites, hives, rashes, and sometimes as an acne remedy. As long as people don’t ingest it, calamine lotion is safe for children, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

There are few side effects of calamine, although allergic reactions to the drug are rare. It’s a fairly safe lotion that can assuage almost any itching. When you’ve been itching for hours and regular lotion doesn’t help, you’ll want some calamine!

Antacids

A package of anti-acids has some pill slots popped open.
Tim Ireland/PA Images via Getty Images
Tim Ireland/PA Images via Getty Images

If your chest burns after eating a large meal, you may have heartburn. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, at least 60 million people receive heartburn every month. Keep some anti-acids on hand when this happens. They are available as pills or liquids.

Recently, some people have raised concerns about anti-acids after the FDA reported health risks from Zantac. However, if you take anti-acids sparingly, you should be fine, says gastroenterologist Emeran A. Mayer. Other brands, such as Prilosec and Omeprazole, are available over-the-counter as well.

Nasal Spray

A woman sprays a decongestant into her nose.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you need instant relief for a stuffy nose, a nasal spray will help. But over-the-counter spray only works if you use it correctly, says pharmacist Angela Giallourakis. Never direct the spray toward the middle of your nose because it may damage the septum. Read the directions and close your nose with your finger while spraying it.

There are several different types of nasal sprays, from decongestants to antihistamines to steroids. If you’re confused about which kind to pick up, talk to a doctor. Some sprays may create side effects or conflict with certain medications.

Nausea Medication Or Anti-Diarrheals

A woman carries a bottle of Pepto Bismol.
Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr
Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Although you can’t stop upset stomachs or diarrhea, you can relieve the symptoms through over-the-counter medications. Anti-diarrheal drugs work best during the first couple of days of diarrhea, says Dr. Melinda Ratini of WebMD. Some stomach relief products should be taken beyond a couple of days (such as Pepto-Bismal).

If the cause of diarrhea isn’t known, and it doesn’t last for a long time, then it may not be necessary. However, they may benefit conditions such as viral gastroenteritis and inflammatory bowel disease. When in doubt, talk to your doctor about it.

Eye Cream

A small container of eye cream is open.
stux/Pixabay
stux/Pixabay

If your eyes get dry, regular face cream won’t help. Face lotion isn’t designed for the thin skin around your eyes, explains dermatologist Patricia Farris. Eye cream contains more oils that hydrate your eyes without making them feel heavy. Plus, many eye creams have anti-aging properties.

Dark circles, wrinkles, puffiness–an eye cream can tackle any of these issues, depending on the type that you buy. However, some dermatologists never buy eye creams. Decide whether or not you need one based on your skin and eyes.

A Face Lotion (Separate From Body Lotion)

A woman applies face lotion.
Flavia RADDAVERO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Flavia RADDAVERO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Don’t use body lotion on your face. According to dermatologist Caren Waintraub, body lotion is not designed to care for the thinner skin on our faces. It’s too heavy, and it can make you feel oily. Buy a face lotion for your pores, and apply a lotion with SPF in the morning.

Some people buy day and night moisturizes. Day moisturizers are lighter and can go under makeup, while night lotions are heavier and soak in overnight. What you choose is up to you and your skin type.

An Instant Cold Compress

A Polish athlete treats his right eye with ice pack.
Andy Cheung/Getty Images
Andy Cheung/Getty Images

Instant cold compresses are different from ice packs. They are a chemical mixture that instantly freezes after mixing. If you don’t have an ice pack on hand, an instant cold pack can relieve swelling or lower your body temperature. They also last longer than normal ice packs.

According to the University of Michigan, you should apply cold packs in sessions. First, apply it for ten minutes. Take a break, and then apply it for 25 minutes at a time. This will prevent the area from going numb and maintain proper blood flow.

Eyeglass Repair Kit Or Contact Backups

A woman repairs eye glasses.
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you wear glasses, store a repair kit in your bathroom. You can buy repair kits online or create your own. Include nose pads, a lens cloth, an extra lens, and an appropriately-sized screwdriver. If you can afford a backup pair of glasses, keep a repair kit anyway. You never know if both pairs will break.

If you wear contacts, try to keep an emergency pair on hand. Or, keep some backup glasses. Going about your day without glasses can damage your eyes.

Nail Clippers

Three different sets of nail clippers sit against a grey background.
saulhm/Pixabay
saulhm/Pixabay

Nail clippers don’t just make your hands look nice. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, overgrown nails become dirty and harbor bacteria. Biting your nails could spread this bacteria to your body, so if you can, cut your nails instead.

Many nail clippers have an extension that digs dirt out from under the nails. Smooth rough edges with a nail file. If your nails are difficult to cut, soak them in lukewarm water for a couple of minutes before breaking out the clipper.