A morning ritual can be as exacting or erratic as the person adhering to its whims. For both the bright and early riser as well as the night owl who rolls out of bed at the last possible moment, few sunrise routines are complete without at least a peek into the medicine cabinet. From shaving supplies to supplements, these inconspicuous bathroom workhorses hold all the tools needed to stay sanitary and healthy throughout the day.
For centuries, most people stored medicines and cosmetics in a locked chest to protect them from pesky rodents and curious children. Prior to bathroom storage, many medical items were kept in a home’s kitchen. Tools used to prepare medicine and food often overlapped. Most health and hygiene practices were associated directly with diet rather than with medicines and supplements. It was not until the 20th century that bathroom cabinets, filled with pills and pastes, became ubiquitous fixtures in daily American life.
A Century Of Medicine Cabinets
The early 1900s was a time of great global industry and development. From automobiles and airplanes to moving pictures, everything from travel to entertainment was rapidly advancing, and healthcare and hygiene were no different. At the turn of the new century, scientists had finally developed lifesaving vaccines for diseases like smallpox and cholera that had ravaged populations for decades.
In 1902, Congress passed the Biologics Control Act, the first modern federal legislation to control the quality of drugs. According to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the act ushered in the creation of the Hygienic Laboratory of the U.S. Public Health Service. This eventually became the National Institutes of Health. Currently, the NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, serving as the nation’s leading medical research agency. The country was well on its way to a healthier future.
As the nation prospered and many families could afford home ownership and indoor plumbing, advertisers capitalized on the idea of home health as accessible to all Americans. In the 1920s, the shiny porcelain bathroom mirror became the symbol of personal hygiene and healthy habits.
According to the Smithsonian Institute, many advertisements focused on filling built-in cabinets with the products and remedies that suddenly seemed so essential since standards of personal care were on the rise. Earliest medicine cabinet items included digestive tablets, aspirin, petroleum jelly, bandages, razors, toothpaste, and hair ointment, the latter of which protected one’s mane from the heat of a straightening comb. Many of these items are still recognizable, but unconventional products were included that no modern American would dare touch.
One 1925 advertisement claimed President Calvin Coolidge used a chlorine gas “bomb” to treat a common cold. The ad claimed the bomb “stops 97.3% of colds.” Needless to say, our medicine cabinets have come a long way in the last century.
Stocking the Shelves
This past February, New York Magazine’s The Strategist rolled out a list of 100 recommended medicine cabinet essentials as part of The Drugstore Project. The publication interviewed 49 doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to learn the best products for a home’s health care lineup. For pain relief, cold, flu, and allergies, survey results suggest Tylenol Regular Strength Pain Reliever and Advil Coated Tablets. For a cold, experts suggest stocking up on Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil Severe Cough, Cold, and Flu Relief.
The survey also provides expert opinions on the best nasal sprays, allergy tablets, decongestants, throat lozenges, thermometers, laxatives, antacids, dental and eye care items — and much more. You should consult your personal physician before starting any new medications and consult your children’s pediatrician before starting them on an over-the-counter drug they have not previously used.
While keeping your home medical supplies stocked is important, housing an entire pharmacy is not practical. Pay attention to expiration dates and consider your family’s needs. For example, if your children are active outdoors or your family frequently works on construction projects, it would be wise to keep plenty of antiseptic cream and bandages on hand. During the winter months, be sure to have plenty of cough and cold medicine ready to go. If you have family members with a touchy stomach, know which digestive aids are most soothing for them.
If you have children in the house, keep any OTC and prescription medications as well as sharp hygiene items locked or hidden in a separate location. And a guest bathroom should be stocked with individually wrapped aspirin tablets, disposable toothbrushes, and even travel-size feminine hygiene products. This will be much appreciated by out-of-town friends and family members.
When you consider the best “medicine cabinet” items for your family and home, you should be aware that medical experts recommend not storing medications in an actual over-the-sink bathroom cabinet. According to MedlinePlus.gov of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, keep the following in mind:
• Know that heat, air, light, and moisture may damage your medicine.
• Store your medicines in a cool, dry place. For example, store it in your dresser drawer or a kitchen cabinet away from the stove, sink, and any hot appliances. You can also store medicine in a storage box, on a shelf, or in a closet.
• Pills and capsules are easily damaged by heat and moisture. Aspirin pills break down into vinegar and salicylic acid. This irritates the stomach.
• Always keep medicine in its original container.
• Take the cotton ball out of the medicine bottle. The cotton ball pulls moisture into the bottle.
• Ask your pharmacist about any specific storage instructions.
Au Naturel Wellness
Cleaning out and reorganizing a medicine cabinet is an excellent opportunity to consider home remedy options. The world is full of an abundance of spices, herbs, and plants that have proven to soothe everything from inflammation to nausea.
Elderberries, for example, are a natural immune booster and can help users avoid catching the seasonal flu and fight upper respiratory infections, according to Irina Todorov, M.D., an integrative medicine physician with the Cleveland Clinic. Keep dried elderberries on hand to boil into tea, or you can purchase syrups to add to herbal teas or to take by the spoonful, a la Mary Poppins.
You can also match your tea with your ailment: for acid reflux, drink chamomile tea; for abdominal bloating, try ginger or peppermint tea.
Daily natural supplements can also provide immunity boosters to ward off that unwanted tickle in your throat. Garlic supplements contain a compound called alliin, which is produced when cloves are crushed or chewed. According to Healthline.com, this compound supports the disease-fighting response of the body’s white blood cells when they encounter viruses.
Mushroom supplements are often packed with antioxidants. Trametes versicolor, commonly called Turkey tail mushrooms, have even been known to improve immune function in people with certain cancers. Turkey tail mushroom supplements are also known for enhancing gut health.
Herbs like echinacea and astragalus can help control blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation, as well as alleviate anxiety.
When traveling, be sure to pack a few natural immune support supplements like Emergen-C and Airborne. These supplements often come in powder and gummy form, making them easy to throw in your bag and take while on the go.
Many local health food stores are full of hundreds of natural supplements. Consult your family’s physician on how your body could most use a boost, then do your research to learn what might be the best supplement to take daily or weekly. Ask a health food store employee for assistance in locating the two or three supplements you need. Be sure you are not overlapping too many benefits in the supplements you take.
Storing your favorite supplements in your bathroom’s medicine cabinet, next to your toothbrush or moisturizer, will encourage you to take them regularly and fight off seasonal allergies and illness.
Design in Mind
Since their inception, medicine cabinets have made their mark on bathroom design. Much like a bank account or car console, they offer a small peek into a person’s daily life. For this reason, a variety of options are available, whether replacing an old cabinet or installing your home’s first medicine storage container.
Modern design lovers might turn to home goods stores for a variety of cabinet styles to adorn the space above the bathroom sink. From functional tri-fold doors to fabulously framed mirrors with exterior shelving, medicine cabinets come in all shapes and sizes.
For purists, several terms are helpful to know when shopping for an antique cabinet. For instance, Eastlake cabinets are made in Victorian style, full of carving and detail; primitive medicine cabinets have a worn and rustic look, meaning they were likely well used by their original owners.
Inset, or recessed, cabinets are fitted into a carved out space, making the door flush with the wall. Mounted cabinets use special hardware to hang from the wall.
Not all designers are fans of the medicine cabinet. Some feel that the often generic look of medicine cabinets lacks real style and can eat up precious bathroom real estate. To install recessed cabinets also requires semi-permanent construction, limiting a homeowner’s options in future design updates.
Ultimately, some prefer designing a bathroom around a beautiful mirror and finding other storage solutions for medicines and cosmetics. Many modern bathrooms have under-the-sink storage and built-in linen closets, perhaps placing the medicine cabinet at risk for extinction as bathroom design develops.
Regardless of your style preference, no one can argue the practicality of a bathroom medicine cabinet, one that has now served Americans well for more than a century. With your favorite health and hygiene essentials at your fingertips, a quick stop at the sink can have you smelling, looking, and feeling your best — truly a luxury we take for granted in our modern hygienic society.