What Happens if You Use Expired Ointment?

What Happens if You Use Expired Ointment?

How many times have you had an ointment expire before you’re halfway through it? I imagine countless times, and it can be quite a bummer if you’re only aware of it during an emergency. But what are the implications if you choose to use it? To be specific, what happens if you use expired ointment? 

At the very least, expired ointment will be less potent and not achieve the desired effect. While the worst-case scenario is, you can get poisoned or be severely ill. 

With this in mind, I’d like to equip you with factual information—practically everything you need to know about what’s likely to happen and how to prevent or manage it.

Can You Use Expired Ointment?

I’ve had this argument several times with my household, and my conclusion is yes, you can. But only in exceptional, specific situations. At times the expiry date is for the packaging and no ointment. In other instances, it doesn’t imply the actual expiry date, but a suggested one when it will cease its potency.

Storage is another significant factor in potency after expiration. If stored correctly under appropriate conditions, there’s a chance it could serve you well.

Its purpose is also another critical indicator of usage past the expiry date. If it’s an ointment for mild conditions, you can try it, but if it’s a severe condition requiring strong medication, I’d advise you to give it a miss no matter the gravity of the situation.

Even if you use it for a mild condition, monitor it over several hours or at least a day or two. If there’s no adverse effect and the ailment seems alleviated, you can continue using only after consulting a pharmaceutical expert.

Finally, if the expiration has rubbed off or is a cheap over-the-counter ointment, discard it and get a new one. It doesn’t matter whether it ticks all the requirements for using an expired ointment; it’s better to be safe than sorry when you’re not entirely sure.

How Long Can You Use an Ointment After Expiration?

Research suggests that some medications are still valid several years after expiration. However, the last conclusive tests on this issue were in the late ’80s, and early 90’s by the US military. 

That said, you can use most expired ointments for only a month after opening, but only if stored under the right conditions. Mainly a place with no humidity, no light, controlled room temperature, and well-sealed tops.

Still, no one, not even drug manufacturers, can guarantee the validity or safety of any medication past the expiry dates. Therefore, you should exercise sufficient caution and good judgement when using them.

What Happens if You Use Expired Ointment?

Before using an expired ointment, first, understand what the likely outcomes are likely to be. For instance, you’ll need to know whether the challenge is reduced potency or something dangerous that could lead to grave illness or fatality.

The FDA confirms some of the adverse effects of using expired ointments as robust bacterial growth and resistance to existing medication, more so for antibiotics, reduced efficacy of the ointment, and changes in the chemical composition of the chemical ointment.

The result is often the intoxication of vital organs like the liver, kidneys, or heart.

How to Manage Your Medication Cabinet

To avoid wasting your resources each year, here are some tips on managing your medication cabinet.

Confirm Expiry Date

Before making a purchase, check the expiry date. It could appear as Exp, Use By, or anything that denotes expiry or usage. The drug manufacturer and pharmacist are the only parties responsible for confirming expiry dates.

You should also confirm how long after expiration you should use the ointment at the point of purchase. Something else you should always do is note the date of opening to ensure there’s no confusion on the expected expiry date.

Expired but Unopened Ointments

If you have an unopened ointment in your cabinet, there’s a way to determine its potency and safety. First, if appropriately stored under recommended conditions, it’s likely safe to use. You’ll know this from the packaging’s scent, appearance, and state (no holes or pores to allow bacteria growth). However, safety procedures require you to confirm with your pharmacist. I know that it’s possible to stretch the usage of ointments for mild conditions like backaches and sore joints.

Appropriate Disposal of Expired Ointments

When you clean out your medicine cabinet, always ensure that you don’t dispose of the expired ointments casually in the regular bin. Most pharmacies have take-back policies, which is one of the best ways to be rid of them safely. If this isn’t an option, follow the disposal instructions that come with the package. If there is no direction, mix them up with dirt, pet litter, and seal them tightly before throwing them in the bin.

Proper Storage

After confirming expiry details on purchase, you should also confirm with the pharmacists how best to store the ointment. It’s always good to go with their or the manufacturer’s advice. My rule of thumb is always to keep them away from light, humidity, and heat (store at room temperature). If you don’t have a bathroom cabinet, consider using a drawer or kitchen cabinet that checks all the storage requirements. 


That’s the end of my take on what happens if you use expired ointment. It’s one of the critical safety issues for any mum in any household that can have unsavory results if not well handled or managed.

While it’s not advisable to take expired ointments, you can use your good judgment to check out certain factors like; the purpose, if antibiotic, steer clear; the storage conditions; if well stored, you can use it sparingly, and if it’s a mild condition use it sparingly and monitor the effects.

However, just like you monitor your food purchases, make this a habit with your medicine purchases. Remember, if you’re not sure of the viability of any of your ointments, always check with a pharmacist before usage.