You see these items on store shelves and on TV, but don't buy into the hype. These 10 over-the-counter products aren't always worth your money—and some can cause health problems instead of treating them.
Redness-reducing eye drops. Even if you look like you have the world's worst hangover, avoid using these drops on a regular basis. They can mask an underlying problem, like dry eye, allergies, or contact lens irritation, and trigger persistent redness because your eyes can get used to them, says Mark Melrose, an emergency physician and owner of Urgent Care Manhattan.
What to use instead: "The first thing you should do is find out why you have the red eyes and treat the [underlying] reason," Melrose says. Your doctor can help pinpoint the problem. (Dry eyes can benefit from saline eye drops, for instance.)
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Antibacterial hand soap. About 75 percent of liquid hand soaps have antibacterial ingredients, but you can wash your hands of them. Outside of healthcare settings, antibacterial-containing products have not been proven to prevent the spread of infection better than regular varieties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The body does a pretty good job of taking care of itself," says Melrose. Plus, not all bacteria are harmful.
What to use instead: Plain soap and water "does the trick just fine," says Melrose. Lather up for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing between your fingers and under your nails, then rinse and dry.
Toothbrush sanitizers. We have hundreds of different types of germs in our mouths, and because toothbrushes aren't sold in sterile packages, they can carry bacteria right out of the box, reports the American Dental Association (ADA). But—before you get too scared—know that toothbrush sanitizers haven't been shown to provide a health benefit, says the ADA. That's because a healthy body can usually defend itself against germs.
What to use instead: Rinse your toothbrush thoroughly with tap water. Store it in an upright position and let it air-dry.
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Breath-freshening mouthwash. If you're healthy, you don't need mouthwash unless your dentist has recommended or prescribed it for therapeutic reasons (say, for dry mouth).
What to use instead: To fight bad breath and plaque, brush your teeth and floss twice a day, and see your dentist regularly, advises the ADA. But if you have chronic bad breath—and it's unrelated to your lunchtime love affair with garlic—talk to your dentist, says Edmond Hewlett, a professor of dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an ADA spokesperson. Persistent bad breath can signal an oral health issue, he explains, like gum disease, tooth decay, or even something more serious, such as diabetes.
Facial toner. You may think you need toner—also called astringent—to remove makeup and reduce pore size, but you can probably do without it. "Facial toners are designed to restore the pH of the skin after cleansing," says Patricia Farris, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine. (Disrupting the skin's pH upsets its natural balance and causes irritation and dryness.) "But if you use a gentle cleanser that doesn't affect skin pH then you don't need a toner."
What to use instead: Just a gentle cleanser or fragrance-free bar soap with no antibacterial additives, says Farris. One caveat: If you have exceptionally oily skin, it may be fine to use an alcohol-free toner, but most people really don't need it, she says.
Expensive moisturizers. Forget paying hundreds of dollars for "miraculous" high-end creams infused with exotic ingredients. "There have been no studies to support that expensive face creams do better than a good mid-level brand," says Rebecca Kazin, medical director at Johns Hopkins Dermatology and Cosmetic Center at Green Spring Station in Lutherville, Md. "Typically a moisturizer is a moisturizer."
What to use instead: To fight wrinkles or improve skin texture, look for moisturizers with retinols or antioxidants—many drugstore brands are fine. Your routine should always begin with sunscreen (yes, even during winter). An ideal sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of 30 or higher.
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Multivitamins. They're likely not necessary for healthy people who have no vitamin deficiencies, says Melrose. And some supplements can actually cause health problems if consumed in excess amounts, he says. For instance, too much vitamin A can cause liver damage and too much vitamin C can cause kidney stones and diarrhea, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
What to use instead: If you have no deficiencies, just eat a well-rounded diet that includes whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Exceptions: Pregnant women should take prenatal vitamins to prevent birth defects, says Melrose, and people who are nutrition-deficient can benefit from supplements recommended by a healthcare professional.
Douches. Douching—washing the vagina with water or other fluids—isn't necessary and can actually be harmful. That's because douching can upset the vagina's normal balance, making you more susceptible to infection or irritation, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
What to use instead: Nothing—the vagina cleans itself, says ACOG. But if you notice a change in discharge or unpleasant odor, make an appointment with your health practitioner. It could be a sign of infection.
Scented feminine products. Like douches, scented tampons, sprays, and pads can do more harm than good, potentially leading to infection and vaginal irritation.
What to use instead: Unscented feminine products, advises ACOG. To stay fresh and maintain vaginal health, wash only outside the vagina with mild soap and plain warm water—or warm water alone.
Some cold-prevention remedies. Runny nose? You can probably skip the echinacea and vitamin C, says Melrose: Studies on their effectiveness have been inconclusive. And take care with zinc-based nasal sprays. They can stifle your sense of smell, perhaps permanently, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What to use instead: "It's better to just wash your hands during cold and flu season," says Melrose—using regular soap, of course.