Does Ibuprofen Expire?

A pounding headache creeps up after a long day of work. You reach for the medicine cabinet to grab a bottle of ibuprofen, but it's expired. Do you still take it? This is a situation many have no doubt been in because, as of 1979, all medications — whether prescription or over-the-counter — are required by law to have an expiration date (via Harvard Health Publishing). Of course, this includes ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen is part of the medicine family called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs."It works by blocking your body's production of certain natural substances that cause inflammation," WebMD explained. As such, ibuprofen can be a useful treatment for headaches, menstrual cramps, fever, muscle aches and pain, and to help alleviate symptoms from the common cold. Some popular brands of ibuprofen include Advil, Nuprin, and Motrin.

Although ibuprofen does indeed expire, Dr. Jack Springer, told Insider, "The expiration date doesn't really indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use." You may be able to take ibuprofen that's less than four or five years old and feel some relief, though it may not be as effective as ibuprofen that hasn't yet expired.

Similarly, the Journal of Pharmaceutical and BioMedical Analysis conducted a systematic review of the potency of drugs past their expiration date and concluded, "It seems to be reasonable for a large portion of drugs to extend the expiry dates far beyond five years."

How you store ibuprofen matters

It's important to learn how to store ibuprofen for optimal usage. While medicine cabinets are a common spot for storing drugs, condensation or moisture from showers can degrade the product, according to Medline Plus. Additionally, light, leaving the cotton ball that comes with the bottle inside the bottle, and excessive heat may break down the components faster than if they were stored in a drier and cooler environment.

"Manufacturers test their medicines over a range of consistent temperature and humidity levels. The expiry date reflects those conditions, which is why it's important to store your medication according to the instructions provided on the bottle or by your pharmacist." Dr. Aran Maree, chief medical officer at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, explained in an interview with Johnson & Johnson.

Instead of using the medicine cabinet, store your medications in a cool and dry place. And remember, medications vary, and many that are past their expiration dates can be harmful and risky to your health (via GoodRx). If you have questions it's always best to contact your physician and safely discard expired medication.

What about expired liquid ibuprofen?

Dr. Kim Langdon, a clinical adviser at Medzino, told Insider that there are special concerns when it comes to liquid ibuprofen expiration dates. She explained that liquid medications are more likely to become contaminated over time. According to Nursing Times, this is a risk any time a medication is poured from one container to another, for example, when it's poured from the bottle into a measuring spoon. Microbes found in the air can enter the medication and begin to grow. ConsumerMedSafety suggests washing your measuring device after use and throwing away any excess medicine that you accidentally dispense in order to avoid contaminating the entire container.

Langdon noted, however, that the most important risk is that it loses its potency over time. This isn't a safety issue, she explains, but it can reduce the effectiveness of the medication. She advises that liquid ibuprofen does best when stored in a cool, dry location that is away from sunlight. Medline Plus further clarifies that liquid ibuprofen should be stored at room temperature. 

How to dispose of expired ibuprofen

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests that one way to dispose of your expired ibuprofen is to participate in a drug take-back program. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sponsors these in many locales. Also, many communities host their own. Your local law enforcement agency will be able to provide you with more information about what is available to you. Additionally, you can check with your pharmacist. Often, they will offer drop-off boxes or mail-back programs that you can use to turn in any expired medications.

The ibuprofen brand Advil suggests that if these programs aren't available where you live, you should never flush medications down the toilet unless the packaging states that you can. One option they recommend is to mix the medication in something that children and pets will not want to eat, such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds. You can then toss these in the trash.