ImageWhat's in your medicine cabinet? Every time we click on our TVs, browse the Web or turn the dial to our car radios, we’re bombarded with ads for special vitamins and luxury creams that promise to boost our immunity and give us a supermodel’s skin. Should we be listening? 

“Commercials can say that the new fads are best, a lot of the old stuff still works,” explains Arthur Harrow, M.D., interim director of ambulatory services at Sinai Hospital. Those standbys your grandparents kept in their medicine cabinets are as effective as anything hawked by a celebrity spokesperson. “Aspirin and Tylenol work well against almost any kind of ache,” he says.

Unless you’ve been directed by your physician to avoid these drugs, they can serve as your easy (and inexpensive) go-to remedies. If you’re not a fan of pain relief in pill-form, get an ointment or cream with topical aspirin. These medicines are generally most effective on joints that are close to the surface of your skin, like knuckles and knees (and you’d be wise to avoid slathering them over open wounds or scrapes). You can find most of these goodies at your local grocery store, often retailing for less than the cost of a movie ticket.

Though we may think of skin care products as luxury items, most everyday issues can be remedied with generic brands (if you’re dealing with cystic or inflammatory acne, however, you’ll want to check in with your doctor).

Sean Gunning, M.D., a dermatologist affiliated with LifeBridge Health, recommends exfoliating cleansers with mild hydroxy acids such as glycolic and salicyclic acid. “Avoid alcohol-based cleansers that will dry the skin out,” he advises. “There are many over the counter, affordable anti-acne cleansers which help to open your pores and prevent acne. I would avoid use of alcohol based cleansers or astringents as these can cause irritation.” 

Nowadays, every starlet seems to have her own skin care line, but the best stuff for the driest parts of our bodies remains cocoa butter and Vaseline. For areas that don’t need such heavy-duty treatment, like our faces, look for mild lotion-based cleansers and moisturizers.

We’re told that we are what we eat, but Harrow counsels us to avoid “obsessing over eating everything organic.” It’s no secret that organic foods, while tasty, can be budget-busters. Instead of the organic label, look for hormone-free milk and pesticide-free fruits and veggies.

Don’t be suckered by the pretty packaging of the mega-vitamins you’ll find at most health food stores. Though ad copy may promise you a veritable alphabet of nutrients, splurging on too many supplements means flushing away your money. Literally. “I don’t think that taking five vitamins is wise. Your body actually gets rid of excess vitamins through urine and feces," Harrow adds. If these excess vitamins aren’t cleansed from the body, there’s actually potential for you to get sick.

“If something is marketed as a food additive or supplement, it doesn’t have to be proven to work,” he explains. “Only medicines must pass FDA muster.” Most folks should just take a single multivitamin a day; women should look for a multivitamin with calcium. Harrow insists that what does a body good doesn’t have to taste bad, so find a flavor that tickles your taste buds.

Want to protect and preserve your health? Keep your medicine cabinet stocked with these supplies, and you’re good-to-go:

  • Aspirin
  • An anti-histamine
  • A decongestant (since some decongestants can raise your blood pressure, call your doctor before you stock up)
  • Antiseptic sprays or ointments for injuries and scrapes
  • A basic first-aid kit
  • Bandages
  • A combined sunscreen with UVA protection

And while you’re building a better medicine cabinet, you should toss out the Q-tips. You may think of Q-tips as your allies against ear wax build-up, but in fact, they actually pack the wax in deeper.

Just follow these quick tips, and you’ll find that getting (and staying) healthy doesn’t have to break the bank.