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Not too long ago, I was passing through Bangkok and stopped by my friends’ new townhouse on the way to the airport. A little sweaty from the long car ride, I showered in their master bathroom, where I spied an unfamiliar sight: a glass-doored mini refrigerator filled with skin products. Forget wine refrigerators, temperature-controlled storage for SK II Essence and Créme de la Mer seems like the pinnacle of leisure luxury to me.
That same trip, a new moisturizer — a very pricey moisturizer, Kypris Pot of Shade: Heliotropic ($68), which I love — went south on me, suddenly betraying a funky smell it didn’t have when I first cracked it open. It was hot as hell, and something had gone wrong. If only I’d known to keep it cool like my friend, Sarah Chang, who shares bathroom fridge space (and the duties of running a restaurant empire) with her husband, chef Ian Chalermkittichai. She said they stretch out their products’ longevity by protecting them from tropical heat. “We travel a lot and stock up on products duty free,” she said. “It’s better to store our stock in the fridge than in a hot closet. Also, it’s quite refreshing to keep toner and cream cool when it’s hot out.”
Now Thailand is tropical year-round, but it’s not all that different than a New York summer. I’d always meant to keep things in my apartment refrigerator, hearing somewhere once that it was better for them, but somehow that not-so-long walk from bathroom to kitchen always tripped me up. Would a bathroom mini fridge be the answer? I called up Los Angeles dermatologist Dr. Jessica Wu, author of Feed Your Face, to find out.
As it turns out, Sarah and Ian’s bathroom refrigerator wasn’t such a strange concept to Wu. “I have a number of patients in Texas who have their contractor install one. New homes are being built with cosmetic refrigerators.” In addition to skin creams and makeup, they use them to keep bottled water and champagne (of course). These cosmetic refrigerators — a phrase I didn’t realize existed until talking to Wu — discourage bacteria and fungus, and keep products fresher longer.
But you don’t have to be the wife of a Texas oil magnate with $200 eye creams to get a “cosmetic” fridge. In Korea, refrigerators specifically marketed for cosmetics have been popular for the last few years. Prices range from $40–$150 on Amazon for compact refrigerators, most of which you could easily tuck into the corner of a small bathroom. When you add up the cost of all your products, even drugstore ones (good lord), a cosmetic fridge seems like a pretty good investment to lengthen their potency. That fancy face cream I lost to extreme heat costs more than most of the compact refrigerators out there.
There are products for which refrigeration doesn’t matter or isn’t ideal. “It’s less of an issue with serums because they are already liquid and less likely to separate compared to creams,” says Wu. Oils, which can solidify at lower temps, should be kept at room temperature or warmer.
But for others, a compact refrigerator can be the ideal storage. “Certain ingredients break down more quickly,” says Wu. “Retinoids are heat- and light-sensitive.” The same goes for products with vitamin C. Nail polishes can separate when exposed to sitting out awhile, and the molecules of perfume can break down over time — not just fading, but actually changing its fragrance as well. Lipsticks can also break, smudge, or melt if kept on a vanity in direct sunlight.
“Water-based toners and mists also take to the fridge,” says Wu. “Keeping them cool in the refrigerator can also help cool down the skin and relieve inflammation, rosacea, or itching.”
Of course, you can just store your stuff in a kitchen refrigerator. However, if you’re prone to forgetting to use your cream because it’s out of sight, Wu recommends skipping the fridge and keeping it in the coolest, darkest place in your bathroom, like the cabinet under the sink. Heat rises, so the top shelf behind your bathroom mirror just might be the worst spot for your retinoids, vitamin C products, nail polishes, lipsticks, and perfumes. That all said, having one cream turn bad is enough to convince me that a $40 bathroom mini fridge might be a worthy investment for my lazy ass.