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Day 18 of Our 31 Day Series of How Medicine Got It Wrong

Surgical Antiseptic to Mouthwash Marvel

Listerine is a popular brand of mouthwash that has been used for over a century to improve oral hygiene. The product was named after Joseph Lister, a British surgeon who was a pioneer in antiseptic surgery.

Originally developed in the late 19th century as a surgical antiseptic, Listerine was not successful in that role, so the creators began marketing it as a mouthwash. The harsh formula contained high levels of alcohol and other chemicals, and was marketed as a cure for more than just bad breath – it was also promoted as a treatment for dandruff, acne, and even gonorrhea.

In the early 20th century, Listerine was promoted as a cure for bad breath, which was then known as "halitosis." The company's advertising campaigns suggested that halitosis was a serious problem that could ruin a person's social life, and that Listerine was the only solution. One of Listerine's most famous advertising slogans was "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride," which suggested that women with bad breath would never find a husband.

In 1923, Listerine was advertised in The American Journal of Nursing.

" LISTERINE is an antiseptic aid to the professional nurse it is readily obtainable and contributes much to the comfort of the patient because of the satisfactory results attending its employment in the sick room.

LISTERINE is very acceptable to the bedridden and convalescent because of its agreeable odor. A refreshing sense of cleanliness follows its use, in suitable dilution, as a mouth-wash, lotion or sponge bath.

LISTERINE may be utilized as a wash, spray or douche and has a wide range of usefulness that is referred to specifically in the literature we shall gladly mail with a 3-ounce sample bottle, to any registered nurse, on request."

While Listerine's original formula was very harsh, today the formula has been reformulated to be less harsh and more effective at improving oral hygiene. Listerine is now marketed as a mouthwash that can help to prevent and treat oral health problems, such as bad breath, plaque, and gingivitis. It's important to note, however, that using Listerine alone is not enough to prevent or treat oral health problems. Brushing and flossing regularly, along with regular dental check-ups, are also important for maintaining good oral health.

While Listerine is sold as a "safe and effective" when used as a mouthwash to improve oral hygiene, using it as a feminine hygiene product can be very harmful. The vagina is a delicate and sensitive area, and introducing harsh chemicals like those found in Listerine can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria and cause irritation or infection. Douching with Listerine can actually increase the risk of infection and other health problems, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), bacterial vaginosis, and cervical cancer.

It's important for women to practice good feminine hygiene by washing the external genital area with mild soap and water and avoiding the use of harsh chemicals or perfumes. If you're experiencing vaginal odor, discharge, or other symptoms, it's important to see a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

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  1. National Museum of American History. (n.d.). Listerine Antiseptic. Retrieved from

  2. Period Paper. (n.d.). 1940 Ad Lambert Pharmacal Co Listerine Dandruff Treatment Hair Care Products. Retrieved from

  3. Listerine. (n.d.). About Listerine. Retrieved from

  4. Journal of Dental Education. (2005). "The Listerine story." Retrieved from

  5. Houston Pediatric Dentist. (2019). The Crazy and Disgusting History of Mouthwash. Retrieved from

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