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Old-Fashioned Listerine Has New Uses

Posting Date: 10/31/2005

The smell and taste of original Listerine are so distinctive that, once experienced, they can never be forgotten. Gargling with this mouthwash can?t be described as pleasant. The taste is bitter. It puckers the mouth and makes the tongue tingle. The aftertaste lingers.

For a product that has been described as tasting terrible, it is astonishing that Listerine has remained so popular for so long. It was originally developed in 1879, not as a mouthwash, but as an antiseptic for physicians to use prior to surgery. Its inventor, Jordan Lambert, named it Listerine in honor of Dr. Joseph Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery.

In 1895 the product was marketed to dentists to kill bacteria in the mouth. By 1914, Lambert and his son Gerald began offering Listerine to the public as a mouthwash, and one of America?s most enduring personal care products was launched.

Listerine has maintained its popularity in part because it tastes so distinctive. Although the company has come up with new flavors and colors, the old-fashioned amber liquid still has devotees. And we keep hearing from readers about new uses for this old patent medicine:

?Over twenty years ago, I was hiking with my nephews and one of them asked me to break a branch lying on the ground so he could use it as a walking stick. I did so, and the next day both my palms and arms were covered with a rash that itched terribly.

?A dermatologist said it was probably poison sumac. He put me on prednisone and gave me a cortisone shot. The rash spread up my arms and I suffered for about three weeks.

?Every summer thereafter, I?d break out several times during the summer months even though I hadn?t touched any sumac. He told me I could get it from the pollen, even from a mile away.

?Then I read in your column about a woman who used Listerine for her shingles. I thought, what the heck, give it a try. Imagine my surprise when the itching stopped. Within a few days the rash was gone.