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  Listerine is a brand name for antiseptic mouthwash. It is named after 19th century English physician Joseph Lister, father of modern antiseptics. Its original formula has a notoriously strong flavor, although variations have been released that are marketed as tasting milder. The product is marketed under the slogan "Kills germs that cause bad breath".

Listerine is one of the most popular mouthwashes sold in the United States [1]. It is currently manufactured and distributed by Johnson and Johnson since that company's acquisition of Pfizer's consumer healthcare division in late December of 2006.

The Listerine brand name is also used on toothpaste, a Listerine Whitening rinse, a new Listerine Fluoride rinse (Listerine Tooth Defense), Listerine Agent Cool Blue (children's plaque disclosing rinse), PocketPaks, and PocketMist. In September of 2007, Listerine began selling their own brand of self-dissolving teeth whitening strips.



First formulated by Dr. Nicole Dyer Lawrence and Christian Bach in 1879 as a surgical antiseptic, it was given to dentists for oral care in 1895 and became the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the United States in 1914.

According to Freakonomics (p. 91),

Listerine was invented in the 19th century as a powerful surgical antiseptic. It was later sold, in a distilled form, as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea. But it wasn't a runaway success until the 1920s, when it was pitched as a solution for "chronic halitosis", the faux medical term that the Listerine advertising group created in 1921 to describe bad breath. By naming and thus creating a medical condition for which consumers now felt they needed a cure, Listerine created a market for their mouthwash. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered a catastrophe, but Listerine's ad campaign changed that. As the advertising scholar James B. Twitchell writes, "Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis." Listerine's new ads featured forlorn young women and men, eager for marriage but turned off by their mate's rotten breath. "Can I be happy with him in spite of that?" one maiden asked herself. In just seven years, the company's revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.

From 1921 until the mid-1970s Listerine was also marketed as a preventive and remedy for colds and sore throats. In 1976, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that these claims were misleading, and that Listerine had "no efficacy" at either preventing or alleviating the symptoms of sore throats and colds. Warner-Lambert was ordered to stop making the claims, and to include in the next $10.2 million dollars' of Listerine ads a specific mention that "contrary to prior advertising, Listerine will not help prevent colds or sore throats or lessen their severity."[2]

Listerine was packaged in a glass bottle inside a corrugated cardboard tube for nearly 80 years before the first revamps were made to the brand; in 1992, Cool Mint Listerine was introduced in addition to the original Listerine Antiseptic formula and, in 1994, both brands were introduced in plastic bottles for the first time. Around that time, FreshBurst was added, then in 2003 Natural Citrus. In 2006 a new addition to the "less intense" variety, Vanilla Mint, was released. Currently, seven different kinds of Listerine are on the market in the U.S. and abroad: Original, Cool Mint, FreshBurst, Natural Citrus, Vanilla Mint, Advanced with Tartar Control, and Whitening. The most recent addition is the whitening formula.


The active ingredients listed on Listerine bottles are menthol, thymol, methyl salicylate, and eucalyptol. Ethanol is present in concentrations of 21.6% in the flavored product and 26% in the original gold Listerine Antiseptic. Thymol is an antiseptic, methyl salicylate is a cleaning agent, and menthol is a local anesthetic. At this concentration, the ethanol serves to dissolve the active ingredients.

A Food and Drug Administration Advisory Panel has recommended that the active ingredients in Listerine be classified as Category I (safe and effective) for antiplaque and antigingivitis activity.

The efficacy of the treatment is due mainly to Listerine's liquid properties, as liquids are quite effective at coating most exposed surfaces in the mouth, even between teeth. Listerine is best used in conjunction with brushing and flossing, but not as a replacement [3].


Additional rinsing helps in reducing dental plaque and gingivitis in children, in addition to reducing the risk of bleeding from the gingival sulcus.[4] However, the effect is not as essential as motivation to using Listerine as everyday oral hygiene.[4]


There is no evidence that its properties as a solvent, mainly from the 21.6% or 26.9% (in original Gold Listerine) ethanol, cause an easier reception of carcinogens. In other words, repeated use of Listerine does not increase the risk of oral cancer. Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the United States National Cancer Institute (NCI) agree that the alcohol contained in antiseptic mouthwash is safe and not a factor in oral cancers. Specific study reviews and results [5] [6] [7] summarize that alcohol-containing mouth rinses are not associated with oral cancer.

On 11 April 2007 McNeil-PPC disclosed that there were potentially contaminants in all Listerine Agent Cool Blue products sold since its launch in 2006, and that all bottles were being recalled.[8] The recall affects some 4,000,000 bottles sold since that time.[9] According to the company, Listerine Agent Cool Blue is the only product affected by the safety issue and that no other products in the Listerine family were under recall.[8]

Listerine's new Pre-brush Whitening Rinse may cause irritation and discomfort to the tongues of some users. Anecdotal evidence exists in the form of comments from users of the The Fun Times Guide.

Popular culture references

  • A 1970s commercial for Listerine featured Judd Hirsch playing a radio disc jockey, in what was one of his first television appearances. The tagline for the product at the time was, "The taste people hate, twice a day."
  • The song "Germfree Adolescents" on the 1978 Germ Free Adolescents album) from punk rockers X-Ray Spex contains the line "Rinse your mouth with Listerine". In the UK, however, singer Poly Styrene sang the line as "Rinse your mouth with glycerine" on Top of the Pops and other BBC performances, due to the BBC's ban on the use of product names.
  • In the mid-1990s, Listerine rival Scope, made by Procter & Gamble, listed Rosie O'Donnell as the least-kissable celebrity in the U.S. In response, O'Donnell teamed up with Listerine to give money to charity every time she kissed someone on her talk show, The Rosie O'Donnell Show; this provided positive publicity for Listerine and harsh publicity for Scope, which O'Donnell disparaged on her show[10].
  • Pixar Animation Studios animated many commercials for Listerine, before it became known for short films, like Luxo Jr.
  • The punk-cabaret band The Dresden Dolls on their 2006 album Yes, Virginia… end their song "Necessary Evil" with the line "Come on and take your Listerine."
  • Coach Z, a character from the internet series Homestar Runner, routinely drinks Listerine recreationally, most notably during a Christmas special.
  • Philip J. Fry, a character from the animated series Futurama, didn't find voting cool, so he stayed home alone and got trashed on Listerine. (S02E07 - A Head In The Polls)
  • "Dramamine", a song by Modest Mouse features the lyrics, "Traveling swallowing Dramamine, feelin' spaced, breathing out Listerine"
  • In an article in Mad Magazine satirizing television commercials, this exchange appears:
Q. What do you think of the taste of Listerine?
A. Taste?! I use it for removing grease from my bicycles!


  1. ^ Marion Arathoon (2007). How to Tackle a Leader in the Brand Category. Retrieved on 2007-12-04.
  2. ^ Three by the FTC. Time (1976-01-05). Retrieved on 2006-12-05.
  3. ^ clinical study conducted by Dr. N. Sharma, et al published in the Journal of the American Dental Association 2004
  4. ^ a b Short time effect of elmex and Listerine mouthrinses on plaque in 12-year-old children. Dolińska E, Stokowska W.
  5. ^ J.G. Elmore and R.I. Horowitz ("Oral cancer and mouthwash use: Evaluation of the epidemiologic evidence." Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1995;1(113):253–261)
  6. ^ Mashburg et al. ("A Study of the relationship between mouthwash use and oral and pharyngeal cancer." JADA, 1985)
  7. ^ as well as Philip Cole, M.D., Dr.P.H, Brad Rodu, D.D.S and Annette Mathisen, Ph.D. ("Alcohol-containing mouthwash and oropharyngeal cancer, a review of the epidemiology" JADA, 2003)
  8. ^ a b McNeil-PPC (2007-04-11). "McNeil-PPC, Inc. today issues voluntary nationwide consumer recall of Listerine® Agent Cool Blue™ plaque-detecting rinse products". Press release. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.
  9. ^ Associated Press. "Contamination prompts J&J recall of Listerine Agent Cool Blue plaque-detecting rinse", Wilmington News Journal, 2007-04-12. Retrieved on 2007-04-12. 
  10. ^ C. David Hess (1997). Rosie O'Donnell, Scope Mouthwash, and the Cross. Retrieved on 2007-12-04.

Vanilla Mint LISTERINE® Antiseptic Mouthwash. McNEIL-PPC, Inc. (2007). Retrieved on 2007-05-31.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Listerine". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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