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Various Listerine products in Canada

Listerine is a brand of antiseptic mouthwash product. It is promoted with the slogan "Kills germs that cause bad breath", and was named after Joseph Lister who advocated the idea of sterile surgery by sterilizing instruments.

Originally marketed by the Lambert Pharmacal Company (which later became Warner-Lambert), it has been manufactured and distributed by Johnson & Johnson since that company's acquisition of Pfizer's consumer healthcare division in late December 2006.

The Listerine brand name is also used in toothpaste, Listerine Whitening rinse, Listerine Fluoride rinse (Listerine Tooth Defense), Listerine SmartRinse (children's fluoride rinse), PocketPaks, and PocketMist. In September 2007, Listerine began selling its own brand of self-dissolving teeth whitening strips.


Glass bottle with paper label. The screw top indicates that the bottle was manufactured post-1920s.

Formulated by Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert in St. Louis, Missouri,[1] in 1879 as surgical antiseptic, it was given to dentists for oral care in 1895 and it was the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the United States, in 1915.

In 1885, Lawrence sold his share to the Lambert Pharmacal Company.[2]

According to Freakonomics:[3]

Listerine, for instance, was invented in the nineteenth century as powerful surgical antiseptic. It was later sold, in distilled form, as both 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"— a then obscure medical term for bad breath. 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. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered such a catastrophe. But Listerine changed that. As the advertising scholar James B. Twitchell writes, "Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis." In just seven years, the company's revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.

In 1955, Lambert Pharmacal merged with New York-based Warner-Hudnut and became Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Company and incorporated in Delaware with its corporate headquarters in Morris Plains, New Jersey.[4] In 2000, Pfizer acquired Warner-Lambert.[5] Among Lambert's assets was the original land for Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.[6]

From 1921 until the mid-1970s, Listerine was also marketed as 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 worth of Listerine ads specific mention that "Listerine will not help prevent colds or sore throats or lessen their severity."[7] The advertisement run by Listerine added the preamble "contrary to prior advertising".[8]

For a short time, beginning in 1927, the Lambert Pharmaceutical Company marketed Listerine Cigarettes.[9][10]

From the 1930s into the 1950s, advertisements claimed that applying Listerine to the scalp could prevent "infectious dandruff".[11]

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. In 1995, FreshBurst was added,[12] then in 2003 Natural Citrus. In 2006 a new addition to the "less intense" variety, Vanilla Mint, was released. Eight different kinds of Listerine are on the market in the U.S. and elsewhere: Original, Cool Mint, FreshBurst, Natural Citrus, Vanilla Mint, UltraClean (formerly Advanced Listerine), Tooth Defense (mint shield), and Whitening pre-brush rinse (clean mint). The most recent addition is Listerine Naturals, a natural formula antiseptic mouthwash.


The active ingredients listed on Listerine bottles are essential oils which are menthol 0.042%, thymol 0.064%, methyl salicylate 0.06%, and eucalyptol 0.092%.[13] In combination all have an antiseptic effect and there is some thought that methyl salicylate may have an anti inflammatory effect as well.[14] Ethanol, which is toxic to bacteria at concentrations of 40%, is present in concentrations of 21.6% in the flavored product and 26.9% in the original gold Listerine Antiseptic.[15] At this concentration, the ethanol serves to dissolve the active ingredients.[citation needed]


There has been concern that the use of alcohol-containing mouthwash such as Listerine may increase the risk of developing oral cancer.[16][17] Studies conducted in 1985,[18] 1995,[19] and 2003[20] summarize that alcohol-containing mouth rinses are not associated with oral cancer. However, a review of a study carried out in Cuba, Argentina, and Brazil published December 2008 in the Australian Dental Journal concluded that:

There is now sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that developing oral cancer is increased or contributed to by the use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes. Whilst many of these products may have been shown to be effective in penetrating oral microbial biofilms in vitro and reducing oral bacterial load, it would be wise to restrict their use to short-term therapeutic situations if needed. Perhaps the use of mouthwashes that do not contain alcohol may be equally effective. Further, mouthrinses should be prescribed by dentists, like any other medication. There may well be a reason for the use of alcohol-containing mouthrinses, but only for a particular situation and for a limited and controlled period of time. As such, patients should be provided with written instructions for mouthwash use, and mouthwash use should be restricted to adults for short durations and specific, clearly defined reasons. It is the opinion of the authors that, in light of the evidence available of the association of alcohol-containing mouthwashes with the development of oral cancer, it would be inadvisable for oral healthcare professionals to recommend the long-term use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes.[16]

In January 2009, Andrew Penman, chief executive of The Cancer Council New South Wales, called for further research on the matter.[21] In a March 2009 brief, the American Dental Association said "the available evidence does not support a connection between oral cancer and alcohol-containing mouthrinse".[22]

In 2009, Johnson and Johnson launched a new alcohol-free version of the product called Listerine Zero.[23]

On April 11, 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.[24] The recall affected some 4,000,000 bottles sold since that time.[25] According to the company, Listerine Agent Cool Blue is the only product affected by the safety issue and no other products in the Listerine family were under recall.[24]


  1. ^ "Sheila Barrett's blog". Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  2. ^ "Lambert Pharmacal Company". 
  3. ^ Levitt, Steven D.; Dubner, Stephen J. (2009). Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side Of Everything. New York: HarperCollins. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-06-073133-5. OCLC 502013083 
    Note that previous editions of Freakonomics incorrectly described halitosis as a "faux medical term", which this Wikipedia article previously reflected.
  4. ^ Warner-Hudnut, Inc. ( Early Warner-Lambert Company ) - - Retrieved February 25, 2010
  5. ^ 2000: Pfizer joins forces with Warner-Lambert - - Retrieved February 5, 2010
  6. ^ Lambert began as a farm field owned by the maker of Listerine - St. Louis Post-Dispatch - February 7, 2010
  7. ^ "Three by the FTC". Time. 1976-01-05. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  8. ^ Business Its Legal, Ethical, and Global Environment by Marianne M. Jennings 8th edition page 324, Given these safeguards, we believe the preamble "Contrary to prior advertising" is not necessary.
  9. ^ "The African Americanization of menthol cigarette use in the United States". Nicotine & Tobacco Research 6: S57. 2004. doi:10.1080/14622200310001649478. 
  10. ^ "LISTERINE Cigarettes". Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  11. ^ Lambert Pharmacal (1930). "Listerine gets rid of dandruff". Popular Science 116 (5): 17. ISSN 0161-7370. 
  12. ^ "Article: Warner-Lambert reenters the dentrifice business.". 1995-07-31. Retrieved 2014-08-16. 
  13. ^ Materials Safety Data Sheet for Listerine Antiseptic Mouthwash, Original-05/22/2008
  14. ^ Mason, L.; Moore, RA; Edwards, JE; McQuay, HJ; Derry, S; Wiffen, PJ (2004). "Systematic review of efficacy of topical rubefacients containing salicylates for the treatment of acute and chronic pain". BMJ 328 (7446): 995. doi:10.1136/bmj.38040.607141.EE. PMC 404501. PMID 15033879.
  15. ^ Disinfection, Sterilization, and Preservation. Seymour, Stanton,& Block. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Jan 1, 2001 § pp 238
  16. ^ a b McCullough, Michael; C. S. Farah (December 2008). "The role of alcohol in oral carcinogenesis with particular reference to alcohol-containing mouthwashes". Australian Dental Journal 53 (4): 302–305. doi:10.1111/j.1834-7819.2008.00070.x. PMID 19133944. Retrieved 2009-01-12. 
  17. ^ "Mouthwash linked to cancer". Retrieved 2013-04-24. 
  18. ^ Mashberg A, Barsa P, Grossman ML (May 1985). "A study of the relationship between mouthwash use and oral and pharyngeal cancer". J Am Dent Assoc 110 (5): 731–4. PMID 3859544. 
  19. ^ Elmore JG, Horwitz RI (September 1995). "Oral cancer and mouthwash use: evaluation of the epidemiologic evidence". Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 113 (3): 253–61. doi:10.1016/S0194-5998(95)70114-1. PMID 7675486. 
  20. ^ Cole P, Rodu B, Mathisen A (1 August 2003). "Alcohol-containing mouthwash and oropharyngeal cancer: a review of the epidemiology". J Am Dent Assoc 134 (8): 1079–87. doi:10.14219/jada.archive.2003.0322. PMID 12956348. 
  21. ^ Weaver, Clair (January 11, 2009). "Mouthwash linked to cancer". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 January 2009. 
  22. ^ Science brief on alcohol-containing mouthrinses and oral cancer, American Dental Association, March 2009
  23. ^ Listerine cancer claim triggers court battle, The Guardian, 27 August 2011
  24. ^ a b "McNeil-PPC, Inc. today issues voluntary nationwide consumer recall of Listerine Agent Cool Blue plaque-detecting rinse products" (Press release). McNeil-PPC. 2007-04-11. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  25. ^ "Contamination prompts J&J recall of Listerine Agent Cool Blue plaque-detecting rinse". NBC News. Associated Press. 2007-04-12. Retrieved Aug 15, 2014. 

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