Monday, February 22, 2010

Interesting, But Mostly Useless, Trivia About the Natural Active Ingredients of Listerine and Gold Bond Powder

Listerine and Gold Bond Powder both have four naturally-derived ingredients in common. I discovered this recently while doing research on a chemical called thymol, which is an antibacterial component of the essential oil of thyme. Hey, who would have known that essential oils -- or at least their chemical components -- were hanging out in your commercial mouthwash?

The active ingredients of Listerine are eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol. These four plant-derived chemicals also show up in Gold Bond Powder, and -- for what it's worth -- I've noticed that both products share a very similar smell. (Try comparing the scent of original Listerine, which is the yellow Listerine, with Gold Bond Powder.)

Here's a quick summary of these ingredients:

  • Thymol is derived mainly from thyme essential oil. It is a proven antibacterial.
  • Eucalyptol is derived mainly from eucalyptus essential oil. Just scanning through recent research, I see that it's been shown to have broad-range antibacterial effects somewhat like thymol (but perhaps not quite as strong). It also appears to be a deodorant.
  • Methyl Salicylate is derived from essential oil of wintergreen. Not finding much research on this chemical. According to King's American Dispensatory (see the link for "wintergreen" just above), it is a stimulant, a taste-disguiser, and a local pain reliever. It's quite toxic to people, so I can only assume that it would kill bacteria, too.
  • Menthol should be a familiar compound. It's the active ingredient in cough drops. Menthol is actually derived from the essential oil of peppermint; it's what gives that herb its distinct smell and its cold, tingly bite. It is pain-relieving, cooling, and -- according to King's American Dispensatory -- most likely antibacterial.
Thymol, eucalyptol, and methyl salicylate are all quite irritating and toxic to humans. Make sure you don't swallow that Listerine. Interesting -- some of the compounds that are used as antiseptics in Listerine perform double duty in Gold Bond Powder: eucalyptol is also a deodorizer, and menthol and methyl salicylate are both stimulants and local pain relievers.

By my reckoning, you could probably use Listerine for other purposes besides cleaning your mouth. It was originally formulated as a surgical antiseptic, after all. Sore throat gargle? Disinfectant?

Of course, these ingredients, though all naturally-derived, are probably synthesized for use in commercial products, because it would take a lot of plant material to isolate each of them! So, are they technically natural ingredients, then?

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