Friday, March 18, 2016

Phisohex - A Green Bottle at Every Sink

This stuff was everywhere in old time hospitals - every sink and every horizontal surface near a sink held  a bottle of this microorganism murdering miracle. It delivered a one/ two punch by disrupting bacteria cell membranes and precipitating intracellular  protein. In the operating room we had gigantic shaped dispensers that looked like a mini-funnel cloud. The miraculous white soap was forced out of the dispenser by pneumatic pressure supplied by a squishy black foot pump. Stomping on the footpump always felt kind of slippery to me and reminded me of tromping on dog waste. Sometimes, I even reflexively checked the soles  my foot covers to make sure they were free of stinking dog poop.

Miss Bruiser, my favorite instructor from nursing school even managed to incorporate the operating room foot operated Phisohex dispenser with  her teaching technique. Miss Bruised was obsessed with fingernails being  their correct length (1 mm.) and having the subungal space (the area underneath the distal nail) aggressively scratched out with a metal file before scrubbing for a case. After the mandatory 10 minute scrub if she suspected we neglected the subungal scraping, she would jump with all her might on the Phisohex foot pump blasting our hands with a surprise bolus of Phisohex. "It's time to start all over and don't forget the subungal curettage this time" she admonished with a nasty smirk.

Phisohex contained 3% hexalchlorophene  and one of the raw ingredients was fomaldehyde, which always made me question how such a toxic substance was safe. In the early 1970's some studies suggested that Phisohex could be a neurotoxin, especially with newborns. This was puzzling to me because Phisohex was used extensively in the nursery. Why was it being used with a population that research suggested was particularly at risk?

Once a product like Phisohex attains such widespread use a sort of inertia develops and some crazy applications manage to evolve. Pre-op showers with Phisohex and pre-op surgical site scrubs were common and then upon arrival in the OR proper the standard prep was another Phisohex scrub followed up with a final coating of Zepharin. In urology, it was common to administer a dilute Phisohex retention enema before prostate biopsies. I could never decipher the rationale behind this (pardon my lame pun) because most of the bowel bacteria were gram negative and Phisohex was most active against gram positive microorganisms like strep and staph.

Even the cafeteria smelled of Phisohex. It was just  as common as Whip 'N Chill desert and those yucky scrambled eggs made from dried egg powder. There was nothing to wake one up as quickly as a plate of reconstituted dried powder scrambled eggs and a snoot full of that Phisohex odor.  I learned from one of the cooks cafeteria workers that their automatic dish washing machine actually gave the dishes a spray of Phisohex prior to the rinse cycle.  Compared to the cafeteria smells, even Bovie smoke smelled OK. Everything is relative including noxious smells.

Around 1970 or so studies began showing that Phisohex at the 3% level was indeed a neurotoxin and there were also suggestions that in high exposure to personnel like nurses it could be a teratogen.
 I guess it was no coincidence that a colleague had a baby whose face resembled the dispensing head on a Phisohex bottle. I am also wondering if I can blame my cognitive decline on heavy duty exposure to Phisohex. When I was a youngster I could spell just about anything without even thinking. Residents even asked me how to spell operative terms and I rarely let them down. Now when I type those nasty little red squiggly lines pop up constantly and I'll be darned if I can remember what I had for lunch. It must have been the Phisohex.

35 comments:

  1. Oh, my gosh!!! This brings back so many memories! Phisohex was ALL the rage as a 'gentle' face wash for us back in the early 70's... and I too remember it being all over both hospitals in our town when I went through LPN school in the mid to late 70's.
    My girlfriend and I were devastated when it was taken off the market!
    :)))

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    1. My grandfather had this in our garage, and would make me scrub my hands"like a wild man" with this stuff, to remove automotive grease. Always enjoyed the smell for some reason, most likely nostalgia.

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    2. I too used Phisohex when I was in my teens and it was the only soap that cleared up my complexion. If I am reading the first reader correctly it wasn't the hexachlorophene that was harmful to the people. It was the formaldehyde that they added to it. They seem to think that people are stupid and don't realize that they will do anything for money. Take a look at the ingredients today for vaccinations and you will find out how many toxic ingredients they contain. If Phisohex was banned from the public but the doctors were allowed to use it for a surgical scrub...why could they and not the public.

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  2. Just reading the name brings back the scent. I loved Whip and Chill.

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  3. I've often wondered about what happened to Phisohex. Wasn't there a related product Phisoderm. There always seemed to be a bottle of it in our bathroom.
    It had a sharp nasty taste if it got in your mouth. That green bottle brings back
    memories

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  4. The FDA banned all products containing 1% of hexalchlorophene in the early 1970's. I think Phisoderm may have been an OTC brand without the hexalchlorophene.

    When Phisohex was banned we switched our surgical prep to the now ubiquitous Betadine. Surgeons and nurses alike thought that Betadine would never catch on as a prep because of it's yucky color. It looked nasty compared to our milky white Phisohex scrub and pretty pink Zepharin solutions. Early Betadine solutions had an unpleasant odor to them as well. The Phisohex had a nice clean smell.

    Now it seems that Betadine rules. At least it does not have that funny smell or maybe my olfactory sense has lost sensitivity as a result of my advanced age.

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  5. I can say that use of Phisohex will immediately act upon all skin irritations and breakouts like no other product. Betadine is disgusting to me, smell color, Phisohex had a pleasant smell and the asthetic of the light protective bottle just said "sanitary". Dont know what I'll do without it, it was a fantastic acne preperation.

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    1. Agree on the acne prep. sure miss it. Nothing helps like PHisoHex. Miss it.

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  6. One of your all time best posts OFRN

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  7. Thanks, Anonymous. I cannot figure out why this post is one of my all time most viewed. Any ideas why?

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    1. Because everyone over a certain age was doused with Phisohex from babyhood in the hospital to teen age until they discontinued it in 1973 (which was when I graduated High School). Doctors prescribed it and it was OTC. We all want to know why it was discontinued when it was part of our culture and hygiene for so many years. The smell is unmistakable. But now there are many skin cleansers such as Cerave Facial Cleanser, which I recently started using, that has that same distinctive odor but no hexochlorophne in the ingredients.

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  8. One use of Phisohex that no one has mentioned is its ability to remove tar from the skin. I have encountered many tar burns over the years and the only agent that would effectively remove the tar without damaging the underlying burned skin is phisohex. It actually will dissolve tar.

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    1. That is a good thing for tar situations. Scary though that it is that strong.

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  9. Thanks for the useful tip, anonymous, motorcycle accident victims always seemed to have asphalt like tar embedded in their wounds. We used adhesive tape remover, but your idea sounds even better. You could remove the tar and prep at the same time.

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  10. in 1964 0r '65( I was either 3 or 4 years old) I was hit in the head by a 2" x 4" x 6'+ board that fell off the roof of a house under construction. I was taken to the hospital and received 16 stitches in my scalp. After cleaning debris from the wound, the Staff filled the wound with Phisohex! Now I know what's wrong with me. Just kidding, I hope Obviously, as a 3 - 4 year old, I don't remember these details first hand. They were passed down to me by my parents. I do remember being in a straight jacket and it still took 6 adults to hold me still enough to sew up the wound. I am 56 years old now. I think I'm relatively normal. But, under the circumstances, can I trust my own opinion?

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  11. The mid 1960's were the pinnacle of Phisohex for all philosophies. That green bottle was just about everywhere. Old time hospitals were definitely not enlightened when it came to the treatment of children. When I was working in the operating room they just wheeled the kids up in their cribs and left them alone in a terrifying environment. If I had a chance, I always plucked them out of their cribs and held them tight while making up goofey stories about why we were all dressed in our "pajamas" (scrubs) and wore masks. They always calmed down and it has always bothered me terribly to see kids in distress-I could never work peds.

    I've had lots of long term exposure to Phisohex and am still vertical so I doubt if a one time exposure would cause any harm. The population at risk for Phisohex exposure was newborns and I could never figure out why it was so widely used in nurseries.
    Your opinion sounds good to me and thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  12. Our daughter was born in 1970. Immediately they gave her a Phisohex bath and the pediatrician recommended it as a shampoo to treat cradle cap.

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  13. New borns were perhaps the most vulnerable populations at risk for neurotoxicity from Phisohex. Using Phisohex on new borns was common practice back in the day. Go figure!

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  14. Glad I ran across this. I had a lot of skin allergies as kid, a doctor suggested I use Phisohex when i was very young because I seemed to be allergic to everything. I was just wondering the other day if I could buy it again. I started reading this then I remembered oh Yea it was taken off the market as being so dangerous. It seemed be the best thing I could ever use on my skin!

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    1. Well I've been after the small bottle and chemist warehouse are u able ti get it from the supplier but they do have the large bottle

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  15. I just happened to stumble across this post. Since it seems like this stuff brings fond memories to a few of you, I happen to have an original pHisoHex wall mounted 16oz dispenser. It was sealed in its original box but I had to open it. It's still all in the box, I'd have to assume it would work with today's soaps. I don't know what it would be worth, but it was too unique to just toss. If anyone is interested I'd love to see it somewhere it's appreciated.

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    1. Thanks for thinking of me, but over the years I have acquired far too many nursing artifacts in my basement archives and my wife would kill me if I obtain anything else. Maybe someone else would be interested in this unique item. It sounds like an interesting item. Thanks again for your kind offer and all the best to you.

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    2. I might be interested. How much do you want for it??

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    3. Old Nursing School Museum 👍

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  18. I don’t know if it’s universal, but Chloroprep took the place of Betadine five or so years ago to prep operative site for c-sections.

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  19. The only prep solutions known to me were betadine and zepharin. They were replacing alcohol, iodine, and mercurochrome.

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  20. Prisoderm was sold when I was 13. In the early 2000s, it had salicylic acid as its main ingredient. Wax wanting to buy it again and came across this

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  21. My sister died before I was born I asked my Mom why “Leukemia” as that is what said Lori died of My Mom said absolutely NOT, Lori died from Phisohex and this was back in 1961 I googled Phisohex 1960s and sure enough time did an article stating the deaths and dangers that printed in 1970

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  22. I am allergic to Betadine. Discovered after first surgery late in life - contact dermatitis so bad I had to be hospitalized. Later had a laparoscopic surgery - bad redness, burning, itching around each incision. What is a good substitute ? My husband and I are sitting here talking about what our moms used to use on us as kids … and we both yelled out “Phisohex!” I can still remember the smell, the spermy-like consistency ! I digress, but the whole topic was brought up because a nail salon worker sliced my fingertip right next to the nail and I really hope it doesn’t get infected . I’ve heard horror stories. Any advice appreciated

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  23. I just love that spermy-like analogy because it's so spot on in describing Phisohex. We prepped with phisohex and zepharin solution and there were few allergic reactions. I would not say that I was allergic to betadine, but defintely sensitive to it and found it much more irritating than good old Phisohex. I think a good modern day substitute for betadine is Hibiclens (chlorhexidine gluconate.) I've used it on myself to prep for surgical procedures and did just fine with it. I hope it works for you too!

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  24. I’m currently taking a course of Paxlovid for COVID. A common side effect which I’m experiencing is Paxlovid mouth (Google it) which refers to a bitter taste in your mouth. At first, I couldn’t place what this reminded me of but then realized it is the taste of Phisohex, which I used religiously to battle acne in the late 60s early 70s.

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  25. I hope your COVID responds to this treatment. I used tons of Phisohex as a teen for acne too and there was certainly no miraculous improvement, Thankfully I haven't experienced that strange Phisohex smell.
    I'm having a total knee replacement next Wednesday and have been scrubbing with Hibiclens to fight post op infection. It smells nothing like Phisohex!

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