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Description: Mercurochrome, generically known as merbromin, is a topical antiseptic used to treat minor cuts and scrapes. When applied to a wound, the dark red color of the ointment stains the skin. It had been widely used as a household antiseptic/antibacterial ointment - especially for children - because it did not sting or irritate the skin when applied; however, it is no longer sold in the U.S., partly because of its mercury content.

Purpose: Mercurochrome is an organo-mercury compound in aqueous solution, used to prevent infection in minor wounds. Mercury is useful in antiseptics such as mercurochrome because it acts as a disinfectant, stopping the bacteria from reproducing and spreading.

Regulations: In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that mercurochrome was "not generally recognized as safe and effective" as an over-the-counter antiseptic and banned its sale in the U.S.

Although mercurochrome and other mercury-based antiseptics prevented the spread of bacteria, they did not actually kill the micro-organism; once they were washed off, the bacteria was allowed to spread. Furthermore, when mercurochrome was applied to the wound, it stained the skin red, making it more difficult to detect inflammation or infection. This ineffectiveness, combined with the fear of mercury toxicity from the mercurochrome being absorbed through the skin, resulted in the FDA ban.

Disposal: An easy way for consumers to dispose of their old bottles of mercurochrome is through their local household hazardous waste collection facility. Some communities also have pharmaceutical take-back programs, where consumers can bring unused and out-dated pharmaceuticals (including drugs and topical ointments) to a central location for proper disposal.

Other Issues: Mercurochrome, as well as other mercury-containing medicines, is still widely used in some countries outside of the U.S.

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General References

The links below are general references that provide information pertaining to all types of personal care products that may contain mercury:

Mercury Product Phase-outs, Sales Prohibitions, and Exemptions:

Spill Clean-up Guidance:




Last Modified 08/25/2020

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