Abstract: Needlessly and Massively Exposed: The FDA, Industry, and the 1972 Ban on Hexachlorophene in Consumer Products

Martha N. Gardner


In 1972, the FDA banned the use of the synthetic chemical hexachlorophene in consumer products. An effective and nonabrasive germicide, hexachlorophene had become popular in hospitals as a surgical wash and general cleaner in the 1940s and 1950s. Introduced in 1948, Dial soap was the first consumer product to include hexachlorophene as a killer of the bacteria that makes human perspiration stink, making Dial no. 1 within five years. By the early 1970s, it was an ingredient in over 400 personal care products, from toothpastes to deodorants to feminine hygiene sprays. However, by the late 1960s, concern emerged about its potential risks. Neurological damage topped the list, with animal studies showing clear signs of harm. FDA decision-makers commented on the lack of careful safety and efficacy testing before its initial introduction in the late 1940s. In contrast, the original inventor of hexachlorophene protested the idea that the chemical was unsafe, claiming that the twenty years of its widespread use "established" its "safety." The popularity of the chemical, the dispute over its risks, and the decision-making process in this time of emerging awareness and concern over environmental and drug risks, are the subject of this paper.