Campho-Phenique had a history of being the primary medicine in my house, growing up in the 1950s. Mother used it to dry up her cold sores, and we all dabbed it on chigger bites. Back then, it was an oily liquid with a strong, but not unpleasant, smell. These days, it smells and works the same. However, Campho-Phenique seldom shows up in today’s medicine cabinets.
Name and History
The Campho-Phenique name comes from ingredients camphor and phenol. While not a part of the brand name, the formula also includes menthol. Ever since the product appeared on the scene in 1884, Campho-Phenique served only as a topical solution with antiseptic properties. It has a drying effect on wounds and sores. Lister had discovered the beneficial properties of phenol in surgeries as far back as the 1860s. He achieved a marked reduction in patient infections when applying phenol before and following the operation.
While Campho-Phenique continues to be useful, more recent testing has shown potential harmful effects for both camphor and phenol – especially in young children. However, these risks have to do with inhaling of taking the ingredients internally. Applying Campho-Phenique topically in moderation is still thought to be safe.
During the more than 130 years since Campho-Phenique first appeared as a medication, many competing preparations have emerged. Simple iodine, hydrogen peroxide, Mercurochrome, and later Neosporin have become popular as disinfectants. (Mercurochrome was later banned due to its mercury and bromine, which are harmful if swallowed.) Nevertheless, Campho-Phenique remains a popular choice for cold sores and bug bites. It now comes in a gel.
Here is a history of ownership for the Campho-Phenique brand:
1884: Nichols Chemical Company introduces Campho-Phenique.
1944: Sterling Drug acquires Nichols Chemical Company and the Campho-Phenique brand.
1982: Eastman Kodak buys Sterling Drug.
1988: Eastman Kodak sells the Campho-Phenique brand to Chattem, Inc.
2016: Chattem, Inc. joins S&W Acquisition Corporation, which is later renamed Foundation Consumer Healthcare.
Today: Foundation Consumer Healthcare still owns Campho-Phenique . The brand is still available over-the-counter at most drugstores.
- Year Started: 1884
- Year Ended: 2099
- Origin Of Name: Drawn from “camphor” and “phenol”
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Nichols Chemical Company
- Owner While In Use: Several
- Owner Successor: Foundation Consumer Healthcare
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Campho-Phenique
- Naics Code: 325412
- Location Headquarters: St. Louis, Missouri USA