What Is Hexachlorophene?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist

Hexachlorophene is a generic name for the medicated skin cleanser commonly marketed under the brand names Phisohex® and Septisol®. A doctor may recommend that a patient use it to eradicate bacteria, such as Staphylococcus, or staph. Patients who use a medicated skin cleanser such as hexachlorophene can help prevent spreading bacteria to other people. This cleanser is intended for topical use only. It contains 3% hexachlorophene along with other ingredients, including polyethylene glycol, lauryl mysristyl diethanolamide, and water.

Topical skin cleanser is only externally applied to skin.
Topical skin cleanser is only externally applied to skin.

Patients should follow their doctors' directions for use. If no specific instruction is given, patients may use hexachlorophene by wetting their hands and applying about 5 milliliters (mL) to the hands. The patient may then rub his hands vigorously to produce a lather and apply it to the area of skin that requires cleansing. Both the hands and the cleansed area of skin must be thoroughly rinsed afterward so that no medication remains on the skin. The doctor should inform the patient how many times daily to use hexachlorophene.

This medicated cleanser is not intended for use on the patient's entire body. It may also not be used on skin that is irritated, burned, or broken in some manner. Patients must avoid getting the cleanser in their eyes and other sensitive areas, such as inside the nose, mouth, or rectum. Before using hexachlorophene for children or infants, patients must consult a pediatrician.

Using hexachlorophene in larger amounts or longer than recommended by a doctor can result in absorption into the body through the skin. This can lead to side effects. Patients may notice side effects such as dryness, scaling, or redness. Those whose skin is exposed to extremes of heat and cold or abrasive rubbing may notice a worsening of these side effects.

Serious side effects are unlikely to occur. Patients should be aware of the signs of a potential allergic reaction, which can include severe dizziness, trouble breathing, and swelling of the face or throat. Other uncommon side effects that require a doctor's urgent care can include muscle spasms or stiff muscles, seizures, and problems with walking or other movements. Mood changes, such as agitation and extreme sleepiness can also occur. Some patients may develop a skin infection indicated by warm or itchy skin, pus, and swelling.

Before using hexachlorophene, patients must disclose their other medical conditions, medications, and supplements. Patients may be unable to use it if they have previously had skin infections, or if they have eczema, psoriasis, or other skin conditions. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid this cleanser whenever possible.

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