STINGS LIKE A BEE – We’re not talking about Muhammad Ali’s lightning jab. We’re talking about the sensation we felt, back in our prepubescent days, when our moms applied “Tincture of Iodine” (“iodo”) to a cut finger or a scraped knee. The wound turned reddish-brown, mom would give it a prolonged blow, and a temptingly itchy scab eventually formed.
“Tincture of Iodine” was used as an antiseptic as early as 1908, and contained elemental iodine dissolved in ethanol and water (the alcohol accounted for the stinging pain). Poisonous when ingested, it was replaced in household medicine cabinets by “Mercurochrome,” a brand name of Merbromin, another topical antiseptic discovered in 1918. This was, in turn, followed by “Merthiolate,” the brand name of the compound Thiomersal, discovered in 1927 and distributed by Eli Lilly.
Because both of these agents contained mercury, the US FDA removed them from the GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe) in 1998. Along with mercury fever thermometers and amalgam tooth fillings, these remedies are now just a toxic reminder of our childhood days, and have since been replaced by the antiseptic Povidone Iodine, with such brands as “Betadine,” “Pyodine” and “Wokadine.”
Remarkably, it took close to a century before “Tincture of Iodine” as a treatment for scrapes and abrasions would be succeeded by a mercury-free solution. Time heals all wounds, indeed.