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Monkey’s Blood (Mercurochrome) for those boo-boos
Remember when you were a kid, and you would were out roughhousing with your friends. Maybe you are running along the sidewalk when suddenly you trip and scrape your knee. You pop up, survey the damage, and realize that the whole course of your day has changed.
You have been wounded.
So you run home to your parents for evaluation. How serious will it be? According to your older sister, they are probably going to amputate, but you learned a long time ago not to trust her medical opinion. So you go to Mom.
Best case scenario? She wipes it down and sends you on your way. Worst case scenario? She takes you to the bathroom and pulls out the Monkey’s Blood, more commonly known as Merthiolate or Mercurochrome.
Mercurochrome was this rich, bright reddish antiseptic that was a common disinfect from the late 1910s to the 1990s. While it worked as an antiseptic, it also dampened the pain of the injury, which I can only assume was a side effect of the tremendous burning sensation you got when Mercurochrome was applied. It was like a bottle of lava that filled me with both dread and fascination.
Why do they call it Monkey’s Blood?
You might think that the term Monkey’s Blood has a complicated origin, but the answer is very simple. It is called Monkey’s Blood because it is read. Weirdly, other red things like fruit sauces also carry this moniker in different regions.
On the upside, it stained your skin reddish orange for days. So all my friends knew I had been injured without me having to draw attention to just how tough I was.
If they only had seen my crying in agony as my Mother touched the Mercurochrome wand to the wound. But that secret is between me, my Mom and her trusty bottle of Mercurochrome.
And Mercurochrome ain’t talking anymore.
On October 19, 1998, citing potential for mercury poisoning, the Food and Drug Administration reclassified merbromin from “generally recognized as safe” to “untested,” which effectively halted its distribution in the United States.
It was later banned in other countries, but in the majority of the world you can still buy it over the counter. In the US, a few non-Mercury containing products have been released with similar names. I do not miss Monkey’s Blood and if it endangered my health in any way, I am glad it was taken off the market. But I have to admit, a small part of me takes pride in having survived repeated use of this dreaded liquid.
Here is an ad for Rexall from the Fifties that mentions Mercurochrome. Not only could you get a 1/2 ounce bottle for 25 cents, but you could also get a band-aids that were pre-treated with Mercurochrome.