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What is Phenol? Medical Uses, Health Benefits, and Risks

Pure phenol is used in certain medical procedures and as an ingredient in numerous treatments and laboratory applications.

Phenol Injection

Phenol can be injected into your muscles to treat a condition known as muscle spasticity. This happens when your brain doesn’t communicate properly with your spinal cord and nerves. It causes your muscles to become tight.

Muscle spasticity can even interrupt your ability to walk or talk. It can be caused by conditions like Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, or brain trauma.

A phenol injection helps limit the signals sent from your nerves to your muscles that cause contractions. This allows you to move more easily and feel less discomfort.

This treatment is similar to getting a botulinum toxin A (Botox) shot. But phenol tends to be more useful for large muscles.

Chemical matrixectomy

Phenol is commonly used in surgeries for ingrown toenails. It’s used on more severe ingrown toenails that don’t respond to other treatments. The phenol, in the form of trichloroacetic acid, is used to stop the nail from growing back.

A small 2001 study of 172 people found that 98.8 percent of those who received a chemical matrixectomy with phenol cauterization had successful results.

However, phenol matrixectomy may be falling out of favor. A 2014 paper in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association found that sodium hydroxide had fewer complications than phenol as an ingrown toenail treatment.

Vaccine preservative

Phenol is used as a preservative in at least four vaccines. It helps keep bacteria from growing in and contaminating the vaccine solutions.

Sore throat spray

Phenol is used in some throat sprays that can help numb your throat and relieve symptoms caused by a sore throat, or irritation in the mouth caused by canker sores.

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You can buy over-the-counter phenol spray almost anywhere. The most common brand is Chloraseptic. It contains about 1.4 percent phenol.

Phenol spray is safe to use at the recommend dose for a short time. But using too much or giving it to children younger than 3-years old can be unsafe. Read the ingredients label carefully to make sure you’re not allergic to any other components of the spray.

And if your sore throat is accompanied by a fever, nausea, and vomiting, see a doctor as soon as possible before using phenol for throat soreness.

Oral analgesics

Many phenol-based products that help relieve pain or irritation in or around your mouth can also be bought over-the-counter to numb tissues in the mouth and lips.

These products are used as a short-term treatment for the symptoms of pharyngitis. This happens when your throat gets inflamed from a bacterial or viral infection.

Phenol-based products for mouth and throat pain are widely available and safe to use in small doses. But throat sprays and antiseptic liquids shouldn’t be used for more than a couple days at a time. And if you’re having symptoms like fever and vomiting, see a doctor.

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Phenol derivatives

Phenol-derived compounds have a variety of uses, including:

  • Chemical peels. Phenol in trichloroacetic acid is used to penetrate through layers of skin to get rid of old or damaged skin.
  • Food and cosmetic preservatives. Phenol derivative butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a common FDA-approved preservative used in cosmetics, and to keep food from going bad. It’s safe to consume in small amounts. But some companies have removed BHT from their foods in response to public pressure.

Phenol liquid

Phenol liquid is often used in molecular biology with trichloromethane and chloroform to separate RNA, DNA, or proteins, and isolate them in the pure form.

This process is known as liquid-liquid extraction. It’s done by adding an equal amount of phenol and chloroform to a solution of cells or tissues.

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The phenol-chloroform mixture separates molecules based on how soluble the tissue sample is in that solution. The pH level of phenol helps separate the DNA and RNA.

Soap and antiseptic

Soap containing phenol-based compounds is often called carbolic soap. It’s been used as an antiseptic during surgery since at least 1867.

It was also a common fixture in state schools in England and Scotland until the 1980s. It’s remembered by millions in the United Kingdom for its distinct smell and red streaks it left on bathroom sinks.

Carbolic soap is still widely used throughout the world. It’s also a common tool used to assist countries who receive foreign aid from organizations like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. It provides effective, low-cost hygiene to poverty-stricken communities.

Over time, pure phenol has been replaced by some of its derivatives as an antiseptic. One derivative is n-hexylresorcinol, which can be found in cough drops. The compound, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), replaced phenol as a food antioxidant.

Despite its toxicity in its pure form, phenol has been shown to have numerous health benefits.


Plant-based compounds containing phenol are known to be antioxidants. This means that they can stop the reaction of free radicals with other molecules in your body, preventing damage to your DNA as well as long-term health effects.

Free radicals are molecules that have lost an electron and become unstable. This makes them prone to react with and damage molecules like DNA. Free radicals sometimes cause the molecules they react with to create even more free radicals.

Antioxidant molecules are like a barrier between free radicals and healthy molecules: antioxidants replace the missing electron…

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What is Phenol? Medical Uses, Health Benefits, and Risks


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