Chlorhexidine (commonly known by the salt forms chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) or chlorhexidine acetate), is a disinfectant and antiseptic that is used for skin disinfection before surgery and to sterilize surgical instruments. It may be used both to disinfect the skin of the patient and the hands of the healthcare providers. It is also used for cleaning wounds, preventing dental plaque, treating yeast infections of the mouth, and to keep urinary catheters from blocking. It is used as a liquid or powder.
Side effects may include skin irritation, teeth discoloration, and allergic reactions. It may cause eye problems if direct contact occurs. Use in pregnancy appears to be safe. Chlorhexidine may come mixed in alcohol, water, or surfactant solution. It is effective against a range of microorganisms, but does not inactivate spores.
Chlorhexidine came into medical use in the 1950s. Chlorhexidine is available over the counter (OTC) in the United States. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. In 2017, it was the 286th most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than one million prescriptions.