Thank Lifebuoy soap for B.O.

Lifebuoy soap is widely credited for popularizing the term B.O. which is short for body odor. This term was used in an advertising campaign  The joke started out on radio ads in the 1920s but was picked up and used as a joke in the Looney Tunes cartoons by Warner Brothers and also in many comedy MGM cartoons. 

The soap was created by William and James Lever, the founders of Unilever. Lifebuoy is still manufactured under the Unilever brand, which is one of the oldest multinational companies in the world.

Wash Your Mouth Out

Lifebuoy was once one of the most ubiquitous brands of soap marketed in the world, so much so that it was immortalized in the film A Christmas Story. In the film, the main Character Ralphie uses a curse word and has his mouth washed out with Lifebuoy soap by his mother. Ralphie then has a dream sequence where he imagines that he’s been blinded by soap poisoning and his mother and family repent for treating him so unfairly. In the scene, the boy’s father bemoans to his mother “I told you not to use Lifebuoy!”

This idea of dangerous chemicals being a part of Lifebuoy soap is not totally unfounded. The company’s original lines of soap contained a compound that was taken from coal tar called phenol, or carbolic acid. This gave the soap its distinct smell and contributed to its high cleaning ability and mild antiseptic qualities. 

Though the compound is nowhere near poisonous, it can be irritating after prolonged use and is no longer part of any Lifebuoy products. 


Lifebuoy has had a whole line of soaps over the years, and the first soaps marketed by this brand were formulated by the Lever Brothers themselves starting in 1895. 

Some examples of Lifebuoy soaps are:

  • Lifebuoy, starting from the late 1950s and with the classic medicinal smell
  • Lifebuoy Minty Refresher, 1966
  • Lifebuoy White, mid-1960
  • Lifebuoy Classic, a retro but modern soap with vintage style packaging and a medicated scent that recalled the original

The original Lifebuoy soap was one of the top soaps in the United States from the twenties through the fifties. In part, this was because the soap had a health bent to both its marketing and its production focus. 

Despite a whole host of experimentations with scent and substance, Lifebuoy’s sales in America declined steadily until it was finally pulled from the American market in 2006, though the company did somewhat revive the brand a couple of years later with retro packaging tied into A Christmas Story.

International Entrenchment

The Lifebuoy brand is alive and well outside of the United States and the United Kingdom. 

The brand his highly popular in India and in the Caribbean. In Cyprus and in Trinidad and Tobago, Lifebuoy is still manufactured with its original carbolic fragrance, though none of the Lifebuoy products have contained phenol since 1976. 

In other parts of the world, mainly Asia, Lifebuoy is manufactured with a whole host of fragrances and colors. To market its products in Asia, Lifebuoy is a sponsor of the Bangladesh National Cricket Team.

As a part of the Unilever family of products, Lifebuoy continues to be a worldwide name in soap, with high popularity in large parts of the world.