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Any of a variety of agents applied to living tissue to destroy or inhibit growth of infectious microorganisms. An antiseptic's efficiency depends on concentration, time, and temperature. It is most valuable in the disinfection of contaminated wounds or skin surfaces when a wide margin exists between the concentration at which it is germicidal and that at which it is toxic to the body's cells. Many antiseptics destroy specific types or forms of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria but not spores). Among the major families of antiseptics are alcohols, phenols, chlorine and iodine compounds, mercury-based tinctures, certain acridine dyes, and some essential oils. Antiseptics are distinguished from disinfectants, which are germicidal agents used to destroy microorganisms on inanimate surfaces. See alsoantibiotic.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on antiseptic, visit Britannica.com.