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Ichthammol salve is an alternative home herbal remedy used as a drawing salve. This refers to the fact that this salve is reputedly able to remove, or to draw out, things like infections, insect stingers, splinters, or other foreign particles from the skin to which it is applied. It is also thought to help heal minor wounds, burns, or abrasions, and to prevent infections due to its mild fungicidal and bactericidal qualities.
This salve is made by distilling oil shale, or more specifically sulfuric shale. The presence of the sulfur shale in this salve results in the slightly unpleasant odor, dark color, and ability to stain both skin and clothing that are all associated with ichthammol salve. Combining the shale with a thick base substance allows the salve to be applied as a thick gel. This added substance is usually some form of wax or paraffin.
Ichthammol salve is most commonly sold over the counter at a concentration of either 10 or 20%. This refers to the percentage of shale present relative to the amount of the waxy additive. A concentration of 20% is usually recommended for medicinal purposes, although people with sensitive skin may find that the 10% concentration is better suited for them.
This salve has a slightly corrosive nature that appears to wear away rough skin and expose the softer skin beneath it. By dramatically softening the skin that contains a foreign object such as a splinter or a small shard of glass, ichthammol salve often results in easy removal of the foreign object. In addition, the anti-bacterial properties of this salve may help prevent the minor infections that commonly accompany foreign objects trapped underneath the skin.
Ichthammol salve may be used to treat mild fungal infections of the skin, such as athlete’s foot. Additionally, it may benefit certain types of insect bites if applied soon after the bite occurs, including spider bites, bee stings, or mosquito bites. It is also recommended as an alternative treatment for acne, or for skin disorders that cause itchiness or peeling, such as eczema or psoriasis.
The most common side effect associated with ichthammol salve is skin irritation, ranging from mild redness to actual scarring. If the salve causes an unusual burning sensation when applied to the skin, it probably indicates that the person’s skin is too sensitive for ichthammol salve. In this case, the salve should be immediately removed with soap and water.
Another possible unpleasant effect associated with this salve is that the foreign object may not be entirely removed. This can result in infection if the particle is not removed by another means. Finally, ichthammol salve can leave permanent stains so the salve-covered area should be completely covered and kept away from fabrics.