What is an Ichthammol Salve?

S. Gadd

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.

Fingertip with a dab of ichthammol salve.
Fingertip with a dab of ichthammol salve.

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.

Athlete's foot can be treated with ichthammol salve.
Athlete's foot can be treated with ichthammol salve.

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.

An ichthammol salve might be helpful if used immediately after a mosquito bite.
An ichthammol salve might be helpful if used immediately after a mosquito bite.

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 this 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.

Ichthammol salve may help treat the symptoms associated with a bee sting.
Ichthammol salve may help treat the symptoms associated with a bee sting.

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Discussion Comments


I was bucking hay during the fall in Divide, CO. that came from Kansas, and unbeknownst to me, a black widow spider was in the hay. It was about 30 degrees outside. The black widow crawled into my hat.

I worked up a sweat and she found the warmth she needed on top of my head. I felt something crawling up there. It is too cold for them at 10,000-plus feet. So I thought nothing when I slapped the brim of my hat. Wrong thing to do. She bit me and I felt a sting. I slapped my hat again. She stung me four more times, five in all. With the last sting before her demise, she gave me the full Monty. I thought nothing of it since the sting barely hurt.

The next day was a different story. I have never experienced pain that intense before and was not prepared for what was to come. When I was 10, I was climbing a tree and bumped a yellow jacket nest and was attacked. This skinny little boy swelled up like a balloon. I went into shock and felt no pain at all. I still have had a dark patch on my left shoulder blade as big as my fist.

A friend gave me a 20 percent solution. What a Godsend. After almost a week I was able to get a couple of hours sleep that night, It relieved my headaches, but not any of the other symptoms that I suffered, through. That was nine years ago and I still feel the residual effects of her neurotoxin. I was 59 then and healthy, but no more. I really thought I was going to die. I have always refused to take pain killers. I do not like what they do to me, but the Ichthammol, I can not praise it enough.


Ichthammol is not "herbal." It is a petroleum byproduct. The source is noted, but but the use of labels is mistaken.


You are right about natural remedies Rundocuri, and ichthammol drawing salve was a favorite for many generations. I didn't look too pretty, but worked and that was all that mattered.


This article brings back memories of my childhood for me. When I was a kid, my grandfather used ichthammol based salve for many different conditions. I remember getting a splinter in my finger, and he put it on with a bandage to help draw it out. I remember it working very well. Sometimes natural, herbal treatments work best.

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