Natural Medicines, Skin Care

Ichthammol Ointment: An Overview

Ichthammol ointment, often referred to as “black drawing salve,” is a topical remedy that has been used for over a century to treat various skin conditions. Its distinctive dark color and unique smell can be attributed to its primary ingredient, Ichthammol, a sulfonated shale oil. This article delves into the origins, properties, uses, and safety considerations of Ichthammol ointment.

Origins and Composition

Ichthammol, also known as ammonium bituminosulfonate, is derived from shale oil. The process involves distilling the oil and subjecting it to a series of chemical reactions to produce the final product. The ointment typically contains a concentration of 10% to 20% Ichthammol, combined with other ingredients like lanolin or petroleum to create a spreadable consistency.

Therapeutic Properties

Ichthammol ointment possesses several therapeutic properties that make it a valuable tool in dermatological care:

  1. Anti-inflammatory: It helps reduce swelling and inflammation, making it beneficial for conditions like insect bites, boils, and other inflamed skin issues.
  2. Antimicrobial: The ointment exhibits mild antibacterial and antifungal properties, which can help prevent infections in minor wounds or cuts.
  3. Drawing Agent: One of the most notable characteristics of Ichthammol ointment is its ability to “draw out” foreign objects from the skin, such as splinters or thorns, and to help drain pus from boils or abscesses.

Common Uses

Given its therapeutic properties, Ichthammol ointment is employed in various applications:

  • Boils and Abscesses: The ointment can help soften the skin over a boil or abscess, allowing it to drain more easily. Its drawing properties can aid in expelling pus and promoting healing.
  • Insect Bites and Stings: Applying the ointment can alleviate the pain and itching associated with insect bites and stings. Its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce swelling and redness.
  • Splinters: For splinters that are not easily accessible with tweezers, a dab of Ichthammol ointment can help draw the splinter to the surface, making it easier to remove.
  • Eczema and Psoriasis: While not a primary treatment, some individuals find relief from the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis by applying the ointment. It can help soothe inflamed skin and reduce itching.

Safety Considerations and Side Effects

Ichthammol ointment is generally considered safe for topical use. However, like all medications and remedies, it’s essential to be aware of potential side effects and precautions:

  • Allergic Reactions: Some individuals may be allergic to ingredients in the ointment. It’s advisable to conduct a patch test on a small area of skin before full application. If redness, itching, or swelling occurs, discontinue use.
  • Open Wounds: While the ointment can be applied to minor cuts and scrapes, it should not be used on deep or gaping wounds without consulting a healthcare professional.
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: There is limited data on the safety of Ichthammol ointment during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare provider before use.
  • Staining: Due to its dark color, the ointment can stain clothing and linens. It’s recommended to cover the treated area with a bandage to prevent staining.


Ichthammol ointment is a time-tested remedy that has proven its worth in the realm of dermatological care. Its unique properties make it a versatile tool for treating a range of skin conditions, from boils to insect bites. As with all treatments, it’s essential to use it judiciously and be aware of potential side effects. When used correctly, Ichthammol ointment can be a valuable addition to one’s first aid kit, providing relief from various skin ailments.