What Is Ichthammol Used for?

Updated April 17, 2017

Ichthammol is a substance of natural origin which is found as an active ingredient in some over the counter topical ointments. Although other countries consider Ichthammol ointment a medication, in the United States it is sold as a natural remedy. Ichthammol ointments have been used since the early 1900s and because of the variety applications, it is believed by some to be a necessary staple of any medicine cabinet.

What is Ichthammol?

Ichthammol is a black, tarry substance that is extracted from rock schist (also known as oil shale). It is known to have antiseptic properties and may also be effective as an anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-fungal. It is safe to use as a topical treatment and is most commonly found as an ointment. The ointments usually also contain an oily substance, such as mineral oil or beeswax, which helps the active ingredient of ichthammol to penetrate the skin.


Ichthammol is a common home remedy to treat boils and carbuncles. Boils are hair follicles that become infected with bacteria. The follicle can become inflamed forming a red, pus-filled bump under the skin. Ichthammol, also known as black drawing salve, is thought to draw out the infection from the boil, therefore promoting healing.

Skin Softening

Ichthammol has the ability to soften the skin it is applied to. This one property is what helps make it useful for so many different applications. The skin softening properties makes it ideal to use to aid in removing splinters and stingers from the skin. In early times people thought that the salve actually 'drew out' the foreign object, but it is now known that it softens the skin, therefore making the object easier to remove.


Ichthammol is often used to treat chronic dermatitis and eczema. Ichthammol helps to soften the hard and thick skin that is often associated with lichenified eczema. It also relieves itching due to the eczema.

Leg Ulcers

Leg ulcers occur when the skin on the leg dies due to lack of nutrients and oxygen circulating. These can happen from oedema, which is the accumulation of fluid in the tissue, or from accumulation of fibrinous material which leaked from the blood vessels. There are many treatments to help alleviate the pain from the ulcers and to promote new tissue growth. One treatment is the use of paste bandages treated with ichthammol.

Veterinary Uses

Ichthammol is not only useful in human applications but is also used in veterinary applications. It can be used on all mammals, even food and milk producing animals. It is commonly used to treat boils and abscesses, especially in horses.

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About the Author

Stephanie Chandler is a freelance writer whose master's degree in biomedical science and over 15 years experience in the scientific and pharmaceutical professions provide her with the knowledge to contribute to health topics. Chandler has been writing for corporations and small businesses since 1991. In addition to writing scientific papers and procedures, her articles are published on and other websites.