The effects of topical papain on the skin

Written by sarah mcleod
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The effects of topical papain on the skin
Topical papain has been used historically to clear away dead tissue caused by wounds, in order to speed recovery. (altrendo images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Papain is an enzyme extracted from the papaya fruit that is capable of literally digesting protein. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), papain has been combined with urea, copper sodium chlorophyllin and chlorophyllin copper complex by manufacturers and marketers of medical treatments. None of these products, however, are FDA-approved. Topical papain has been available under the brand names of Allanfil, Accuzyme, Gladase, Kovia, Panafil, Allanzyme, Paptase, Ziox and Ethezyme.

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Debridement

When used as a topical ointment combined with urea, papain is useful for debriding or breaking down dead skin. Excess tissue develops from bed sores, surgical wounds, cysts, burns, ulcers and carbuncles. Once papain is applied and given enough time to work, dead skin can be easily peeled away and removed to speed the healing process. When using papain for this purpose, however, it is best to avoid cleaning treated skin areas with hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide interferes with papain's debriding function.

Curative Effects

Great Vista Chemicals explains that topical papain has been used to relieve the pain associated with herpes zoster sores due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Pure papain contains superoxide dismutase, which makes it useful for the prevention of sunburn. Topical application also promotes blood circulation and removes skin disorders like pimples, leaving skin healthier and supple. On animal skin, papain can be made into a depilatory for hair removal before tanning leather hides. Using this instead of shearing causes leather to appear smoother and shinier.

Common Side Effects

According to Drugs.com, common side effects associated with papain-containing topical applications like sprays, foams, emulsions and ointments are temporary burning sensations and mild skin irritation. Severe allergic reactions may manifest as persistent and severe skin irritation, hives, a rash, chest tightness, breathing difficulty, itching and swelling of the face, lips and/or tongue .

Serious Adverse Events

The FDA ordered that companies must stop manufacturing topical products containing papain as of November 24, 2008. Further, shipping of these products must cease by January 21, 2009. These orders were released due to reports of unapproved topical papain products sending users to the emergency room with complaints of near fatal hypersensitivities to the drug. Hypersensitivities have resulted in cases of extremely low blood pressure and rapid heartbeat, requiring immediate medical attention. Further, some users who have allergies to latex may also be allergic to papaya, from which papain is derived.

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