Drawing ointment is a topical ointment that is supposed to "draw" things like splinters and glass shards out of the skin. A number of products are marketed with this term, and they are of varying degrees of effectiveness when it comes to wound treatment. Medical evidence seems to suggest that this type of ointment does not literally pull foreign bodies out of the skin.
These products work in a number of different ways. Many have anti-inflammatory ingredients that reduce swelling and inflammation and make it possible for objects like splinters to work their way out more easily. In addition, an ointment may soften the skin, which can make it easier to use tools like tweezers to pull objects out.
Directions for using drawing ointment often specify that people should apply the ointment in a thick layer, cover the wound, and leave it covered for several days. Miraculously, the unwanted foreign body will have been “drawn” out. In fact, it is more probable that the object works its way out on its own while the wound is covered, and the ointment may have nothing to do with it.
Also known as drawing salve or ichthammol salve, this product is available under a number of brand names, with an assortment of ingredients. People have used similar preparations to “draw out impurities” for centuries. Historically, many people believed that the agents of disease could be drawn out or forced out with high fevers and sweating, explaining the use of purgatives to force sick people to vomit, and controlled bleeding, which was supposed to alleviate the symptoms of disease. Today, the approach to medicine is a bit more sophisticated.
Applying a topical ointment is unlikely to harm the site of an injury, and may provide some benefits. Using drawing ointment can make it easier to remove a foreign body lodged just under the skin and can make people feel more comfortable by reducing swelling and pain. Some ointments also facilitate the resolution of blisters and scabs, leaving the skin soft.
Before using any ointment, a wound should be washed carefully. If the injury is deep or shows signs of infection, the sufferer should see a medical professional for treatment. Likewise, if the injury becomes painful, swollen, or hot after the ointment is applied, the wound should be thoroughly cleaned to remove the ointment, as these symptoms may indicate an adverse reaction to one or more ingredients.