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What Is Drawing Salve?

By S. Mithra
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Drawing salve is an ointment that can be used to treat a variety of skin inflammations. The ointment "draws out" problems such as infections, ingrown toenails, wood splinters, glass shards, and insect poison. The term "drawing" appealed to some people's sense that infection was a spiritual affliction. Instead of drawing something out, the liniment simply treats the wound. For generations, this home remedy has been used to heal cuts, poison ivy, sores, and many other surface abrasions.

Main Ingredients

The most popular brands of drawing salve list their main ingredients as ichthammol, phenyl alcohol, arnica montana, and several familiar herbs such as echinacea, calendula, etc. These are combined with skin-enriching vitamin E, antiseptic bergamot oil, and anti-inflammatory comfrey oil, in a base of beeswax. Ichthammol, the most active ingredient, is considered a medicine in some countries and is natural substance found in the rock, schist. It softens skin by weakening it slightly, which increases circulation. When more blood goes to the area, the wound will heal faster by ejecting any pus or irritant.

The History of Drawing Salve

Drawing salve became successful during the period of widely advertised medicinals and balms of the late 1800s. Catchy slogans, bright packaging, and sworn testimonials from satisfied customers littered the old-fashioned pharmacies. The line between medicine and fraud was not as firmly drawn as it is today. However, this salve, otherwise known as Black Ointment, or Icthyol Salve, was an effective blend of herbs, roots, extracts, and oils, which actually serve to soothe skin.

Drawing salve is still commonly used in modern times. Many families today consider it a staple of their medicine cabinet, and use it liberally when children encounter bee stings, splinters, or rose bushes. Due to advances in modern medicine, it is now known that the salve does soothe irritated skin, and this has now become it's main purpose. While still unregulated by the FDA, and not considered a medicine in the United States, over-the-counter demand for drawing salve remains high. The ointment can be purchased from many major drug stores or online in a variety of brands.

In the early 2000s, interest was reinvigorated in the use of drawing salve as a holistic treatment for cancerous tumors, in particular skin cancer. Some people believe it can heal internal inflamed or abnormal tissue, like cysts and tumors. However, more scientific research needs to be conducted to support these claims.

Drawing salve for boils

Using drawing salves to treat and get rid of boils is another common use for this type of ointment. Boils are a specific type of infection that forms just under the top layer of the skin. They are specifically caused by a bacteria-infected or inflamed hair follicle and often grow to contain pus. They can occur in a singular instance or a group is known as a carbuncle. Most boils start as a slightly red and tender bump under the skin and then swell up, fill with pus, and turn white. Most boils eventually rupture and drain on their own, but they can be very painful and cause severe fever or illness if left untreated.

Drawing slaves are one form of treatment that can help treat boils. The salve can be placed on the boil in its initial stages to speed up the natural boil development process. Essentially, the salve will help to draw out the pus more quickly than your body can naturally, causing the boil to expand and fill up with the infection more quickly. Hastening this part of the process speeds up the rupturing, draining, and healing processes as well. Using the drawing salve in combination with a warm antiseptic or antibacterial compress can be especially effective.

Drawing salve for infection

Drawing salves can also be effective at treating other types of infections as well. They work similarly on other infections as they do with boils. Spreading the salve over the infected area can help the body release the infection more quickly as well as speed up the time it takes to heal. Some examples of infections that drawing slaves can assist with are skin infections left behind by foreign objects, most commonly splinters, and infections that develop from minor cuts and abrasions. It can also be effective at soothing and helping some insect and spider bites.

It is important to recognize that drawing salves are intended for external use only and are most effective against infections on or just under the skin. People should not consume drawing salves or inject them into the body as that will be counterproductive rather than helpful for them and the healing process. It is also best to combine the salve with other medicinal practices such as taking antibiotics, applying pressure, using antibiotic or antiseptic ointments and creams, and seeking professional medical advice to treat any underlying causes, rather than solely relying on a drawing salve to take care of any infections.

How do drawing salves work?

Drawing salves work by helping to encourage the body to get rid of an infection. In essence, they help bring out the contaminated parts in a faster manner to speed up the natural healing process. They do this in two ways. First, these slaves help relax and moisturize the skin so that it can more easily and efficiently release any foreign materials from the body. Second, many drawing salves contain ingredients, such as ichthammol, that help increase blood circulation which helps speed up the infection expulsion and healing processes as well.

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Discussion Comments
By anon989099 — On Feb 19, 2015

PRID is amazing. It is the only thing that has worked for my sebaceous/pilonidol cyst and I tried everything. It is very sticky and hard to apply so I heat it up a tiny bit to make it more easy to apply. I apply it directly to the cyst. I put a good amount on it and cover tightly with bandages. 24 hours later the cyst had come to a head and ruptured. I cleaned the cyst with rubbing alcohol (yes it burned) and even though it didn't look like there was much pus left in the cyst, I re-applied more PRID and re-bandaged it. Another 24 hours and wow! The PRID brought the remaining pus and the enclosed sac that the cyst was contained in to the surface. It completely pulled the entire sac of the sebaceous cyst out of my back. I'm a believer in PRID. Just read the ingredients. Amazing stuff combined to make this awesome healing agent. I hope they never stop selling Smile's PRID.

By anon966729 — On Aug 21, 2014

@anon297032: regarding doctors unable to diagnosis patients correctly:

Doctors are humans and subject to make mistakes. Oftentimes a patient will not tell the truth about taking care of themselves, e.g., reports following a prescription when in fact, the patient does not even get it filled. Also, there are many types of skin aliments that are similar. If a patient waits until a bite has become infected, it is almost impossible to tell what type of critter bit the patient. Additionally, many patients will often self-treat, until it is clear their methods are not working, then, and only then, will they seek medical care.

I understand your frustration at Western medicine. I am a nurse in the US and can get frustrated with the system, as well. There are so many aspects to a diagnosis, that I could write a book here, but just to name a few: 1. Patient giving correct and truthful background information, 2. Assessment of the complaint, injured area, etc., 3. Lab work, possibly a culture of the drainage, 4. Antibiotics, only if it is a bacterial infection, anti-fungals for a fungal infection, etc, and patient allergy assessment, 5. Different diagnoses can often have the same symptoms.

By anon966587 — On Aug 20, 2014

Does this stuff work for ringworm too? Has anyone tried it for this? I have tried all of the over-the-counter creams, sprays and ointments and nothing works. I'm just curious.

By anon356924 — On Nov 29, 2013

I have used C. Schmitz Drawing Salve to cure staph infection, boils and to pull splinters from my skin. Many of my friends have used it to cure all kinds of wounds, even diabetic wounds that would not heal. Doctors could not heal my staph infection but Schmitz drawing salve healed it straightaway. The salve is light brown in color, has a paste texture and has a pleasant medicinal smell. I highly recommend it because you will not be disappointed.

By sewgirl — On Nov 02, 2013

In addition, and not to discount the value of drawing salve, I have had very good luck with an epsom salt patch on splinters. Simply a healthy pinch on a piece of tape or a band-aid over the spot for as many days as needed to bring it to the surface. I've also used one part of unrefined sea salt and one part epsom salt in a hot water soak for mrsa with very good results, though it stings like crazy!

By anon341183 — On Jul 09, 2013

I have had problems with occasional boils and have always used Boil-Ease drawing salve and it completely eliminated the boil. Well, the last time I had a nasty boil, I got the Boil-Ease, but noticed that it just said for pain relief of boils. It only had one active ingredient, Benzocaine. No more Ichthammol. It eased the pain a little, but did nothing to get rid of the boil. I could not find real drawing salve anywhere. I ended up in the hospital for three days to get it lanced and drained.

Now I have another boil and I am in the same predicament. I ordered an Ichthammol based drawing salve from a web site and paid twice the price of the salve for overnight shipping. I never got it and my credit card has not been charged. So I walked over to the CVS, as I saw they had Ichthammol based cream under their own brand name on their website. It seems they did the same thing. Their boil ointment is now also just a benzocaine pain reliever. I do not get it. Why would such an effective product be so hard to find in stores?

By anon341176 — On Jul 09, 2013

There was some discussion about Prid drawing salve which was stated as a different combination of ingredients than other salves. For what it is worth, the main active ingredient in Prid is Ichthammol.

By anon332149 — On Apr 27, 2013

I work for Walmart in the Pharmacy and you can purchase ichthammol with us by asking for it at the pharmacy. We don't sell enough of it to stock it on the shelves, but do keep some on hand for customers asking for it.

We do sell the PRID drawing salve OTC on the shelves, and I use that one. It does have an odor but instead of black, it is a thick, sticky brown color. I occasionally get those large pustules under the skin in my upper thigh area when it is hot enough out for that area to become sweaty and cause more friction. This salve is a miracle for that. I have also used it for those large zits that stay under the skin and take forever to come out and it works great on those.

When my face gets that red, blotchy, irritated skin in patches, I put it on my whole face and my skin calms down overnight. Even though it has a bit of a smell, it has a light tingling to it with a numbing, pain relieving feeling that is an added bonus.

I have never tried the ichthammol. I started with the PRID because it was homeopathic and had a lot of other ingredients that seemed like it would work better, and it was cheaper. PRID comes in a small orange can, but it will take you forever to use it up. It's a damn good deal.

By buddie123 — On Mar 12, 2013

Does anyone know if PRID Drawing Salve is safe to use on pets? And can it be used on open wounds?

By anon303891 — On Nov 16, 2012

I just bought this Prid drawing salve as I was looking for something that made any sense for getting rid of Forcdyce spots on my lips. I have had these little white cyst type spots on my lips for years and there are so many of them now and they are annoying to boot! They aren't painful, but when I stretch my mouth slightly more than when I smile I can see and feel what seems to be hundreds. I have applied this salve twice already to my entire lip area and will see what happens by morning. I hope I get the same results all of you have had! I have some hope now that I have found something incredible!

I have never used or heard of this salve and can't imagine why my mother never used it when she had four girls! I want to go buy the whole supply Walmart has now!

By anon299092 — On Oct 23, 2012

I stepped on a piece of broken glass when I was 12. Three years later my foot started to hurt in the same spot that I stepped on the glass. I told my grandmother. She gave me black salve to put on my foot. The glass came out in three days. The black salve that she had me use was over 20 years old, and it still worked!

I found black salve at Wal-Mart for less than $4 per can. There is no expiration on the four cans that I have. Since some people on this blog think that this product may no longer be sold, I am going to be buying more and storing it in a cool dry place.

By anon297032 — On Oct 14, 2012

My mother swore by PRID for almost any type of skin irritation or infection; insect bite, animal bite, splinter, boil, stye, sting, etc. She got a raccoon bite once and the next day red tracks were all up her arm -- very scary. PRID took care of it The red tracks were gone and the bite started healing within a day.

I haven't used it for years and years, but I now have what seems to be staph on my leg. I have been using ichthammol for three days, but it's not helping much. PRID contains the same active ingredient as ichthammol. They are similar products, but by no means identical. PRID also has echinacea and other herbs, and I think the beeswax consistency may help encourage the "drawing" aspect of it (ichthammol is just slimy). I finally found a local Walmart that carries it; drugstores here only carry ichthammol. I am praying that it will work as well on this as it always did on other things. I do not have time and money to throw away on doctors.

Why do doctors still expect to be paid even when their diagnosis is wrong and their treatment doesn't help? If it takes a doctor three different tries to make a correct diagnosis or prescribe an effective treatment, the patient should not have to pay for the first two visits or prescriptions. Why are they allowed to penalize the patient for their own incompetence? Who do they think has time and money to waste like that? Are they crazy?

I am just waiting for the Sunday-shopper traffic to die down and go pick up the PRID. I hope this infection isn't serious and that little orange can from my childhood can fix me up like it did so many times before. I miss my mom.

By anon290331 — On Sep 08, 2012

Yeah, it works. I first was given the treatment when I had a fingernail infection due to biting my nails as a child. The antibiotics weren't doing the job and they said I might lose it. My mom freaked and sought the help of the local pharmacist.

Every day, I soaked my thumb for half an hour three times a day in a hot brownish saline solution. At the end of the day, mom would apply this stuff called Prid drawing salve and wrap my thumb in a bandage. In the early morning when my mom removed the bandage, I could see the pus. Eventually the infection subsided. I kept my thumb and never bit my fingernails again.

I never gave much thought about it until I hit puberty and was actively involved in sports. As with most teenage athletes, I'd get carbuncles. So knowing drawling salves worked was really helpful. Well, that and benzoyl peroxide bars.

By anon273927 — On Jun 09, 2012

Does this really work? I've had a splinter for two days and have tried to dig it out with a needle but with no luck. I am very discouraged. Should I buy drawing salve?

By anon250205 — On Feb 25, 2012

Where can I find the salve with the ingredients listed here?

By anon250010 — On Feb 24, 2012

I live in France. Please, can somebody tell me where can I find (or order by Internet) the black drawing salve? The ingredients mentioned here sounds wonderful, and I'd like to find the same exact product.

Here in France nobody seems to have heard about it. I found Ichtammol in Italy, but it's only mixed with glycerine. --Gabriela

By anon246918 — On Feb 11, 2012

Used the CVS brand and it worked in less than six hours. I am amazed. I had a boil about the size of a grape and painful! I know what works now.

By anon239910 — On Jan 11, 2012

PRID salve isn't going away as far as I know, and it's pretty effective. I usually have at least one container in the house, and haven't noticed it losing effectiveness.

By anon222834 — On Oct 16, 2011

Ichthamal is available at most horse supply/tack shops for animal use.

By anon203649 — On Aug 06, 2011

I scraped my knee on tar three years ago and there are thread-thin streaks of tar still left under the skin. This is because the friction-heated tar seeped under the healthy skin when I received the wound. The debridement at the hospital did not get rid of it. Would drawing salve work? Thanks.

By anon201113 — On Jul 29, 2011

I fell and scraped my knee a few years ago. After cleaning it, it was still painful after about a week. I used drawing ointment and a tiny piece of glass came out. It really works.

By anon181354 — On May 29, 2011

I have had two, I'll call them outbreaks, of staph infections, MRSA to be exact. The first time involved several boils in very private areas that had to be lanced by my male doctor. Very painful and extremely embarrassing.

The second time an coworker suggested PRID. She swore by it. I went to the local pharmacy, they had it, I bought it for maybe $5. I applied a fairly thick coat to each of the boils and covered with band-aids, and on the larger ones I used gauze and fabric tape. Within hours, some were oozing out so much pus, I had to change the band-aids hourly. I swear by PROD now; there is always a can in my house.

By amypollick — On Dec 28, 2010

I have to say the ichthammol ointment works exactly as they say. Our neighbors have these evil chestnut trees along the property line and they drop these horrible seed casings, which is like having an army of porcupines invade the yard. The spines are small, sharp and pernicious.

I tripped in the yard one afternoon, and since I had sandals on, part of my foot was bare and the outside came down right on one of those evil burrs. Several spines stuck into my foot.

I am a T2 diabetic, and even though I have no complications, I am protective of my feet. Tweezers got out three of the spines, but one stuck in my foot. No amount of picking would remove it.

I called the pharmacist, who recommended the ichthammol. I got some, applied it, put a band-aid over the site and reapplied every day, keeping the band-aid on it. In three days, I could see the skin around the splinter had puckered. I literally squeezed that teeny spine out of my skin and plucked it with the tweezers. There was no infection, no scarring and my foot has been perfectly fine since then.

Drawing salve is certainly not an everyday sort of remedy, but it has its uses, and does the jobs it is suited for very well.

By anon137550 — On Dec 28, 2010

Merthiolate and mercurochrome are both organo mercury compounds, the same stuff implicated in autism / vaccines and tuna fish. Works great, but is highly toxic. Hurts the kidneys.

By anon112316 — On Sep 19, 2010

Prid drawing salve is what I been using. Comes in an orange box with an orange tin inside. The stuff works amazingly, a lot better than needles, scalpels, and $200 for a doctor's visit.

By anon102792 — On Aug 09, 2010

To anon58830 and elsewhen: this is the drawing salve I remember from my youth. Tar black with an odor similar to tar. Worked like magic though!

By anon89260 — On Jun 09, 2010

When I was 16 I scraped the palm of my hand so bad it was like a layer of skin peeled off the butt of my thumb in a nickel-sized patch. At my mother's judgment, I used regular antiseptics/bandages combo (that red methiolate stuff) which felt like an open flame on a flesh scrape. I did this for a week with little change or improvement and virtually no reduction in pain.

Grandpa (who had only an eight grade education and time in the European theater in World War II) scrapes some drawing salve out of a can and puts it in an old empty Rx bottle for me and says, "put some of this on it every day and keep a gauze bandage on it with adhesive tape." Three days later there was absolutely no pain and the skin injury was 95 percent healed.

By anon88695 — On Jun 06, 2010

I've been using Ichthammol for many years, as i'm very prone to cysts. Works every time.

However, if you check the date, and it's out of date, don't use it. I tried it and found that the active ingredient, 20 percent Ichthammol, had lost its potency, and the inert ingredients, mineral oil and other petroleum products made it act as if I was using Ronsonol lighter fluid. It blistered me.

Bought a new tube at Walmart, and used it. Brought the cyst to a head and was able to pop it. Works every time. Smells like tar but it works on cysts, staph infections, and anything else embedded in the skin that needs "drawn out".

By anon85263 — On May 19, 2010

At the end of December I had some use-or-lose pre-tax money in my health flex-spending account, so I headed to the pharmacy and stocked up on anything that made sense to restock/refresh our med cabinet.

I'd never heard of this stuff, but along with all the other stuff, I got some Rite Aid Draw Out Salve. Four days ago a heavy speaker cabinet fell off a high shelf, catching my chin on its descent. The noticeable bruise looked like I'd tried to kiss a passing baseball bat.

Two days with Draw Out Salve, and the bruise/inflammation is almost gone! It's "da balm."

By anon77612 — On Apr 14, 2010

I'm using it based on your testimonials. I have a (staph) infection which has created a big boil. The doctor had told me it may have to be lanced. Then I was told about "drawing salve" and researched it online. Black and stinky but I can actually feel it working.

By anon77531 — On Apr 14, 2010

Can I use these sort of salves all over my face cheeks to remove hundreds of small cyst like ( when popped have a horrible smell) bumps?

By anon70537 — On Mar 14, 2010

i have a pretty badly infected finger due to my carelessness when trying to remove a hang nail with my teeth. needless to say, its infected pretty bad. i put the drawing salve on it and then put gauze on it wrapped in a band-aid. i haven't really noticed a difference and was wondering if it was because of how i dressed the wound. are band-aids better? or just putting it on with no dressing? any advice?

By anon63801 — On Feb 03, 2010

I'm a 26 year old female and I had a pilonidal cyst. It was so painful and I was too embarrassed to go to the doctor. I used Drawing Out Salve that I found at Rite Aid and within nine hours the cyst erupted. On day two it was 50 percent better. The cyst drained a lot and I had to use gauze, large bandages and even panty liners which I put on the inside of my panties near the cyst to keep the blood/fluid from getting everywhere.

Just make sure to keep the area dry and clean as much as possible. I cleaned mine several times a day and kept reapplying the salve. It works wonders and was only $6.99. I recommend this to anyone.

By anon62338 — On Jan 26, 2010

Oh my God! Drawing salve works. Possibly a little too well. I have a tennis ball sized boil (it's actually two that have migrated together) on my hip.

I bought some drawing salve last night and applied it to the boil with a dressing on top of it. When I woke up, I had to wash my sheets, because the rock-hard, very painful boil had come to a head and begun to drain.

I found mine in my local wal-mart. It's in a little orange box and only about 2.50, so I bought three.

By anon61565 — On Jan 20, 2010

as a child in the early 1930s our family used a homemade product we called sticking salve. It was used to draw out splinters and on small skin infections.

It was rolled into a stick shape and applied by heating the end to soften and apply to the wound.

As I recall it was made of beeswax, rosin and sulfur and acted the same as the drawing salve talked about here, but exactly how was it made?

By anon61560 — On Jan 20, 2010

I've used Icthamol salve since I was a child in the 50's. It's part of my medicine chest for sure. I've used it on ingrown finger/toenails and any type of external infections. I trust in it wholeheartedly. Guess after reading these blogs I'll have to go out and buy more before they stop manufacturing it altogether.

My daughter has also used it per my request and it's worked for her as well.

By anon58830 — On Jan 04, 2010

I got this drawing salve. It's black and smells bad. I've been to five stores and they all said it's no longer manufactured but i got mine at publix. so you need to stock up people because it works great. it's about 5 dollars. Thanks

By anon57838 — On Dec 28, 2009

can anyone recommend a good brand of this to buy that is widely known and available? Thanks

By anon55517 — On Dec 08, 2009

the first time i heard about this,was from a pharmacist tonight. I'm on my first application,

and i woke up and got a scent of it working,

so i'll know in a few days if it does. But one thing for sure is i had to go to three CVS stores to get one that has it. They're good people who can call other stores to see which one has it.

By anon50063 — On Oct 25, 2009

i personally love drawing salve. it works great for slivers and boils.

By anon42795 — On Aug 23, 2009

What I'd like to know is why the vehicle for this ointment is petrolatum. I don't see how putting it on your skin could be healthful. I used to use a product called Boil-Ease that was only 2 percent ichthammol, the the ichthammol ointment with the petrolatum base is 20 percent ichthammol, which, according to the pharmacist, is the actual "drawing" agent. A really stinky mixture, nonetheless.

By anon41415 — On Aug 14, 2009

For anon37094 and others Tractor Supply carries it in the Equine Department. you don't have to go to the pharmacy.

By anon37909 — On Jul 22, 2009

why do i need a prescription to get this product

By anon37790 — On Jul 21, 2009

I am not a doctor so this is not medical advice but if you have pilonidal cyst and have had to endure the pain until they come to a head and rupture or had to had a doctor cut them to relieve the pressure, use this salve. It works. I use to get the pilonidal cyst a lot and once I started using this it helped me 1000%

By anon37094 — On Jul 16, 2009

I am out of draw out salve. Used it all my life of 60 years. The pharmacist told me today that it is no longer being manufactured! Is it going to be outdated in a year if I stock up on it? Works on amimals as well as people.

By anon36093 — On Jul 09, 2009

I am so thankful for the net and ichthammol ointment. I have a little boil that has really caused some pain. I stopped at a hometown pharmacy to get the stuff my grandmother used to use and what a relief. The pain...gone in less that one half hour. Tomorrow I hope the redness and swelling will be gone also.

By anon34587 — On Jun 25, 2009

I've used ichthammol with success. First on a boil, then on a sebaceous cyst I had removed by a doctor twice that kept growing back.

Since then I've used it on boils, zits, and splinters. I never knew of this growing up, but learned about it on the internet.

I desperately needed something for a boil on my head and figured trying the ichthammol couldn't hurt, although I didn't expect it to work. It made a big difference and even removed the cyst I kept having to have surgically removed every year or so....and now it hasn't grown back!

By anon34039 — On Jun 16, 2009

My experience with drawing salve is that it really works: Last fall I had gotten a large wood splinter under my thumbnail. It was extremely deep and painful and I couldn't touch it. I put a glob of "drawing salve" on it and kept a large bandaid completely over it. Within an hour, the pain was gone. I changed the dressing and added more drawing salve twice a day. In a couple of days, the splinter had come to the surface - painlessly- and I was able to remove it with a pair of tweezers. I recommend this product whole-heartedly.

By anon30806 — On Apr 24, 2009

My Mom used to use this product on small infections when we were children. I hadn't thought about it for years but I bought some today to help heal an under-wire attack spot. Still smells the same, and same texture, and I am so glad I thought of it. Hot packs and band-aids weren't working. The Pharmacist knew exactly what I was talking about, and I feel like it is already working. Thank goodness!

By dpierce — On Mar 26, 2009

I was wondering if anyone has had good luck with the drawing salve for a stonefish sting?

By anon11546 — On Apr 18, 2008

I had an encounter with raspberry thorns and cactus needles in my garden. My co-worker handed me a tube of this black, tar-like substance that she insisted would draw out the jaggers. She was right! And it was overnight relief. I'll be stopping at the pharmacy tonight.

By elsewhen — On Feb 03, 2008

When you first see drawing salve, you might be a little disgusted. It has a strong odor, and while it is not too bad, it certainly isn't pleasant. Even more surprising than the odor, is the dark black color and thick texture. It looks more like tar than something that you want to put on your skin. Despite all of that, however, the salve surprisingly works as advertised.

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