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What Is Drawing Ointment?

Drawing ointments can help pull small splinters lodged beneath the skin.
Topical drawing ointments contain ingredients that help reduce inflammation and soften the skin.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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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.

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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.

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titans62
Post 4

@jmc88 - For you and everyone else here, be very, very careful about buying anything with a name like black salve. There are two products with similar names that have extremely different uses.

What you are thinking of is most properly called black drawing ointment. It is the same thing as described in this article. The other product is called black salve, and it can be dangerous if not use properly.

Black salve is made with bloodroot, which is a toxic plant. This was used as a treatment to skin cancer in the 1800s and is still used as an herbal remedy for skin conditions. It basically works by burning off the skin.

Just to complicate matters, both products look the same and are usually sold in similar packaging, so if you are going to buy drawing ointment make sure you check the packaging to be sure you are getting the right thing.

jmc88
Post 3

When I was younger, I smashed my finger in a car door like I think every kid does at some point. There was some blood that was pooling under my fingernail, so my grandpa put something on my finger that he called drawing salve. He put it on and somehow it was able to pull some of the blood from under my fingernail to the surface to relieve the pressure. I wonder if this is the same thing, or he just called it that.

Also, I have heard about something called black salve that I think is used for the purpose of removing splinters and relieving irritation. Has anyone ever heard drawing ointment called by that name?

TreeMan
Post 2

@jcraig - I have used it before, but I can't say that I really noticed much of an effect. I got a small wood splinter that broke off under my skin where I couldn't pull it out with tweezers. I put the salve on and checked it later, but it wasn't out of the wound. Like the article mentioned, it did soften the skin up enough that I was able to finally pull it out.

Unless you get a lot of splinters or find another use for the drawing ointment, I would put it under the category of something that will be in your medicine cabinet for decades. You don't need much to cover an area, and even though the tins are small, there is still enough for several applications.

jcraig
Post 1

What is typically used to make drawing ointment? I have seen it before in pharmacies, but never knew what it was used for. If I had to guess, I would say it had some type of hydrocortisone steroid in it to reduce swelling and itching. Some of them may even have antibiotics.

Has anyone here ever used drawing ointment? Did it actually work? When I have seen it, it has been in small tins. How long will the product last after it has been opened? It seems like it might be something useful to keep around if it lasts a while and helps get out splinters.

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