Avoid Black Salve for Skin Conditions and Cancers

Black salve is a "fake cancer cure"

Woman applying ointment on her arm
Getty Images/Eric Audras

Black salve, also known as drawing salve, is a corrosive herbal paste that's applied to the skin over tumors, skin tags, moles, and infections. It has also been applied to the skin over internal tumor sites to “draw out” cancer.

Black salve was created by Native Americans to "draw out" infections from the body. The original black salve included the herb bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and crushed ash, however, there are now many variations on the original recipe. Other common ingredients include chaparral (Larrea tridentata), DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), chickweed (Stellaria media), Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), mullein (Verbascum thapsus), zinc, and Sodom's apple (Solanum sodomaeum).

Can Black Salves Treat Cancer?

Although black salves are widely available on the Internet, there is no scientific evidence showing that it's safe or effective. There is also no evidence that it can "draw out" cancer cells or infection. Possible side effects of using black salve include incomplete removal of the tumor, severe scarring, and the destruction of surrounding tissue.

In fact, black salves have been tested and found to be completely useless in treating cancer — and problematic in treating benign moles and skin tags. In addition, the FDA has specifically listed black salve as a "fake cancer cure".

A 2014 published study entitled "Application of black salve to a thin melanoma that subsequently progressed to metastatic melanoma: a case study" follows the story of a woman who used the black salve to treat a melanoma (after refusing typical excision with wide margins). Not surprisingly, the treatment was unsuccessful and the woman wound up with deep scars and metastatic organ cancers.

Can Black Salves Treat Moles and Skin Tags?

Black salves are caustic, meaning that they burn away the skin. This may suggest that they would be helpful in removing benign skin features such as moles and skin tags; in fact, however, the salve is likely to do considerably more harm than good.

Because the compounding of black salves is not regulated, it is impossible to know the potency of the preparation before you apply it. As a result, the preparation may be extremely caustic, meaning that it may burn surrounding tissue. The tissue may become infected; at the very least it will leave a large and unsightly scar.

While typical removal of moles and scars does involve cutting away a small amount of skin, the procedure is sterile and local anesthesia is used to minimize pain. Black salves, however, are very painful to the skin — particularly when used on skin that is already inflamed.

You can get tips on using supplements, but if you're considering the use of black salve, talk with your primary care provider first. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications have not been established. Self-treating any condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Also Known As: drawing salve, black ointment, escharotics

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Article Sources
  • Sivyer, G. Application of black salve to a thin melanoma that subsequently progressed to metastatic melanoma: a case study. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2014 Jul; 4(3): 77–80.