Clinicians have significant opportunities to educate patients who use black salve on the potential side effects and alternative therapies since many are unaware of its harmful effects, study authors concluded in a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology

“Black salve” refers to a group of substances containing zinc chloride and sanguinarine, both corrosive ingredients that can cause serious skin damage. Some patients use these products on suspected skin cancers because they believe it is a convenient way to remove them. However, black salve can destroy the top layer of the skin as the cancer remains in the deeper layers where it can continue to spread. Using black salve may possibly delay the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, which may allow it to spread. 

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Mark J. Eliason, MD, FAAD, an author of the study, stated, “There is a misperception that black salve ‘draws the cancer out,’ when, in fact, it just indiscriminately damages anything it touches.” Through consumer interviews, Dr. Eliason and colleagues found that 74% of black salve users were unaware of the side effects (eg, infection, extensive scarring, disfigurement) prior to applying it on their skin. The majority of users reported learning about the home remedy through a family member or friend, and only 30% consulted a dermatologist prior to using black salve.

Some of the reasons cited for using a home remedy vs. receiving treatment from a doctor included wanting to avoid surgery, out of convenience, and discomfort with discussing black salve with their doctor. 

There is no substantial research supporting the safety and efficacy of black salve, as these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Black salve is listed under the Agency’s list of “187 Fake Cancer ‘Cures’ Consumers Should Avoid.” Sarah D. Cipriano, MD, MPH, head of the research team, concluded, “We hope our research will raise awareness about the potential dangers of these products, which far outweigh the supposed benefits. We encourage patients to consult with a dermatologist or other health care provider before considering a home remedy like black salve.”

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