What Are the Dangers of Potassium Permanganate?

Potassium permanganate can be an effective treatment for Athlete's Foot, eczema, ulcers, acne and other skin conditions if it us used correctly. Never ingest it and always dilute it in water.

Potassium permanganate is a chemical which can be helpful for treating certain skin conditions.

“It’s biggest use is as a disinfectant,” says Richard Sachleben, PhD, a member of the American Chemical Society. That means it can help clean wounds. It is also an astringent (it dries out your skin) and can kill bacteria and fungi, making it effective against skin conditions like infections, eczema, blistering conditions, foot ulcers, recurrent boils, gangrene and acne, says Sarina B. Elmariah, MD, PhD, assistant dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.

But potassium permanganate is only therapeutic if it’s used correctly. Most importantly, it should also be diluted and never ingested. If you don’t take proper precautions, it can cause serious problems, says Dr. Elmariah, who is also a member of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Here are some of the dangers of using potassium permanganate and ways to avoid them:

It can irritate your skin

Undiluted potassium permanganate can irritate and even burn your skin, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.

“Potassium permanganate is generally safe, however at higher concentrations when applied to the skin, it can cause irritation in the form of redness, blisters or even deeper burns,” says Dr. Elmariah.

“If you get concentrated potassium permanganate on your skin, you should flush with lots of water,” says Dr. Sachleben. You should also contact your doctor.

Like any chemical, potassium permanganate can induce an allergy if you use it too often, says Dr. Elmariah.

It can hurt your eyes

And not just your eyes, also mucous membranes like the inside of your mouth, nose, ears, genitals and anus, warns the British Association of Dermatology.

Take precautions to ensure the solution doesn’t come into contact with any of these areas. If it does, flush with water and see a doctor.

It can stain your skin

Potassium permanganate can turn your skin as well as your nails purple or brown, a discoloration that can be difficult to remove, says Dr. Elmariah.

“Wearing gloves or applying a thick layer of petroleum jelly to the nails prior to the application will help prevent this,” she says.

If you’re using a bowl or bucket, the U.K. National Health Service, recommends lining it first. And use gloves when you’re handling undiluted potassium permanganate.

It can be life-threatening

“Ingestion can lead to esophageal strictures and scarring, and even death,” says Dr. Elmariah. Basically, don’t ever eat or drink potassium permanganate.

According to an article in the World Journal of Emergency Medicine, ingesting potassium permanganate can also lead to nausea and vomiting, kidney and liver damage and bleeding. Fortunately, the article goes on to state, these types of effects are rare.

“I would strongly advise not consuming it,” says Dr. Sachleben. “We use it for chemical manufacturing.” Potassium permanganate is often used to induce chemical reactions to make different compounds. It can also be used to start or intensify fires, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information. Those fumes can be toxic.

If you do happen to ingest potassium permanganate, drink lots of water and get medical help right away, says the British Association of Dermatology.

How to use potassium permanganate

In its solid form, potassium permanganate is black. Once it’s completely dissolved, the solution should look light pink, according to the British Association of Dermatology. Arms and legs can be immersed in the solution. Or you can soak some gauze or cotton and wrap those around the affected area for 10-15 minutes.