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 1. 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 2.
But potassium permanganate is only therapeutic if it’s used correctly 4. 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
“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
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.
It can be life-threatening
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 5. 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 456. Those fumes can be toxic.
How to use potassium permanganate
In its solid form, potassium permanganate is black 345. Once it’s completely dissolved, the solution should look light pink, according to the British Association of Dermatology 34. 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.
But potassium permanganate is only therapeutic if it’s used correctly 4. And use gloves when you’re handling undiluted potassium permanganate 4. “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.
- Richard Sachleben, PhD, member, American Chemical Society.
- Sarina B. Elmariah, MD, PhD, assistant dermatologist, Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor, Harvard Medical School, Boston.
- British Association of Dermatologists: “Potassium permanganate solution soaks.”
- U.K. National Health Service: “How to use potassium permanganate solution soaks.”
- World Journal of Emergency Medicine: “Suicidal ingestion of potassium permanganate.”
- U.S. Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Potassium permanganate.”
- bdspn/iStock/Getty Images