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Is Black Salve a Problem or a Solution?

Story at-a-glance -

  • Black salve, a paste made using the bloodroot plant, has been touted as safe and effective for treating skin carcinomas, but studies, as well as alarming visual testaments, show using it may be a dangerous proposition
  • There have been (unverified) claims of positive uses for black salve, but it’s indiscriminate in the type of tissue it destroys, which can lead to some very painful, dangerous and unsightly results
  • Anyone looking for an alternative to black salve may be better off looking for BEC5, aka eggplant extract
  • Scientists identified BEC5 as a safe therapy for basal cell carcinoma, as it had a cure rate of 66 percent at eight weeks, a 78 percent cure rate after a year and, more importantly, healthy cells were left intact

By Dr. Mercola

You may have read about or heard the term black salve in terms of a "healthier alternative" to conventional options for remedying skin lesions, such as skin cancer, warts, moles and skin tags. It seems to be somewhat controversial because reports on its safety are contradictory. Black salve is derived from the perennial, flowering Sanguinaria canadensis, aka bloodroot, a plant native to northeastern America.

A paste made from bloodroot is purported to be a "miracle cure" for the above conditions. Its active ingredient is zinc chloride, which, according to The Conversation, is a destructive agent that's corrosive to metals. It also contains sanguinarine, a plant extract some call "toxic." So how would black salve be safe and effective for treating skin cancer?

Michael Greger, best-selling author and founder of, observes that black salve's viability, safety and effectiveness are unsubstantiated, and that anecdotal "evidence" is completely unreliable. Rather than being an alternative for skin issues, black salve appears to be nothing more than a corrosive paste that can damage healthy and diseased tissue alike.

The American Academy of Dermatology has issued warnings about it, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called it out as not an "alternative" cancer cure, but a "fake" one. While some hype black salve as a skin cancer cure, in reality, bloodroot is essentially a "native herb that can be like poison ivy on steroids,"1 Greger asserts.

Greger makes a good point that while black salve is advertised by proponents, usually online, as a "selective" treatment that kills cancerous tissue without harming good tissue, it's really just the opposite. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine notes: "Because of its escharotic [or tissue-sloughing] character, corrosive black salve products may destroy both cancerous and healthy skin to a degree that eradicates a local cancer."2 Greger notes:

"When tissue samples are taken from black salve treatment lesions, the damage to normal tissue is readily apparent. It can burn right through and leave you with like an extra nostril, or, even worse, one less nostril. This isn't just 'buyer beware,' but viewer beware, as some of these are graphic images like this, where he … burned half his nose off. Now, on the nose, you can just be left with cosmetic defects, but put it on the face, and it can eat all the way down through an artery."3

A huge irony is that the majority of the people who order it and apply it in the safety of their own homes are trying to avoid conventional treatments, especially for cancer, that they're afraid will cause scarring or other unsightly damage, by choosing alternative treatments.

So Are There Any Plant-Based Skin Cancer Treatment Alternatives?

When it comes to health, it stands to reason why most people opt for "natural" or "alternative" treatments or remedies: They've heard how ironically unhealthy hospitals can be. They've been enlightened on the third highest cause of death in the U.S. medical mistakes — and they've read about or even experienced for themselves incidences of overtreatment for cancer-related illnesses. Worse, they often find doctors intimidating and rude, Greger states.

Making conventional medical approaches even less appealing, finding evidence that they can be worse than the disease is enough to give anyone pause.

Another problem with individuals who've opted to try black salve on skin lesions of some type is that they may even have self-diagnosed, and perhaps their research didn't go far enough. A handful of unsubstantiated anecdotal "reviews" on unverified health sites may have seemed like a safer route, but the old adage "keep reading" is good advice. As a literature review on Research Gate observed:

"Patients should be educated about the lack of objective evidence supporting the clinical efficacy of black salve as a skin cancer treatment, as well as the possible cosmetic defects resulting from tissue necrosis secondary to the effects of bloodroot and zinc chloride."4

As ironies continue, this one is worth mentioning: Greger identifies conventional allopathic medicine for the treatment of skin cancer as having an "extraordinary proven track record of successful treatment." He adds:

"It's one of the few cancers we're really good at curing, because we can catch it so early because you can see it emerge, and, so, easily cut it out. So, like for basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer, conventional surgery has up to a 99 percent cure rate, squamous cell carcinoma, about 95 percent, and the most common type of melanoma, up to 90 percent.

With escharotic therapies [like black salve], there is no scientifically documented proof of efficacy period, since there have never been any clinical trials. So, all we're left with are glorified anecdotes ranging from 'patient satisfaction,' to 'unacceptable scarring,' to "invasive recurrent tumors,' to 'ulcer complications,' to 'death.'"5

A Viable Alternative for Skin Lesions: BEC5 (Eggplant Extract)

While black salve is clearly not the answer most people are looking for to treat skin lesions, another plant-based cream containing eggplant extract, known as BEC and BEC5, has been shown to eliminate most non-melanoma skin cancers in a matter of several weeks.

Unlike conventional skin cancer treatment, which usually involves surgery, the eggplant-extract cream leaves no scarring or visible signs of a tumor or lesion. Plus, it's exceptionally safe, kills only cancerous cells and leaves healthy cells untouched. It causes only minor side effects, such as itching and burning at the site.

Using members of the Solanaceae family of plants, known as the nightshade family, as a cancer treatment is not a new thing. Surprisingly, natural health pioneer Dr. Jonathan Wright identified that these types of vegetables with cancer-killing properties were used almost 200 years ago — 1825, to be exact. It took modern researchers until the 1950s to begin scrutinizing BEC as a treatment option for malignant and benign human skin tumors. In 1991, Bill E. Cham reported findings from an Australian study in Cancer Letters:

"We now report that a preparation ... which contains very low concentrations of BEC (0.005 percent) is effective in the treatment of keratoses, basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) of the skin of humans. In an open study, clinical and histological observations indicated that all lesions (56 keratoses, 39 BCCs and 29 SCCs) treated with [the preparation] had regressed."6

Nearly three years later, Royal London Hospital in the U.K. reported that a 0.005 percent solution of solasodine glycosides, which the researchers called BEC5, was a safe therapy for basal cell carcinoma, as it had a cure rate of 66 percent at eight weeks and a 78 percent cure rate after a year.7

Aside from black salve and eggplant extract, topically applied essential oils such as frankincense, known for promoting healthy cell regeneration and keeping existing cells and tissues healthy, and tea tree oil, with its antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties, have had positive reviews for removing skin tags and warts, and with these substances, there certainly have been no reported instances of tissue being destroyed as in the case of black salve.

Studies Show Eggplant Is a Better Alternative

Two studies indicate how powerful the compounds in eggplant are. In both, two men over the age of 60 had suffered for years, each with a large basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). According to the International Journal of Clinical Medicine,8 when given a BEC cream to use twice daily:

  • One patient experienced a rapid breakdown of his tumor. In two weeks, it was half its original size, and in 14 weeks, normal tissue was replacing the lesion, and there was no scar tissue.
  • The second patient's skin cancer lesion appeared "cleaner" after six weeks of using the cream, and normal tissue was appearing. Three weeks later, the lesion was smaller and, after 14 weeks, no lesion could be detected, nor was there any scar tissue.

It's important to note, though, that rather than eating the vegetables, such as eggplant, this compound must be applied topically to be effective against skin cancer. The presence of glycosides, the molecules with simple sugars attached, selectively latch on to receptors present on skin cancer cell membranes. So, where black salve destroys tissue left and right with no sparing of healthy cells, BEC5 eggplant extract leaves healthy cells alone while eradicating the cancerous ones.

Melanoma: Another Type of Skin Lesion, and the Real Cause

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation,9 around 4.3 million cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, and more than 3,000 deaths occur from this disease. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer, with more than 1 million cases diagnosed and more than 15,000 deaths annually. Here are more disturbing statistics:

  • More people get a diagnosis of skin cancer than every other type combined.10
  • The diagnosis and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers in the U.S. increased by 77 percent between 1994 and 2014.11
  • Around 9,320 people are projected to die of melanoma in the U.S. In 2018: of those, 5,990 will be men and 3,330 will be women.12
  • Only 20 to 30 percent of melanomas are found in existing moles, while 70 to 80 percent arise on apparently normal skin.13
  • The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the U.S. is estimated at $8.1 billion; about $3.3 billion for melanoma.14

These are sobering statistics, but the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation collectively believe sun damage is what causes melanomas and other types of skin cancer. In fact, the new federally funded Cancer Protection Agency asserts that UV exposure is the only way people can get skin damage that leads to skin cancer.

The stances these and other governmental agencies have taken are tantamount to increasing peoples' skin cancer risk, because discouraging sun exposure can cause vitamin D deficiency. If there's a problem, officials say, vitamin D supplementation will take care of the problem, because in the eyes of the dermatology profession, sunlight has no value for health.

All sun-kissed skin is damaged skin. Sunscreen is seen as a prerequisite for protection against skin cancer, but incidences of melanoma have decreased with greater sun exposure and can increase with sunscreen use.

How does vitamin D help prevent skin cancer? Numerous studies indicate how much you need vitamin D from the sun to protect yourself. You can effectively use the sun for skin cancer protection by balancing the time you spend in natural sunlight to maximize your vitamin D production with maintaining your overall health.

Also, make sure you avoid getting burned. This part is true: Sunburn anywhere on your body is not good for your health. The lighter your skin, the less exposure to UV (ultraviolet) light is necessary. Lighter skin is also more vulnerable to damage from overexposure. Build up your tolerance by starting early in the spring and gradually increase the time you spend in the sun to avoid getting burned.

Once your tolerance has been built up, aim for enough sun exposure to keep your vitamin D level around 40 to 60 ng/mL (or above 60 for cancer protection).

Are There Redeeming Qualities That Make Black Salve Beneficial?

An old name for bloodroot, "Indian paint," may have come about because Native Americans were the first to harvest the plants, drain the red liquid and make a paste from it to make topical escharotic (caustic pastes) to treat warts, moles and infected wounds.15 Over the years, there have been claims of positive uses for black salve, and some may be legitimate, but the fact remains, it's indiscriminate in the type of tissue it destroys.

As a quick recap, anyone looking for an alternative to black salve, or for those opposed to conventional medical approaches to skin cancer, may be better off looking for DEC5 eggplant extract. Whether or not you've heard of positive experiences with black salve, eggplant extract doesn't have anything close to the negative potentials as the substance marketed as black salve. But be aware: It's sold under different names.

According to the Journal of Dermatological Treatment, black salve is marketed under several names by different manufacturers, such as Black Ointment from Dr. Christopher's Original Formulas, Herb Veil 8 from Altered States and Cansema from Alpha Omega Labs, but no manufacturers publish specific ingredient information.16 Interestingly, there is evidence that sanguinarine has anticancer effects based on studies outside the body. According to The Conversation:

"These found beneficial effects, with selective destruction of malignant cells, but at much lower concentrations than in existing salve products. Higher concentrations result in destruction of normal tissue as well as cancer cells."17

Further, documented adverse effects of black salve include varying degrees of damage to skin, as well as disease progression, especially when patients decide to dispense with conventional medical treatment. In fact the above study included reports on nine cases where the salve was used and documented, and all of them resulted in negative results; besides severe pain or discomfort, there were seven instances where patients' cosmetic outcomes got worse and six where patients' cancer advanced.

It may be possible that if black salve is applied very selectively, there may be a positive outcome, but one potentially devastating negative result could negate the positives. Thoroughly research anything you consume, breathe in or apply to your skin, and once again, let the buyer beware.