The Controversial Use of Bag Balm in Skin Care Management
by Aletha Tippett MD
What is Bag Balm and why is it the subject of a wound care blog? Bag Balm is over 100 years old, invented in 1899 to treat chapped and irritated cows' udders and teats. Of course, the Bag Balm was applied by hand to the cows' udder and teats and farmers noticed that not only were their cows doing better with healthy udders and teats, their hands were better—not chapped or reddened, not as sore, and much softer. Their calluses were reduced, too. Because of this, Bag Balm became indispensable to the farmers and virtually every farm kitchen had a green can of Bag Balm.
After a hundred years of mostly farm use, Bag Balm has come to the city. It even went to the North Pole with Admiral Byrd, and graces the lips of Shania Twain. It was used by Allied troops in WWII (to protect weapons from rust), it was used at Ground Zero in New York after 9/11 for the paws of cadaver-sniffing dogs, and it has been used by American troops in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can now find Bag Balm on the shelf in any pharmacy next to the hand lotions.
Dispelling Myths About Bag Balm
There are many in wound care who use and love Bag Balm because it protects the skin and keeps it moist and smooth. Those that use it only use it for dry skin, never on a wound. Bag Balm is mainly lanolin with some petrolatum and a trace of 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate, which is a coal tar derivative. Because of the trace coal tar, Bag Balm does wonders for eczema and psoriasis.
There is a lot of myth surrounding Bag Balm. The other day a nurse in a nursing home assured me it "had been outlawed in all nursing homes." This, of course, is not true. Some nursing homes love and use Bag Balm for dry skin. Other nursing homes won’t have it, so for them I advise A&D ointment. As a hospice physician for a home-based team, Bag Balm was a standard in our care and none of our patients had any skin problems.
Bag Balm Ointment for Neuropathic Pain?
In our office we mix viscous lidocaine with Bag Balm to make an ointment that is particularly helpful for painful neuropathy. My patients call it the "magic potion." I am quite a fan of Bag Balm, but it is not the only ointment that can be used. I would ask people not to reject it out of hand, but be open to trying it.