Black Drawing Salve: Are There Health Benefits?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on May 20, 2020

Black drawing salve, or black salve, is a paste made from herbs. Some claim it “draws out” skin cancer and is a natural, alternative cure.

It comes from the North American plant Sanguinaria canadensis. It’s also called bloodroot and red root. The ingredients usually include zinc chloride and the plant extract sanguinarine. Both zinc chloride and sanguinarine are corrosives, which means they damage or destroy what they touch.

Experts think black drawing salve may kill some cancer cells, but it also kills healthy tissue. The salve can’t tell the difference. It can be harmful because it:

  • Damages the skin by killing tissue and leaves behind a dry, dark scab or completely wears it away
  • Can cause side effects such as pain and infection
  • Only affects the cells it touches. Melanoma and other skin cancers often go deeper than your skin’s outer layer. Cancer could keep growing in the deeper layers.

Black drawing salve is not an approved treatment for skin cancer. It’s actually illegal to sell it as a cancer cure in the U.S. and some other countries. The FDA hasn’t approved any product with black salve in it, even though some websites sell it. Just remember that alternative medicines or cures that seem too good to be true probably are.

Talk to your doctor before buying or using anything that claims to ward off cancer or cure it. They’ll tell you about the ingredients and possible side effects. It could affect your condition or any treatments you’re on.

WebMD Medical Reference



American Academy of Dermatology: “Natural Treatments For Skin Cancer Not As Safe As You Think.”

University of Queensland: “Science or Snake Oil: what is black salve?”

News release, American Academy of Dermatology.

Journal of Dermatological Treatment: “Black salve treatment of skin cancer: a review.”

FDA: “Illegally Sold Cancer Treatments.”

Medsafe: New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority: “Black Salve: Buyer Beware.”

Federal Trade Commission: “Cancer Treatment Scams.”

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