Ammonium bituminosulfonate

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A tube of medicinal ammonium bituminosulfonate (ichthyol)
Clinical data
Trade namesIchthyol
Other namesammonium bituminosulfonate; ammonium bituminosulphonate; bituminosulfonates
CAS Number
CompTox Dashboard (EPA)
ECHA InfoCard100.029.485 Edit this at Wikidata

Ichthammol or ammonium bituminosulfonate (brand name Ichthyol) is a medication derived from sulfur-rich oil shale (bituminous schists). It is used (sometimes in combination with zinc oxide) as a treatment for different skin diseases, including eczema and psoriasis (see below). It is applied on the skin as an ointments, most commonly containing 10% or 20% ichthammol.

Bituminosulfonates are considered topical therapeutic agents with very good tolerability.[1]

The use of ichthammol in dermatology was promoted by German physician Paul Gerson Unna.[2][3][4]

Ichthammol ointments, commonly known as black ointment or drawing salve, should not be confused with black salve, a escharotic (corrosive) paste intended to destroy skin tissue.[5] In contrast, ichthammol does not have any corrosive properties on the skin.


Ichthammol is obtained through three steps from bituminous schists: dry distillation, sulfonation of the resulting oil (or purified fractions thereof), and finally neutralization with ammonia.[6]


Ichthammol is a viscous, water-soluble substance with a characteristic bitumen-like odor.[6] It is incompatible with acids, alkali carbonates or hydrates and alkaloidal salts. It is a thick reddish brown liquid, possessing a bituminous odor and taste. It is soluble in water and miscible with glycerin, but is nearly insoluble in strong alcohol or concentrated ether. It contains a large percentage of organically combined sulfur.

Chemically speaking ichthammol is a sulfonated shale oil. From elemental analysis, the composition of Ichthammol was calculated to be C28H36S5O6(NH4)2.[7] However, as a product of natural origin, it is a mixture of many different compounds.[8]

Similar materials[edit]

Similar substances can be made by altering the starting material. An "ammonium sufobitol" (Tumenol-Ammonium), made from light shale oil of the Messel pit, was sold until 2000 in Germany.[9] The Chinese material labelled as "ichthammol" are actually an ersatz product made from vegetable oil.


Clinical data
Trade namesIchthyol-Pale
Other namessodium shale oil sulfonate (former INCI); Ichthyolic Acid, Sodium Salt; sodium salt of light bitumenosulfonate
ATC code
CAS Number
ECHA InfoCard100.029.485 Edit this at Wikidata

Ichtasol (USAN: Ictasol) is produced from the light (as opposed to heavy) fraction of distilled shale oil. It has a pale appearance.[10] There appears to be an oral preparation made from this mixture.[11]

Chinese vegetable oil product[edit]

"Ichthammol" (鱼石脂 Yushizhi) made in China does not meet standards for ichthammol as specified in United States Pharmacopoeia (USP), European Pharmacopoeia (Ph.Eur), or for the CAS number. Instead of requiring bituminous schists like these definitions, the Chinese Pharmacopoeia definition for "ichthammol" uses ordinary vegetable oil:

Ichthammol is a mixture obtained by sulfurization of vegetable oils (soybean oil, tung oil, corn oil, etc.), sulfonation, and neutralization with ammonia. Organic sulfur content ≥ 5.5%, ammonium content ≥ 2.5%. — Chinese definition according to ChP 10[12]

As a result, Chinese "ichthammol" is very different from standard ichthammol. The characteristic bitumen-like odor (originating from the bituminous source material) is missing with Chinese material.[13]

Medical use[edit]

Skin disorders[edit]

It is used to treat a variety of skin disorders as e.g. eczema, psoriasis, Acne rosacea and acne.[6][14][15]

According to the "list of preferred Specials" by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) Ichthammol can be used in dermatology prescribing to treat acutely inflamed atopic eczema, among others.[16] A corresponding recommendation exists for bituminosulfonates in Germany. According to “guideline atopic eczema” bituminosulfonates can be considered for treatment of atopic eczema based on general clinic experience.[17] In the European Dermatology Forum (EDF) guidelines for treatment of atopic eczema Ichthammol is recommended as a useful addition to the basic treatment regimen, especially in mild disease or if TCS treatment is not possible from a patient’s perspective, e.g. corticophobia (steroid phobia).[18]

Ear infections[edit]

In otology, a mixture of glycerol and ichthammol (G & I) is used for the topical treatment of ear infections.[19] It is effective against Gram-positive bacteria. The anti-inflammatory action is explained by its influence on the formation, secretion, and effect of inflammation mediators.[20][21]


Ichthammol is available in pharmacies for compounding medications. Different sources of information exist for exemplary formulations (creams, shake lotions, suppositories, etc.).[22][23][24]


Ichthammol has anti-inflammatory, bactericidal, and fungicidal properties.[25]

Veterinary use[edit]

The European Medicines Agency published a summary report on ichthyol-substances (synonym: bituminosulfonates) during the course of the European Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) procedure[11] in veterinary medicine. The Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use (CVMP) decided that due to good tolerance and safety, there is no need to establish an MRL for ichthyol-substances. As a result, ichthyol-substances can be applied topically in all mammalian food-producing species without restriction.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schmid-Wendtner MH. Bituminosulfonate. In: Korting HC, Sterry W: Therapeutische Verfahren in der Dermatologie - Dermatika und Kosmetika. Berlin, Wien: Blackwell Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2001: p. 165-71
  2. ^ Paul Gerson Unna: About Ichthyol. In: Monatshefte für praktische Dermatologie, Band XXV, 1897 (in German).
  3. ^ Biographie, Deutsche. "Unna, Paul Gerson - Deutsche Biographie". (in German). Retrieved 2021-07-19.
  4. ^ Ärzteblatt, Deutscher Ärzteverlag GmbH, Redaktion Deutsches (1995-03-10). "110 Jahre Ichthyol-Schieferöl: Klassiker mit breitem Spektrum an Indikationen". Deutsches Ärzteblatt (in German). Retrieved 2021-07-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Laskey D, Tran M (April 2017). "Facial eschar following a single application of black salve". Clinical Toxicology. 55 (7): 676–7. doi:10.1080/15563650.2017.1312428. PMID 28426257. S2CID 29076775.
  6. ^ a b c Boyd, Alan S. (July 2010). "Ichthammol revisited". International Journal of Dermatology. 49 (7): 757–60. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2010.04551.x. PMID 20618493. S2CID 7367995.
  7. ^ E. Baumann, C. Schotten: Über das Ichthyol. In: Monatshefte für praktische Dermatologie, Band II, S. 257, 1883 (in German).
  8. ^ Scheibler H (1915). "Über die chemischen Bestandteile der schwefelreichen, bituminösen Teeröle (Ichthyolöle)". Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft. 48 (2): 1815–26. doi:10.1002/cber.19150480276.
  9. ^ Ammoniumbituminosulfonat statt Ammoniumsulfobitol In: Pharmazeutische Zeitung online, 28. Februar 2000.
  10. ^ "Ichthyol® Pale - Ichthyol". 1 April 2022.
  11. ^ a b "Veterinary MRL: Report on ICHTHYOL-substances" (PDF). European Medicines Agency. September 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-07-18.
  12. ^ People's Republic of China Pharmacopoeia, 2010 edition. (Chinese text for 2020 edition)
  13. ^ Bracher, F. et al. (ed.), Kommentar zum Europäischen Arzneibuch (Commentary to the European Pharmacopoeia), Wissenschaftliche Erläuterungen zum Arzneibuch, Volume 4, Ammoniumbituminosulfonat, Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft Stuttgart, 2014
  14. ^ Warnecke J, Wendt A (February 1998). "Anti-inflammatory action of pale sulfonated shale oil (ICHTHYOL pale) in UVB erythema test". Inflamm. Res. 47 (2): 75–8. doi:10.1007/s000110050282. PMID 9535545. S2CID 9014012.
  15. ^ Fisher S, Ziv M (July 2020). "Efficacy of topical ichthammol 10% for hidradenitis suppurativa: Case series and systematic review of its use in dermatology". Dermatologic Therapy. 33 (4): e13868. doi:10.1111/dth.13868. PMID 32558051. S2CID 219907385.
  16. ^ Buckley DA, Root T and Bath S, Specials Recommended by the British Association of Dermatologists for Skin Disease, Clinical Standards Unit of the British Association of Dermatologists, London, UK, 2014, p. 9 ( accessed October 2nd, 2015)
  17. ^ Werfel T, et al. (January 2016). "Leitlinie Neurodermitis [atopisches Ekzem; atopische Dermatitis]". Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. 14 (1): e1–e75. doi:10.1111/ddg.12884. PMID 26713660. S2CID 203739944.
  18. ^ Wollenberg A, et al. (May 2018). "Consensus-based European guidelines for treatment of atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis) in adults and children: part I". J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 32 (5): 657–682. doi:10.1111/jdv.14891. PMID 29676534.
  19. ^ Masood A, Moumoulidis I, Ray S, Chawla O, Panesar J (August 2008). "A randomised controlled trial comparing Triadcortyl with 10% glycerine-ichthammol in the initial treatment of severe acute otitis externa". Eur. Arch. Otorhinolaryngol. 265 (8): 881–5. doi:10.1007/s00405-007-0463-1. PMID 17922130. S2CID 26976193.
  20. ^ Czarnetzki, BM (December 1986). "Inhibitory effects of shale oils (Ichthyols) on the secretion of chemotactic leukotrienes from human leukocytes and on leukocyte migration". Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 87 (6): 694–7. doi:10.1111/1523-1747.ep12456630. PMID 2878051.
  21. ^ Schewe C, Schewe T, Rohde E, Diezel W, Czarnetzki BM (1994). "Inhibitory effects of sulfonated shale oils (ammonium bituminosulphonates, Ichthyols) on enzymes of polyenoic fatty acid metabolism". Arch. Dermatol. Res. 286 (3–4): 137–41. doi:10.1007/bf00374208. PMID 7911653. S2CID 12647893.
  22. ^ Altmeyer P., Therapielexikon Dermatologie und Allerlogie, Springer, Berlin, 2nd edition, 2005, p. 1024; p. 1040; p. 1051
  23. ^ Langley, C.A. and Belcher, D., Pharmaceutical Compounding and Dispensing, Pharmaceutical Press, London, UK, 2nd edition, 2012, p. 143
  24. ^ Staubach P; Metz, M (October 2013). "Magistral formulations and pruritus therapy – What is established, what is confirmed, what is new?". Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. 11 (8): 1049–55. doi:10.1111/ddg.12230. PMID 24119119.
  25. ^ Gayko G, Cholcha W, Kietzmann M (October 2000). "Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antimycotic effects of dark sulfonated shale oil (ichthammol)". Berl. Munch. Tierarztl. Wochenschr. 113 (10): 368–73. PMID 11084753.

External sources[edit]

  • Cholcha W, Leuschner J, Leuschner F (July 1994). "[The adverse effects of dark sulfonated shale oil following local and systemic administration]". Arzneimittelforschung (in German). 44 (7): 844–9. PMID 7945520.
  • Diezel W, Schewe T, Rohde E, Rosenbach T, Czarnetzki BM (December 1992). "[Ammonium bituminosulfonate (Ichthyol). Anti-inflammatory effect and inhibition of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme]". Hautarzt (in German). 43 (12): 772–4. PMID 1361926.
  • Nilssen E, Wormald PJ, Oliver S (April 1996). "Glycerol and Ichthammol: medicinal solution or mythical potion?". J. Laryngol. Otol. 110 (4): 319–21. doi:10.1017/s0022215100133547. PMID 8733451. S2CID 37026367.