Gentian violet

Author: Dr Marie Hartley, Staff Writer, 2010.

Gentian violet is an antiseptic dye that has been in use since 1890. The name is due to its colour – it is not made from gentian or violet flowers.

Gentian violet has antifungal and some antibacterial activity and has traditionally been used as a topical treatment for a variety of dermatological conditions. However, there is little clinical trial evidence to support its effectiveness or long-term safety, so for many diseases more modern treatments, such as antibiotics and other systemic medications, are favoured. In many countries gentian violet is no longer available for medical purposes.

Uses of gentian violet

Gentian violet has been used to treat the following dermatological conditions:

Gentian violet has also been used for other medical and industrial purposes.

Other medical usesIndustrial uses
To prevent infection in the umbilical cord stump in newborns Dyes for wood, silk, food, and cosmetics
To control some intestinal parasitic worms, e.g. threadworm Ink for ballpoint pens
In blood banks to prevent blood transmission of Chagas disease  
As a dye to stain structures in the eye, e.g. during eye surgery  
In laboratories as the basis of the Gram stain (a common stain used to detect the presence of Gram-positive bacteria)  

Side effects of gentian violet

Serious side effects are rare when gentian violet is used as a topical external treatment. Some authorities advise against applying gentian violet to mucous membranes and open wounds.

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