Gentian Violet is Not Natural or Safe
Many parents are familiar with gentian violet as a well-known treatment for thrush in both babies and adults. Bright purple mouths and breastfeeding nipples have been almost a rite of passage for babies and their mothers in the past. However, many do not realize that this medication, while still easy to obtain over-the-counter in some countries is not a natural treatment and that recent research has shown that use of gentian violet may be harmful.
Gentian violet (also called crystal violet) was first marketed as a synthetic dye in 1883 by Alfred Kern. (1) It’s common name, gentian violet, was adopted due to the color resembling that of a species of flower known as gentian, though the stain itself is not produced from plants. The name has caused some confusion in natural health circles due to the misconception that it is pro- duced from this flower.
Gentian violet is not a natural substance, it is a byproduct of the petroleum industry. It is a synthetic triarylmethane dye known as Basic Violet 3, produced from coal tar by condensing dimethylaniline and formaldehyde, then oxidizing the mixture using chloranil, iron, and oxygen. Arsenic acid or nitrobenzene may also be used in the oxidization process. For pharmaceutical use, the mixture is purified somewhat to reduce the levels of arsenic and lead it contains. (2)
Traditionally, gentian violet was used in histology to dye cells and pathogens for microscopic research and identification. Today, it is still used for this purpose as well as for industrial dyes, hair dye, and as a topical antiseptic for humans and animals. Its use as a hair dye has been banned by the European Union (2) and its use is banned in aqua- culture, veterinary medicine in food animals, and animal feed in the United States, Canada, and several other countries and is considered a human food contaminant. (3)(4)
Several studies on humans and animals have linked use of gentian violet with the development of cancer. (4)(7) It has been known to cause breathing problems as well as necrosis and ulceration in the mouths of infants. (5) Recently, gentian violet was recalled due to safety concerns on its known toxicity in Canada where it has been determined that it has no safe level of exposure. The sole manufacturer of non-prescription drugs containing gentian violet in Canada has voluntarily pulled their products from the market and their product license has been cancelled. (6)
Because of its antimicrobial properties, gentian violet is a still-used, though somewhat outdated treatment for controlling thrush, typically an infection of the yeast Candida albicans. Most often, it is applied around the inside of babies’ mouths as well as on the feeding adult’s breast and nipples when thrush occurs during breastfeeding or it is sometimes used on the vagina and labia to treat yeast infection. (4)(7) However, due to its known toxicity, several safer alternatives are now prescribed by medical professionals. (5) More natural treatments are also available.
Candida infections can be caused by several factors including antibiotic use, severe illness, and high blood sugar levels from diabetes or diets high in sugar and other simple carbohydrates. It can also be caused by inhaler use, oral contraception, or immune deficiency disorders. Aside from health issues, the biggest factor is consumption of sugaror simple carbs which over-feed yeasts in the body leading to uncontrolled growth. (8)
It is possible to treat thrush safely and naturally if you know the cause. Thrush caused by the use of oral antibiotics should naturally disappear once the body returns to normal after use of the medication has ceased. Taking a probiotic for several days after using antibiotics or sprinkling powdered probiotics on the nipple may help. A probiotic developed for infants may be used inside the mouths of breastfeeding children to assist in the treatment of thrush.
If thrush is diet related, going sugar-free or at least lowering sugar intake severely is usually the only cure needed. Once blood sugars reach a healthy level, the yeast cannot continue growing out of control and symptoms should begin to clear up in a few days. An excess of foods high in simple carbohydrates or which break down easily into sugars in the body can also add to the problem, so avoid most white-colored carbohydrates (white rice, white bread, milk, etc.) and alcohol. In some cases, a diet high in dairy may exacerbate the problem.
Applying apple cider vinegar is a common treatment, though it may not be completely safe for very young babies. It can be used as a soak or a rinse on the nipples several times daily and in toddlers, it can be used to wipe out the mouth or added to a little water to sip. Wash all bras and bra pads in very hot water with a cup or two of apple cider vinegar added to the wash water.
A rinse of baking soda and water can help to relieve itching. It can be put into a shot glass and held over the nipple as a soak. For babies and children, a baking soda and water mixture can be used on a rag or swab to gently wipe out the mouth. For genital yeast infections, soaking in a bath of baking soda and water will relieve itching.
Formula-fed babies who develop thrush and babies that do not respond to natural treatments should be seen again by a medical care provider to rule out diabetes and other health issues. Formula-fed babies may require a different type of formula.
For additional reading on thrush:
La Leche League International: Thrush https:// www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/thrush/
KellyMom: Thrush Resources https://kelly- mom.com/bf/concerns/child/thrush-resources/
- European Chemicals Agency. Annex XV Dossier, PROPOSAL FOR IDENTIFICATION OF A SUBSTANCE AS A CMR 1A OR 1B, PBT, vPvB OR A SUBSTANCE OF AN EQUIVALENT LEVEL OF CONCERN: [4-[4,4’-bis(dimethylamino) ben- zhydrylidene]cyclohexa-2,5-dien-1-ylidene]dimethylammonium chloride (C.I. Basic Violet 3). p. 15. https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/13638/svhc_axvrep_c_i_basic_ violet_3_pub_en.pdf
- Compound Summary: Gen- tian Violet. PubChem CID 11057. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Gentian-violet
- Cornell Law School: Legal Information Istitute. § 500.30 Gentian violet for animal drug use. 56 Federal Register 56, No. 158, 40507. Aug 15, 1991. https://www.law.cornell. edu/cfr/text/21/500.30
- Meng Sun, Ph.D., M.S. et al. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Proposition 65. Evidence on the Carcinogenicity of Gentian Violet. August 2018. https:// ca.gov/media/downloads/crnr/gen- tianviolethid081718.pdf
- LactMed: Drugs and Lactation Da- tabase. Gentian Violet. December 3, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/ NBK501869/
- Government of Canada. Health Can- ada: Recalls and Safety Alerts. Health Canada warns Canadians of potential cancer risk associated with gentian violet. 06/27/2019 https://healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2019/70179a-eng.php
- Alexander Maley, MD and Jack L. Ar- biser, MD, PhD. Gentian Violet: A 19th Century Drug Re-Emerges in the 21st Century. Experimental Dermatology, 22(12), 775-780. Dec. 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4396813/
- Becky Flora, BSed, Breastfeeding and Thrush. Mother & Child Health, 1998 – 2017. https://www.motherandchildhealth.com/ breastfeeding/breastfeeding-and-thrush/