Medical Uses for Potassium Permanganate

Wellness foot bath
A woman is soaking her feet in a tub. (Image: Flemming Hansen/iStock/Getty Images)

With a nickname like Condy's crystals and bright purple color, potassium permanganate sounds more like a confection than a highly caustic chemical used to treat infections. Potassium permanganate sells by prescription only. When mixed into liquid form, potassium permanganate treats skin conditions, fungal infections and ulcers. It also has a history of treating allergic reactions involving hair dyes.

Skin Infections

Potassium permanganate treats many skin infections, including eczema, canker sores, dermatitis, acne, vaginal thrush and vulvovaginitis. When applying to small, wet wounds, only a small amount of a very dilute solution is necessary. Larger areas, such as infected eczema on large areas of your body, particularly in the presence of blisters, pus or oozing, may require treatment with potassium permanganate water baths. These baths must contain very dilute potassium permanganate solutions. This dilution is essential, as potassium permanganate crystals and concentrated solutions burn skin. Even dilute solutions can irritate skin and repeated use may cause burns.

Wound Cleansing

Potassium permanganate wet soaks treat blistering wounds such as ulcers and abscesses. The astringent action dries out blisters, preparing them for further treatment. The broad antimicrobial properties kill bacteria, algae and viruses at varying concentrations, decreasing the potential for secondary wound infections.

Fungal Infections

Potassium permanganate foot soaks treat fungal infections such as athlete's foot. Symptoms of these conditions include itching or burning, usually between the toes, as well as redness or a scaly skin appearance associated with the feeling as if your foot is on fire. These symptoms are relieved by killing or inhibiting the growth of the fungus using the oxidizing action of potassium permanganate. The affected foot is soaked in a solution of potassium permanganate dissolved in water for about 15 minutes twice a day for two to three weeks. One side effect of this treatment is that your foot will temporarily turn brown from the potassium permanganate.

Hair Dye Allergies

The majority of commercially available permanent hair dyes contain a non-oxidized dye that is mixed with an oxidizer or developer. The oxidizer breaks down the natural hair pigment melanin, then the dye replaces that melanin. Partial reactions of this dye with the oxidizer may cause an allergic reaction. When an allergic reaction occurs, dilute solutions of potassium permanganate applied as a compress to the affected area relieve the symptoms by fully oxidizing the dye.

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