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Ammonium bituminosulfonate (ichthyol or ichthammol, CAS#8029-68-3 brand names: Albichthyol) is a product of natural origin obtained in the first step by dry distillation of sulfur-rich oil shale. It is used in medicine as a remedy for treating some skin diseases, including eczema and psoriasis. It is commonly used in 10% or 20% concentrate ointment form as a salve. It is sometimes called "black ointment". Its dermatological action was discovered by German physician Paul Gerson Unna.
From elemental analysis, its composition was calculated to be C28H36S5O6(NH4)2. However, as a product of natural origin, it is a mixture of many different compounds.
Chemically, it is a sulfonated shale oil. It can be presented in two forms: pale sulfonated shale oil (PSSO), and dark sulfonated shale oil (DSSO). PSSO, also known as "ichthyol", is incompatible with acids, alkali carbonates or hydrates and alkaloidal salts. DSSO is sometimes called ichthammol. 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.
Pharmacologically, PSSO and DSSO have anti-inflammatory, bactericidal, and fungicidal properties. It is used to treat eczema, psoriasis, Acne rosacea and acne, and it decreases microorganisms in the area surrounding a skin condition. It is commonly used in 10% or 20% concentrate ointment, applied topically.
In otology, a mixture of glycerol and ichthammol (G & I) has been used for generations for the topical treatment of ear infections. It is efficient against Gram-positive organisms. The anti-inflammatory action is explained by its influence on the formation, secretion, and effect of inflammation mediators. DSSO is well tolerated and no indications of teratogenic, mutagenic, or carcinogenic effects have been noted.
The European Medicines Agency published a summary report on ichthyol-substances (synonym: bituminosulfonates) during the course of the European Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) procedure 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.