Bag Balm is a salve developed in 1899 to soothe irritation on cows' udders after milking. The product is officially only meant for animals and is inspected as such by the United States Food and Drug Administration, but it's also often used as a treatment for chapped and irritated skin on humans and can be found in places such as drugstores, ski resorts, online vendors, needlework stores, and of course farm and feed stores. Its uses are claimed to be many, for example: "squeaky bed springs, psoriasis, dry facial skin, cracked fingers, burns, zits, diaper rash, saddle sores, sunburn, pruned trees, rifles, shell casings, bedsores and radiation burns."
Bag Balm is made by Dairy Association Co. in Lyndonville, Vermont, and Rock Island, Quebec. The product is known for its characteristic 10-oz green square tins featuring a cow's head and red clovers on the lid. It has been in production since 1899. The formula was purchased by John L. Norris from a Wells River, Vermont druggist sometime before the turn of the century. Originally, it was used for only cows' udders, but farmers' wives noticed the softness of their husbands' hands, and started using the product themselves. Imitators include Udderly Smooth Udder Cream and Udder Balm. In a 1983 report, Charles Kuralt reported on CBS that "upward of 400,000 units were shipped annually"; more recent sales figures are not disclosed by the company.
Bag Balm was taken to the North Pole by Admiral Byrd, it was used by Allied troops in WWII (to protect weapons from rust), it was used at Ground Zero in New York after 9/11 for the paws of cadaver-sniffing dogs, and it has been used by American troops in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the past, Bag Balm has been documented as containing 0.005% mercury "from ethylated sterols". Mercury was once used in many products as an effective antiseptic, although much less commonly today, now that the toxic effects of mercury and its compounds are more widely understood. Mercury is no longer listed as an ingredient in Bag Balm.
- Stephanie Rosenbloom (June 2, 2005). "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Smooth On the Balm". Fashion and Style (New York Times). Retrieved 2008-11-01.
- "Bag Balm: Problem-salving for all", John Curran, Associated Press, January 31, 2010
- Clinical toxicology of commercial products: acute poisoning, home & farm', By Marion N. Gleason, 1957, pg. 292
- Fisher's contact dermatitis, By Robert L. Rietschel, 2008, pg. 195, "Table 11-4: Topical skin preparations containing mercury compounds."