Tincture of benzoin
Tincture of benzoin is a pungent solution of benzoin resin in alcohol. A similar preparation called Friar's Balsam or Compound Benzoin Tincture (USP) contains, in addition, Cape aloes and storax (liquidambar resin). The latter was invented by Dr Joshua Ward around 1760.
Tincture of benzoin has two main medical uses: as a treatment for damaged skin in the "Compound" form, and as an inhalant in the non-Compound form.
Compound Tincture of Benzoin (CTB) is often applied to skin before applying tape or other adhesive bandages. To some degree, it protects the skin from allergy to the adhesive in the tape or bandage, but mostly it makes the tape or bandages adhere much longer. Plain Tincture of Benzoin will not do this, and tape will tend not to stick to skin treated with it. It is also used by athletes for its reputation of toughening skin exposed to the tincture. Orthopedists applying a cast often spray CTB in an aerosol can onto skin before casting, as it protects the skin under the cast, and diminishes itching.
Plain Tincture of Benzoin can also be inhaled in steam as a treatment for various conditions including bronchitis and colds. There is some disagreement as to whether or not benzoin should be used as a treatment for asthma.
It is used in the U.S. military to treat blisters. A common treatment utilized by medics in the U.S. Army is to drain the fluid from a blister and to inject the same amount of compound tincture of benzoin, to help seal the space created by the blister, to serve as a local antiseptic, and to prevent further abrasion or loss of skin. This is commonly known as a "hot shot" amongst military personnel due to the extreme burning sensation that will be experienced for several moments when the tincture is applied.
Another, more remote use, is for beautifying skin. The following excerpt is taken from the book "Personal Beauty" printed in 1870:
- "Gum Benzoin is a fragrant resin which comes to us from the sunny meadows of Sumatra, and is redolent with odors of the Spice Islands, and the mysterious virtues of tropical balms. Its qualities are strange. Mix a little of it with fat, and the latter will not become rancid. Some of the tincture, combined with glycerine, is simply the best application in the world for chapped hands, and for those cracked nipples which afflict some women during nursing. But this apart. We speak of it now as a cosmetic. Two ounces of it to a pint of pure alcohol (free from acrid fusel oils and the like) make as fine an application as those can ask who wish a white spotless tint, and fragrant arome. Some of it may be used once or twice a day in the manner already mentioned.
- About a tablespoonful should be poured into a small tumbler of water. It changes the water to a whitish fluid, which is known in France as lait virginal, virgin's milk, and is highly and justly esteemed. None of the cosmetic washed is more agreeable. Some glycerine can be added to the water if desired."
Toilette of Rank and Fashion stated, in 1837:
- "Virgin's Milk is compounded with tincture of Benzoin and Rose-water; it is prepared by simply adding a few drops of the former to an ounce or two of the latter, which produces a milky mixture. If the face is washed with this, it will give it a beautiful ivory color. Let it remain on the skin without wiping."
The American medium Edgar Cayce stated:
- "To one tablespoon of melted cocoa butter add, while it is in the liquid: Compound Tincture of Benzoin (1 tablespoonful), Rose Water (1 tablespoonful). Keep this to massage into these tissues. The activity of these ingredients will be to enliven and make for – well, this would be a very, very good skin cleanser for anyone!”
Use in weightlifting
Tincture of benzoin occasionally finds use in weightlifting gyms in place of chalk or straps, in order to improve grip. Application of the tincture to the palms and fingers makes gripping heavy barbells or dumbbells somewhat easier; using benzoin instead of gloves or straps helps improve the strength of one's grip and eliminates much of the mess created by chalk, which is forbidden in some gyms. A light application of the tincture to both hands, then rubbing them together to spread it over the surface of the palms and fingers evenly, is sufficient to create a tackier grip.
- Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660–1851, Rupert Gunnis
- Wascher RA, Barcia PJ. Tincture of benzoin: clinical and microbiological implications of reusable containers. Mil Med. 161(3):143-5 1996.
- Personal Beauty (1870)
- Toilette of Rank and Fashion (1837)
- H. J. Reilly & R. H. Brod (2004). The Edgar Cayce Handbook for Health Through Drugless Therapy. ARE Press; Newly Revised Ed. pp. 283. ISBN 0876044828.