Ammonium bituminosulfonate

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A tube of medicinal ammonium bituminosulfonate (ichthyol)

Ammonium bituminosulfonate or ammonium bituminosulphonate (synonyms of ichthammol, CAS#8029-68-3 brand name: Ichthyol) is a product of natural origin obtained in the first step by dry distillation of sulfur-rich oil shale (bituminous schists). By sulfonation of the resulting oil (or purified fractions thereof) and subsequent neutralization with ammonia Ichthammol results as viscous, water-soluble substance with characteristic bitumen-like odor. 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" or "drawing salve". Its dermatological action was promoted by German physician Paul Gerson Unna.[1]


From elemental analysis, its composition was calculated to be C28H36S5O6(NH4)2.[2] However, as a product of natural origin, it is a mixture of many different compounds.[3]

Chemically, it is a sulfonated shale oil that is incompatible with acids, alkali carbonates or hydrates and alkaloidal salts. 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.

Differentiation from Chinese Materials[edit]

Materials made in China (Pinyin transcription: yushizhi and yushizhi ruangao) and offered outside China as Ichthammol or Ammonium Bituminosulfonate are not in line with the definition given for this substance in the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) or European Pharmacopoeia (Ph.Eur). Also, there is no conformity with the definition as connected to CAS# 8029-68-3. The Chinese material is derived from vegetable oils (e.g. soybean oil) instead of bituminous schists as required.[4] As a result, its chemical basis is totally different from the one of Ichthammol USP/Ph.Eur./CAS# 8029-68-3. The characteristic bitumen-like odor (originating from the bituminous source material) is missing with Chinese material and thereby the original qualities according to common standards can be identified without doubt.



Pharmacologically, Ichthammol has anti-inflammatory, bactericidal, and fungicidal properties.[5] It is used to treat eczema, psoriasis, Acne rosacea and acne,[6][7] 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) is used for the topical treatment of ear infections.[8] It is effective against Gram-positive organisms. The anti-inflammatory action is explained by its influence on the formation, secretion, and effect of inflammation mediators.[9][10]

Ichthammol is recommended by dermatologists and available in pharmacies for compounding medications. Different sources of information exist for exemplary formulations (creams, shake lotions, suppositories, etc.).[11][12][13] According to the "list of preferred Specials" by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) Ichthammol can be used in Dermatology prescribing to treat acutely inflamed atopic eczema, among others.[14]


The European Medicines Agency published a summary report on ichthyol-substances (synonym: bituminosulfonates) during the course of the European Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) procedure[15] 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.


  1. ^ Paul Gerson Unna: About Ichthyol. In: Monatshefte für praktische Dermatologie, Band XXV, 1897 (in German).
  2. ^ E. Baumann, C. Schotten: Über das Ichthyol. In: Monatshefte für praktische Dermatologie, Band II, S. 257, 1883 (in German).
  3. ^ Scheibler H (1915). "Über die chemischen Bestandteile der schwefelreichen, bituminösen Teeröle (Ichthyolöle)". Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft 48 (2): 1815–26. doi:10.1002/cber.19150480276. 
  4. ^ Chinese Medical Encyclopedia as given under with reference to People's Republic of China Pharmacopoeia, 2010 edition.
  5. ^ Gayko G, Cholcha W, Kietzmann M (October 2000). "Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antimycotic effects of dark sulfonated shale oil (ichthammol)". Berl. Munch. Tierarztl. Wochenschr. 113 (10): 368–73. PMID 11084753. 
  6. ^ Boyd, Alan S. (July 2010). "Ichthammol revisited". International Journal of Dermatology 49 (7). doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2010.04551.x. 
  7. ^ Warnecke J, Wendt A (February 1998). "Anti-inflammatory action of pale sulfonated shale oil (ICHTHYOL pale) in UVB erythema test". Inflamm. Res. 47 (2): 75–8. doi:10.1007/s000110050282. PMID 9535545. 
  8. ^ Masood A, Moumoulidis I, Ray S, Chawla O, Panesar J (August 2008). "A randomised controlled trial comparing Triadcortyl with 10% glycerine-ichthammol in the initial treatment of severe acute otitis externa". Eur. Arch. Otorhinolaryngol. 265 (8): 881–5. PMID 17922130. 
  9. ^ Czarnetzki, BM (December 1986). "Inhibitory effects of shale oils (Ichthyols) on the secretion of chemotactic leukotrienes from human leukocytes and on leukocyte migration". J. Invest. Derm. 87 (6): 694–7. PMID 2878051. 
  10. ^ Schewe C, Schewe T, Rohde E, Diezel W, Czarnetzki BM (1994). "Inhibitory effects of sulfonated shale oils (ammonium bituminosulphonates, Ichthyols) on enzymes of polyenoic fatty acid metabolism". Arch. Dermatol. Res. 286 (3-4): 137–41. PMID 7911653. 
  11. ^ Altmeyer P., Therapielexikon Dermatologie und Allerlogie, Springer, Berlin, 2nd edition, 2005, p. 1024; p. 1040; p. 1051
  12. ^ Langley, C.A. and Belcher, D., Pharmaceutical Compounding and Dispensing, Pharmaceutical Press, London, UK, 2nd edition, 2012, p. 143
  13. ^ Staubach P, Metz, M (October 2013). "Magistral formulations and pruritus therapy – What is established, what is confirmed, what is new?". Journal of the German Society of Dermatology (JDDG) 11 (8): 1049–55. doi:10.1111/ddg.12230. 
  14. ^ DA Buckley DA, Root T and Bath S, Specials Recommended by the British Association of Dermatologists for Skin Disease, Clinical Standards Unit of the British Association of Dermatologists, London, UK, 2014, p. 9 ( accessed October 2nd, 2015)
  15. ^ "Veterinary MRL: Report on ICHTHYOL-substances" (PDF). European Medicines Agency. September 2004. Archived from the original (pdf) on 2006-07-18. 

External sources[edit]

  • Cholcha W, Leuschner J, Leuschner F (July 1994). "[The adverse effects of dark sulfonated shale oil following local and systemic administration]". Arzneimittelforschung (in German) 44 (7): 844–9. PMID 7945520. 
  • Diezel W, Schewe T, Rohde E, Rosenbach T, Czarnetzki BM (December 1992). "[Ammonium bituminosulfonate (Ichthyol). Anti-inflammatory effect and inhibition of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme]". Hautarzt (in German) 43 (12): 772–4. PMID 1361926. 
  • Nilssen E, Wormald PJ, Oliver S (April 1996). "Glycerol and Ichthammol: medicinal solution or mythical potion?". J. Laryngol. Otol. 110 (4): 319–21.