The definition of “trust” is to have confidence in something or believe in someone.  

We are entrusted to care for our horses – to train with compassion and provide for their needs.  We trust others to provide us education, services and products to aid us in caring for our horses. 

Can we trust those we turn to in time of need?  Fortunately most of the time that answer is “yes”, but in one instance the answer is “no”. 

Most of us have a jar of drawing salve or ichthammol in our barn medicine cabinet.   The unique smelling black salve has worked wonders for drawing hoof and skin abscesses, fighting rain rot, and protecting minor wounds or scratches from infection and flies.  But is it really genuine ichthammol?

True ichthammol is derived from sulfur-rich oil shale. According to the American Chemical Society ichthammol (CAS#8029-68-3) is “a complex product obtained by the sulfonation and ammoniation of the distillation product from bituminous schists.”   I know that sounds like Greek to most of us, but it comes down to the fact that sulfur and ammonia components must be present, and they must in the proper balance to make an effective anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory product. 

There should be no need for us to think about how it is made – we just want to know the product we are buying is what we expect.  We are putting our trust in the product label.  

So what is the problem?

As always it comes down to cost.  The high quality sulfur-rich bituminous shale is unique and not found everywhere.  The best source of genuine ichthammol is from Ichthyol, a company based in Austria where there are deposits of the perfect sulfur-rich shale oil.  

The United States Pharmacopeia (USP), which establishes standards for medicines, ingredients and supplements, requires ichthammol products to contain 10.0% total sulfur, but allows the proportion of sulfate sulfur (inorganic) to be limited to a maximum value of 8.0% ammonium sulfate.  This has allowed the Chinese to manipulate the sulfur content and produce fake ichthammol products.  

The fake China produced ichthammol products are made from vegetable oils which have no sulfur.  Non-bituminous sulfur ingredients are added to meet the USP standards, which allow the label to erroneously state the product is ichthammol.  

The American consumer cannot tell by reading the label if the product is genuine ichthammol.  The only way to determine the “real thing” is to smell it. 

Fake drawing salve products made from vegetable oil will not have the unique strong tar smell.  Nor will these fake products have the healing properties in which you are searching. 

So, in this case – trust in your nose and not the product label or our government which allows these fake products to enter the country. 

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