Debunking "Alternative" Medicine

David Wolfe Promotes Corrosive Black Salve

David Avocado Wolfe promotes corrosive black salve

Black salve is corrosive quackery. If you put the mixture on the skin, it will burn away the skin and cause horrible injuries.

So why would anyone use it?

Because they are suffering from deadly diseases (such as cancer) and are being manipulated by quacks that want their money. None of the major health claims behind black salve has stood up to scientific evidence.

It does not treat skin growths. It does not have any anticancer abilities. It does not fight microbial infections. There is no benefit, only harm. In many cases, the harm can be substantial and severe.

Do not buy it. Do not use it. Never.

Black salve is corrosive quackery

Black salve (also known as Cansema) is an escharotic. This means that, if you apply it to the skin, it will burn skin and kill it. Afterwards, it will form a black scar of dead tissue called an eschar.

Black salve contains multiple ingredients that are dangerous.

First, zinc chloride is a white powder that easily absorbs water. It is corrosive, acutely toxic when ingested and harmful to aquatic life.

Second, it contains Sanguinaria canadensis (also called bloodroot). This plant contains the substance sanguinarine that inhibits the sodium potassium (Na+/K+) ATPase transmembrane enzyme. This is a crucial enzyme for humans and other animals to live, because it is vital to maintain cell membrane potential. No cell membrane potential, no highly effective import of amino acids and glucose into the cell. This ATPase also regulates cell volume to prevent it from drying out or bursting due to osmotic pressure. It also has various important functions in the human central nervous system and mutations can cause severe brain diseases.

Even more shockingly, S. canadensis actually causes cancer (Robbins et al., 2018), including mouth lesions that is a risk factor for cancer (Croaker et al., 2016) and metastatic basal cell carcinoma that turns fatal (McDaniel and Goldman, 2002).

Third, it also contains Larrea tridentata (chaparral or creosote), which can be toxic for the liver and kidneys when ingested.

FDA calls black salve a fake cancer cure and a cancer scam.

What do they claim that black salve is good for?

David “Avocado” Wolfe is a well-known quackery proponent. He pushes all sorts of nonsense, from flat earth to thinking that gravity is a toxin.

On the David “Avocado” Wolfe website, the post “Benefits Of Black Salve & Side Effects” was published in March of 2018. It lists several alleged “benefits” of black salve: treating skin growths, containing antimicrobial ingredients and having anticancer abilities. In reality, there is no credible evidence that black salve is safe or effective for any of these purposes.

There are no randomized controlled trials that have investigated black salve. There is no high-quality evidence that it can treat anything, including skin growth or cancer. Claiming that black salve contains antimicrobial ingredients is deceptive. It may be able to disinfect surfaces, but that does not mean that it has a therapeutic effect in the body. There are a ton of toxic substances that can both kill microbes on surfaces as well as kill humans. It is not reasonable to analogously claim that the operation was successful if the patient died.

Scientists conclude that “stronger restriction of black salve sales and distribution is vital.” (Robbins et al., 2018)

False balance at its most intellectually dishonest

Perhaps one of the more surprising features of the “benefits of black salve” article is that it includes a list of side effects at the end. This is something that is rarely seen in quackery articles. After all, their purpose is to promote a fake treatment and get you to buy it. If they discuss side effects, you are less likely to fall for it and less likely to buy their products.

What side effects does the article list?

Black salve side effects that have been reported by doctors and patients include:

  • Burning the skin, sometimes severely
  • Leaving behind open wounds, someones as big as one-inch wide
  • Causing blackening of the skin, along with scarring and discoloration
  • Allowing cancerous cells and tumors to further spread and progress, which can end up being deadly

So the article in question is encouraging people to take black salve for moles and warts when black salve will burn or severely burn the skin? Leave large openings in the skin? Cause it to become black, scarred and discolored? The article wants to persuade its readers that black salve can treat cancer, but here they admit that it may increase the spreading and progression of cancer?

So why are they including a tiny bit of information about side effects even though it contradict the other parts of the article? There are many potential reasons.

First, it might be a way to mimic the way real treatments are discussed. The law requires that manufacturers include information about side effects.

Second, it may help to give the appearance of objectivity and rationality by “providing both sides” and “letting the reader decide for themselves”. This is, of course, deceptive because there is no credible clinical evidence that black salve is safe or effective. What it does, however, is to provide false balance. They want to insist that their ignorant pseudoscience is just as good as medical facts.

Third, it resembles a common way for quacks to get out of the responsibility for spreading nonsense. If they just provide the side effects, they think, they have no responsibility for what they write.

Whatever the reason, it is interesting that such a list was included in the article. Perhaps the most optimistic outcome of this is that it will sow doubt among some fence sitters and people who are not all that familiar or David “Avocado” Wolfe. It might be wishful thinking, but perhaps even some true believers who worship everything Wolfe says will have to update their worldview, although do not hold your breath.

Finally, as a last-ditch case, proponents of alternative medicine might insist that the post was not written by David “Avocado” Wolfe, but by Lindsey Shaffer, and that this means that it is not reasonable to put the blame on Wolfe. It is true that Shaffer wrote the articles, but Wolfe agreed to give them a platform on his website. Both of them share responsibility for their deceptive posts pushing black salve.


Black salve is quackery. Do not use it. It will burn and kill skin. It probably also causes cancer in certain cases. It is a fake cancer “treatment” that is being pushed on very sick and dying people by quacks for profit. Avoid it at all cost.


Croaker A, King G.J, Pyne J.H, Anoopkumar-Dukie S, Liu L. (2016). Sanguinaria canadensis: traditional medicine, phytochemical composition, biological activities and current uses. Int J Mol Sci. 17(9):1414.

McDaniel S, Goldman G. D. (2002). Consequences of using escharotic agents as primary treatment for nonmelanoma skin cancer. Arch Dermatol. 138(12): 1593-1596.

Robbins A. B., Bui M. R., Morley K. W. (2019). The Dangers of Black Salve: An Unregulated, Commercially Available Caustic Agent. JAMA Dermatol. Published online April 11, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.0146


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