By DR. VICTOR S. SIERPINA
About 30 years ago, an Illinois state trooper came to see me with the worst case of dry skin I had ever seen. His feet and hands were covered with callused, scaly, deeply fissured, painful and bleeding sores. Though he had seen many dermatologists and been prescribed a panoply of moisturizers, creams, steroids and more, his condition persisted unabated.
Someone had suggested he come to see me for acupuncture. Having just completed my training in this ancient art, my heart sunk when I saw his skin condition. I was not optimistic about his curability with my needlework.
Nonetheless, he insisted we try, but after a few treatments I did not see much improvement. However, he wanted to continue and one day he came in with beautiful, pink skin, smooth as a baby’s bottom, nearly totally healed. My ballooning elation over the mystical power of my acupuncture needles was quickly punctured when he revealed his skin had started a remarkable, rapid improvement when a friend shared something with him that he had bought at the local feed store. The product was called Bag Balm. Manufactured in Vermont to treat the chapped and sore udders and teats of milking cows, it contained just three ingredients: lanolin, petrolatum, and an antiseptic, hydroxyquinolone.
Farmers bought it by the five pound bucket but it was available also in a quaint 16-ounce green tin with a cow logo on the top and detailed instructions on the side on how to apply it to suffering bovine teats.
It turned out for this trooper that after many years of “the agony of the feet” (and hands), this veterinary remedy did the miracle trick. Though acupuncture might have helped a bit, he and I agreed the real improvement came after starting the Bag Balm.
He thanked me politely for taking on his case. In return, I thanked him profusely for teaching me about a new alternative remedy. Bag Balm was certainly nothing I had read about in medical school or residency in my dermatology courses. It was and is probably still not on any hospital or pharmacy formulary.
When I moved from Chicago to practice in the mountains of Colorado, it turned out Bag Balm was no big deal as all the local ranchers and farmers were familiar with it. They used it for pretty much everything from saddle sores, sunburn, chapped lips, dry skin, cuts, and even diaper rash in addition to its traditional use on their livestock.
I recommend Bag Balm for those with stubbornly cracked and dried skin problems. It is inexpensive and available without prescription not only in feed stores but online and in the skin sections of most pharmacies.
So, if like my trooper patient, you suffer from severe dry skin problems, check with your doctor as a number of medical and systemic conditions can cause this. If all else fails, consider trying this old school cow remedy. If it is good for their teats, it might just help your feet.
Be sure to put some socks on after application, though, as you might slip, slide, or fall on a smooth surface. For more on this udderly marvelous skin remedy, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bag_Balm.
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.