Using gentian violet vaginally for vulvovaginal infections

NOTE: This article is for informational purposes only. Gentian violet is not recommended for vaginal use. Please read the health warnings. 

Gentian violet is a solid antifungal and antimicrobial, while also having biofilm-busting qualities. Gentian violet (also known as crystal violet or methyl violet) has been used historically to treat bacterial and yeast infections.

Gentian violet causes ulcers to develop in some people, and prolonged contact with the skin should be avoided.

What is gentian violet?

Gentian violet is a coal-tar derivative dye. It shouldn’t be considered a natural remedy and is not considered safe, despite a long history of use in humans. Adverse effects include ulcerations. Gentian violet is a carcinogen.

Gentian violet is a very old-school type of treatment that lost favour when antibiotics came along. This treatment is very effective at killing fungus and gram-positive bacteria and has some action against gram-negative bacteria.

Gentian violet is used in Gram staining – the method developed by Hans Gram for identifying bacteria.

Where to find gentian violet

Many countries have banned gentian violet liquid and it is unavailable for sale. The United States has not banned gentian violet and it remains available for sale over the counter and online. You can buy gentian violet internationally from the US.

The typical solution is 10 per cent alcohol, 1-2 per cent gentian violet mixture. This is NOT a herbal medicine, despite the name. Gentian violet is also the name of a flowering plant that produces essential oils, which is a natural, safe herbal medicine.

If you are still using gentian violet vaginally, here are some safety precautions. Remember, if you are using gentian violet vaginally, you do so at your own risk. Inform yourself of the risks, discuss the use with your doctor, and read the warnings thoroughly. Informed consent is key!

Read the warnings

How to use gentian violet vaginally

  • Surface area is everything! Don’t just do a squirt up your vagina and hope for the best – aim for the maximum surface area of your vaginal walls, cervix, everything, when using tampons. Remember doctors used to paint this onto the vaginal walls, getting the surface area you are having to guess at with tampon insertion. A thin layer is all you need.
  • Use only 1 per cent concentration or less – may irritate – 0.5 per cent is ok to use, so dilute as necessary.
  • Gentian violet stains everything purple including your skin! Use gloves and old underwear and panty liners and dark towels in the bathroom.
  • A tampon may be the easiest and least messy way to use, but you only want to dunk it in and then take it out once it’s coated the vaginal walls.
  • Squat over the toilet or dark towels for insertion.
  • Consider putting Vaseline on labia to avoid skin staining and irritation.
  • Avoid sex – oral, vaginal, whatever – as it will stain your partner’s mouth, hands, penis/vulva.
  • Avoid using when you have cuts on your vulva – you could end up with a permanent tattoo!
  • If you experience irritation, stop using gentian violet immediately, as your risk of developing ulcers is high.

Ingredients you need for using gentian violet vaginally

  • Disposable gloves
  • 1 per cent gentian violet mix
  • Water
  • A plastic container to mix the gentian violet and soak your tampon
  • Tampons with plastic applicators
  • A plastic spoon
  • Dark towels
  • Vaseline (optional)
  • Pads/panty liners
  • Old underwear you are happy to throw away

Instructions for using gentian violet vaginally

  1. Wash your hands
  2. Apply Vaseline to your outer labial area (optional)
  3. Put a pad into your underwear, ready
  4. Put on the gloves
  5. Add one tablespoon of gentian violet 1 per cent to the plastic container
  6. To dilute (if desired) add one tablespoon of water, to dilute by half
  7. Dilute further as you wish
  8. After unwrapping, put the tip of the tampon into the gentian violet mixture
  9. Let the tampon soak up to three-quarters of the way up the length
  10. Insert the tampon as you normally would
  11. Remove tampon after 3-4 hours
  12. If you have irritation, remove immediately – abandon the exercise or dilute your mixture more
  13. Figure out what your treatment strategy will be – how many days, how many times per day, etc.

How to tweak your treatment if your vagina gets irritated

If you are following a treatment schedule and you feel like your vagina is getting irritated, stop immediately and choose another treatment. Some people get irritated, and many do not – you won’t know until it starts to happen if it’s going to happen to you.

If your vagina is very raw and sore to start with, do not use gentian violet.

It’s important not to irritate your vagina unnecessarily – the treatment is not supposed to hurt! Best case scenario is it helps from the first treatment onwards. Feel free to take a break from the treatment and see what’s going on if you need to. If it’s working, you’ll know.

Gentian violet safety

Gentian violet has been used in gynaecology, breastfeeding mothers, and in surgery since about 1880. It went out of vogue when antibiotics appeared, but has a lot of useful applications due to allergies to penicillin or as a non-drug treatment for bacterial or yeast infections.

One of the most popular uses is on the nipples of breastfeeding mothers, where it is accessed by a nursing baby.

Over time, the baby’s mouth may become ulcerated and long-term use may be associated with mouth cancer.

Don’t overuse gentian violet – use as sparingly as you can. Make sure to try to treat the underlying cause of your health issue so you don’t have to keep managing symptoms with gentian violet.

There are no known cases of gentian violet toxicity with external use, however, it may cause gastrointestinal tract irritation if taken orally (which you will not be doing!). It can decrease white blood cell counts when used intravenously.

Gentian violet has been banned in multiple countries due to its carcinogenicity, however, most studies were done in mice and rats, feeding them gentian violet.

Gentian violet stain removal

Gentian violet stains everything, but you can remove it from the skin by rubbing alcohol or bleach on it. We do NOT recommend rubbing alcohol or bleach on your labia! Protection using Vaseline or another barrier ointment may prevent staining, but don’t apply this to the area you want to treat – only places you are not treating that may get stained incidentally.

Can gentian violet cure bacterial vaginosis and other vaginal infections?

This will depend on your specific vaginal microbiome. We recommend recolonising with a women’s probiotic like Jarro-Dophilus Women 10bn CFU.

     Research into gentian violet

  1. Kondo, Shigemi; Tabe, Yoko; Yamada, Toshihiko;Misawa, Shigeki; Oguri, Toyoko; et al. Comparison of Antifungal Activities of Gentian Violet and Povidone-Iodine Against Clinical Isolates of Candida Species and Other Yeasts: A Framework to Establish Topical Disinfectant Activities,  Mycopathologia; Dordrecht Vol. 173, Iss. 1, (Jan 2012): 21-5.
  2. Maley AM, Arbiser JL. Gentian Violet: A 19th Century Drug Re-Emerges in the 21st Century. Experimental dermatology. 2013;22(12):775-780. doi:10.1111/exd.12257.
  3. PubChem entry on gentian violet
Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
Read more about Jessica and My Vagina's origin story.
Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

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