There is evidence that gentian violet is a good yeast and bacteria killer, while also having biofilm-busting qualities, and thus can be used vaginally to treat a vaginal yeast infection and other infections. There aren’t any studies specifically to back this up, but it appears to be safe and generally effective when used properly.

NOTE: If you experience irritation with gentian violet, it’s best to stop using it immediately, as prolonged contact with irritated vaginal cells can result in ulcerations. A thin layer is all you need.

What is gentian violet?

Gentian violet is a coal-tar derivative, and the instructions for this extraction are to be found in industrial chemistry textbooks. It shouldn’t necessarily be considered ‘natural’, as it may come from coal, which is natural, the extraction method isn’t exactly natural.

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 having 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

You can ask at your local pharmacy (it might be behind the counter), supermarkets in some countries, or buy online.

Each country will differ in availability, so ask someone who can look up the system. Don’t just ask anyone at a store, because most people don’t know what this is and will automatically just say no.

You want the 10 per cent alcohol, 1-2 per cent gentian violet mixture. This is NOT a herbal medicine, despite the name, so do not buy gentian violet essential oils (that is the flower by the same name).

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 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.
  • Best method of insertion is with a soaked tampon for 3-4 hours per day for up to 12 days, possibly twice per day morning for 3-4 hours, then overnight.
  • Squat over toilet or dark towels for insertion.
  • Consider putting Vaseline on labia to avoid skin staining.
  • 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 or reduce your dose.

Ingredients you need for using gentian violet vaginally

  • Disposable gloves
  • 1 per cent gentian violet mix
  • 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, don’t stop, but slow down.

Take a break for a day or two if you need to, then keep on going at a reduced dosing regime. You have options and should tweak this to suit your body. You can do every second or third day, do just one treatment per day, and/or dilute the solution by half to a 0.5% mixture.

If your vagina is very raw and sore to start with, start off easy using these guidelines.

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. Don’t stop prematurely though. It’s hard to tell, so just do the treatment schedule and then see.

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, while effectively eradicating the problem. 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 stain removal

Gentian violet stains everything, but you can remove it from skin by rubbing bleach on it. We do NOT recommend rubbing bleach on your labia! Protection using Vaseline or another barrier ointment may work, 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, but it’s worth a try. Do gentian tampons twice a day for 12 days, taking Jarro-Dophilus Women 10bn CFU orally for the full duration, twice daily with food.

     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.