Gentian Violet for Thrush

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
January 25, 2022

An overgrowth of candida yeast, the bacteria that causes thrush, is an extremely common, but nonetheless uncomfortable and unwelcome.

Anyone can experience an outbreak of thrush in their mouth or other parts of the body.

There are many treatment options for thrush, but a centuries-old treatment option has included the use of gentian violet.

However, before trying it, there are a few things you should know.

What is Gentian Violet?

Gentian violet is an antiseptic dye that has been used throughout history to treat fungal infections and may have some antibacterial properties.

Its first uses date back to the mid-1800s in France, but in recent years, gentian violet has reemerged as a medical treatment.

Despite what the name may indicate, gentian violet is not a natural remedy. 

It is completely synthetic and produced in a lab. 

What is Thrush?

Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of candida yeast, a naturally occurring fungus on the body.

It most commonly occurs in the throat and mouth, often presenting as white ulcers, or a thick white layer on the tongue.

Thrush most often affects those who are immunocompromised as well as babies, but it can also occur in otherwise healthy adults.

Usually, thrush is not a big deal and will heal on its own, but it sometimes requires treatment. 

Mothers and children can pass thrush back and forth, particularly when breastfeeding.

For breastfeeding women, thrush may present as red, itchy nipples or sensitive, shiny, or cracked skin on the nipple and areola.

They may also experience sharp, stabbing pain in their breasts while nursing or between feeding.

For babies, a candida overgrowth may present as white sores in the mouth or a thick white layer on the tongue, as well as redness in mouth and sometimes a diaper rash. 

Can Gentian Violet be Used To Treat Thrush?

Gentian violet has been used as a topical option to treat thrush for centuries, but the studies are still inconclusive.

Some suggest that it may have antifungal and antibacterial qualities and be an affordable, effective agent for conditions including thrush.

It is relatively cheap and available over the counter. 

However, more studies are needed to determine Gentian Violet’s safety and efficacy so it is not recommended to be used instead of standard treatment without discussion with your healthcare provider.

Babies

As a thrush treatment for babies, gentian violet can be used on the tongue and affected areas of the mouth. 

You should not let the baby swallow the solution.

There are some studies linking Gentian Violet to cancer, gum irritation, and toxicity in infants, so this should be used with caution and only after discussion with your pediatrician. 

Gentian Violet causes significant staining, so you will need to use caution with any surfaces or clothing.

Most cases of thrush in infants do not require any treatment, or can be safely treated with a prescription medication, nystatin, which has been proven to be safe and effective.  

Breastfeeding mothers

Breastfeeding mothers have found gentian violet an effective, rapid relief solution for thrush on the nipple area.

To use gentian violet for thrush on the breast, apply the product directly to the nipple or affected area.

It stains, so many suggest applying the product at night and wearing a loose shirt to bed.

Due to the concerns noted above, you should wash your nipples before breastfeeding your baby, unless directed otherwise by a pediatrician. 

Adults

Similar to breastfeeding mothers and babies, gentian violet can be applied to affected areas for adults with thrush using a cotton swab.

Remember not to swallow the solution and do not wear tight clothing over the area.

Gentian violet may be the most useful for those who are experiencing outbreaks of thrush that are resistant to antifungal medications, under the direction of a health care provider.

Do not apply on open ulcers or wounds. Always use as directed. 

Potential Side Effects

One of the most common side effects of gentian violet is the occurrence of ulcers to the skin, and studies show this is especially common in babies.

There is also a risk of irritation and allergic reaction. It may also have a poor cross reaction with other dyes.

It’s safety and most effective dose is still not fully studied. 

What the Research Says

The consensus on using gentian violet for thrush is still inconclusive.

There are some who say it can potentially “tattoo” skin and may even be toxic in some cases, and instead encourage the use of drug alternatives like clotrimazole, fluconazole, miconazole, or nystatin.

Ulcers are a main point of concern and possible side effects when using gentian violet. 

Other research suggests that perhaps gentian violet has a higher success rate for treatment than nystatin, for example.

But due the safety concerns and lack of high quality research, it is not a preferred treatment at this time.

It’s also important to note that gentian violet is on the Proposition 65 list, and it’s been said that exposure may increase risk of cancer

More research needs to be done to determine whether or not gentian violet really is a more suitable or desirable method for thrush treatment than other antifungal options. 

What Medical Professionals Say

Medical professionals do not fully agree on whether to suggest gentian violet for thrush. 

While some OBGYNs believe it to be the most effective solution for thrush on the nipple, others suggest it may easily cause irritation, may cause cancer, and it’s safety has not been thoroughly studied.

Since there are standard medications that are known to be safe and effective, your provider is more likely to recommend these. 

Its use has been severely curtailed by authorities in places like Australia, Canada, England, and France. In the United States, use of gentian violet has been banned in certain products, including dog foods.  

When to See a Doctor

It is important to use gentian violet as directed by your doctor.

If you experience anything that may indicate a possible allergic reaction, such as rash, hives, itching, redness, wheezing, or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat, seek medical care.

Reach out to a medical professional if you experience skin irritation or ulcers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you put gentian violet in your mouth?
Gentian violet can be used in the mouth for thrush, but not on open ulcers or wounds, and is not to be swallowed.
Why is gentian violet banned?
Some countries have banned gentian violet for potential toxicity, and even possible cancer risks. In the United States, it is banned for certain uses like dog food; in other places like Australia and Canada, its use is banned completely.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.