Photo shows of a plastic bottle of Povidone Iodine

The Power of Povidone-Iodine (For Skin Infections)

By Dr. Willie Ong (Internist and Cardiologist)

This is really true, and I can personally vouch for its power to heal. If you have a skin infection, you know it’s sometimes difficult to cure. Recently, I discovered a simple treatment with the use of the antiseptic called povidone-iodine.

What diseases may be treated with Povidone-iodine?

Because povidone-iodine is an antiseptic (kills bacteria and other microbes), this means it can treat various skin diseases like:

  1. Boil (pigsa) – This is a reddish warm nodule beneath the skin and this signifies that there’s an infection and pus inside.
  2. Dermatitis – This refers to any redness of the skin, usually due to an allergy from soap, rubber slippers or gloves. If you scratch the area, it could get infected.
  3. Eczema – If a skin wound starts to ooze liquid or pus, doctors call it an eczema. This can be very itchy and unpleasant to look at.
  4. Athlete’s foot – This is a smelly fungal infection of the skin between the toes. It’s due to sweating of the feet and long hours of wearing closed shoes. Athletes, security guards and soldiers are prone to develop athlete’s foot.
  5. Any pimple on the face or skin.
  6. A skin bite, like from an insect, ant or bed bug.
  7. Various skin wounds, cuts and inflammation.

How do you use Povidone-iodine?

For the above infections, you can try the following technique:

  1. Soak a cotton bud or cotton ball with povidone-iodine.
  2. Dab the infected skin area with povidone-iodine, twice or thrice a day. The longer you soak the area with povidone-iodine, the faster it will cure the infection.
  3. For best results, press the cotton firmly on the infected area. Our goal is to have the povidone solution seep inside the infected skin. This will sting a bit, however, the pain means that the solution is already killing the bacteria.
  4. For serious infections, continue soaking with povidone-iodine for seven to ten days or until the infection completely clears up.

Special case: Treating a finger infection

 An infection at the side of a fingernail (called paronychia) can be difficult to cure. This can be due to various causes, such as cutting the fingernails too short, pulling the skin hanging beside your nail, having an ingrown toenail, or an overly done pedicure or manicure.

The skin infection starts with a tiny break in the skin, where bacteria will enter and multiply there. Slowly, the area will become inflamed and painful. Doctors usually prescribe oral antibiotics but in my experience this may not cure it.

What do you do? Fortunately, two experienced surgeons, Dr. Ramon Estrada and Dr. Ric Naval, have shared their secret with me.

Try the Povidone-iodine soak

According to Dr. Estrada, soaking the fingernail or skin infection with povidone-iodine is the most effective treatment available. All you need is a bottle of povidone-iodine, cotton balls and band-aids. Here are the steps:

  • Soak a tiny piece of cotton with povidone-iodine.
  • Next, wedge this cotton ball between the area of the inflamed skin and the nail. You may use a tweezer or forceps to do this.
  • Get a band-aid and loosely encircle the affected finger to hold the soaked cotton ball in place. Our goal is to have the soaked cotton ball continuously seep povidone-iodine into the inflamed skin. The more the povidone-iodine seeps inside the skin, the faster it will kill the bacteria and reduce the swelling.
  • After a few hours, you’ll notice that the cotton inside the band-aid has dried up. You can get a medicine dropper and dab the cotton inside with more povidone-iodine.
  • Change the band-aid dressing daily. Be careful in doing so because band-aids can be very sticky to the skin. You can use alcohol to help you loosen it.
  • Continue soaking the swollen skin with povidone-iodine for seven to ten days until the skin has completely returned to normal. You’ll know it’s healed because there’s no more pain when you press on it.
  • One unwanted side effect with povidone-iodine is that your skin will stain brownish if you use it too long. But don’t worry, once the treatment is finished, your skin will slowly return back to its normal color.
  • For these stubborn infections, you can also take an oral antibiotic like Cloxacillin 500 mg four times a day for seven days. These two treatment regimens, oral antibiotic plus povidone-iodine soak, work together in killing the bacteria from the inside and the outside, respectively.

Other treatments for a finger infection

  1. Taking an oral antibiotic alone – This is less effective since the oral antibiotic might not reach the bacteria in the outer part of the skin.
  2. Using antibiotic cream. According to some doctors, this is actually less effective than just soaking the area with povidone-iodine.
  3. Using 70% rubbing alcohol. If the infection isn’t serious, like a small pimple, then alcohol can be used instead of povidone-iodine. Soak a cotton ball in alcohol and thoroughly dab the area of the pimple. However, povidone-iodine is more potent, and it stings a lot less.

Finally, it’s best to consult your surgeon or dermatologist about your skin problem. However, I have to admit that some doctors (like me) are not aware of this wonderful povidone-iodine technique. Thank you again to Dr. Ramon Estrada and Dr. Ric Naval for sharing this superb treatment.

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