Go Ad-Free
logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Why Did Purple Toenails Outrage This Reader?

Gentian violet is an old-fashioned topical treatment for a variety of fungal infections. There is a drawback: it leads to purple toenails. It can also turn penises purple as you will soon read.

We have a motto at The People’s Pharmacy: The customer or the reader is always right. We do our best to be understanding and supportive, but sometimes our patience is pushed to the limit. Such was the case when a reader complained that her toenails were turned purple by gentian violet. Really? This came as a surprise? Here is a link to the original column:

Why Is This Reader Shocked by Purple Toenails?

Q. You recommended gentian violet for toenail fungus, and I tried it. Now my toenails are purple, and I can’t get it off. What can I do?

A. When we wrote about this old-fashioned topical antifungal treatment, we warned that it stains the skin and nails purple. The color will gradually dissipate, but it will take time for your toes to return to normal. There is no way to wash gentian violet off.

A Short History of Gentian Violet:

This bright blue synthetic dye was created in 1861. During the early 20th century, doctors prescribed gentian violet for oral yeast infections (thrush) as well as impetigo and pinworm. It has broad antimicrobial activity and is occasionally used to treat some antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Gentian Violet and the Purple Penis Problem:

Before modern antifungal creams, some doctors prescribed gentian violet for vaginal yeast infections. The resulting purple color could be quite impressive, as this reader attests:

“I have worked in women’s health for 40 years. Back in the early 1970s the older doctors often painted women’s vaginas with gentian violet to treat persistent yeast infections. They always told the women to warn their husbands about the possibility of purple penises.”

Learn to Love Your Purple Toenails:

A nurse, Rose Hoban, RN, MPH, shared this story about coming to grips with purple toenails:

“When I was working for Doctors Without Borders in Indonesia, we used it for EVERYTHING from drying up skin infections to treating athletes foot.

“One friend used to elicit howls of laughter from people around him when he’d pull off his shoes and they’d see his purple toes. But it worked to kill his foot fungus!”

People’s Pharmacy Perspective on Purple Toenails:

Number One:

Gentian violet will stain you toes, toenails and any other tissue it comes in contact with PURPLE! If you are not prepared to live with purple toes for a a few months, DO NOT DO THIS! Of course you could always paint your purple toes with toenail polish, purple or some other dark color.

Number Two:

If purple toenails do not appeal and you are not into toenail polish, perhaps one of our other nail fungus remedies would be more acceptable. You can read all about them in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies book or our Guide to Hair and Nail Care.

Share your own gentian violet story below in the comment section. If you have had success with another less colorful nail fungus treatment please share your success story.

Rate this article
4.5- 24 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.