Cantharidin revisited: a blistering defense of an ancient medicine

Arch Dermatol. 2001 Oct;137(10):1357-60. doi: 10.1001/archderm.137.10.1357.


Cantharidin, a vesicant produced by beetles in the order Coleoptera, has a long history in both folk and traditional medicine. In dermatology, topical cantharidin has long been used to treat warts and molluscum. In 1962, cantharidin lost Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval owing to the failure of its manufacturers to submit data attesting to cantharidin's efficacy. However, it is expected that the FDA will soon include cantharidin on its "Bulk Substances List," which would permit physicians or pharmacists to compound cantharidin to be used in the office for individual patients. A comprehensive discussion of the origins, folk uses, current FDA status, current dermatologic uses, and effects of cantharidin poisoning has been compiled herein. No cases of systemic intoxication or scarring have been reported with the proper use of cantharidin by a physician. Cantharidin is a safe and valuable medication and should be readded to the dermatologic therapeutic armamentarium.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cantharidin / poisoning
  • Cantharidin / therapeutic use*
  • Coleoptera
  • Dermatology
  • Drug Approval
  • Humans
  • Irritants / poisoning
  • Irritants / therapeutic use*
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Irritants
  • Cantharidin