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Beetle Juice for Molluscum: What you need to know

Dr Ryan Goerig

It is true that beetle juice has been used for the treatment of molluscum for many decades. Beetle juice, also known chemically as cantharidin, has some pros and cons that you should be aware of. In this blog post, I will discuss everything you would want to know about the treatment of molluscum contagiosum with beetle juice, including how and why it is used.

What is Beetle Juice for Molluscum?

Cantharidin is a topical blistering agent (vesicant) that is commonly used for the treatment of molluscum. It is colloquially called “beetle juice” because it is derived from the blister beetle Cantharis vesicatoria.

The mechanism of action of cantharidin is that it is a keratolytic agent (dissolves keratin on the skin) and thought to cause molluscum exfoliation via its acantholytic (cell dissolving) actions.

How Beetle Juice Treatment for Molluscum Works?

Typically, cantharidin also known as beetle juice is applied to clean skin using an applicator stick or cotton swab and usually covered for a few hours. The product is typically washed off the skin 12-24 hours later. Within 24 hours, a blister forms (which can be painful and swelling can occur), and healing is typically evident within 7 days. The formation of a blister tends to “lift” the molluscum bump up and eventually it is possible for the bump to slough off on its own.

Treatments are usually repeated every two to four weeks until all lesions have resolved. It can take more than four treatments to achieve success with cantharidin and cantharidin itself does not stop the spread of the molluscum infection. In general, treatment with cantharidin should be avoided on the face, genital and diaper/groin areas.

Treatment should be performed by a medical professional only and patients are not given cantharidin to be applied at home. The expected response is the development of a small blister at the treatment site, hopefully followed by disappearance of the molluscum bump and healing with or without scarring.

Are There Any Cons or Disadvantages to beetle juice?

The cons and disadvantages to cantharidin are numerous and include:

  • Burning, pain, redness, and itching

  • Sometimes, severe blistering can occur.

  • Post-inflammatory dyspigmentation (darkening or lightening) of the skin may occur, but typically (but not always) resolves over several months.

  • While somewhat uncommon, scarring can occur.

  • The possibility of skin discoloration and scarring is difficult to predict in many cases (ie: we don’t know who will get scarring and who won’t before the treatment is done).

  • Rare reports of swelling of the lymph vessels and extensive skin infection.

  • Importantly, cantharidin does not prevent the spread of the molluscum infection to other body areas or to other people.

As an expert dermatologist who has treated thousands of cases of molluscum contagiosum, I have had infrequent success with the use of cantharidin in my practice.

In my experience, cantharidin will clear 20-30% of molluscum bumps after a few treatments. The problem with this is that if only 30% of the bumps go away, the other 70% are still there and can lead to the virus spreading to other parts of the body.

Does Beetle Juice Treatment for Molluscum hurt?

The application of the cantharidin is not painful. After the area forms a blister, typically within a week, pain and swelling can occur. This pain and swelling is similar to a blister that a person gets on their foot from the friction from wearing shoes without socks.

How Long does it take for Beetle Juice to Work on Molluscum?

It can take up to 4 months for beetle juice to work on molluscum bumps. According to a recent study, most molluscum bumps do not clear after multiple treatments of beetle juice.

Does Beetle Juice Treatment for Warts hurt?

The application of the cantharidin to warts is not painful. However, after the blister forms a few days later, the blister itself can be quite painful.


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