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Recently, I saw an ad extolling the virtues of the brand Udder Cream salve.

This particular line of products is trading on the reputation of a century-old salve called Bag Balm. The latter was developed in 1899 to soothe cows’ udders after milking.

The product is approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for animals, but it has been used by farmers for psoriasis, dry skin, cracked fingers, acne, diaper rash, sunburn, bed sores, saddle sores, pruned trees, shell casings, rifles and squeaky bed springs.

It contains 8-hydroxyquinoine sulfate 0.3 percent as an antiseptic/broad spectrum antibiotic in petroleum jelly and lanolin (from sheep) as a base.

The balm was formulated for cows’ udders, but farmers’ wives noticed the softness of their husbands’ hands and tried it for themselves. It originally had mercury in it as an antiseptic, but that has not been in the recipe for many years. It is made by the Lyndon Vermont Dairy Association Co., and comes in the classic green square 10-ounce tin with a cow’s head and red clovers on the top.

One major competitor for Bag Balm is Dr. Naylor’s Udder Balm, which has the same basic ingredients but adds more constituents. The other one is the “Udderly Smooth” product line, with Udder Cream as its poster child.

The ingredients listed in Udder Cream are: aqua (Latin for water) stearic acid, propylene glycol, isopropyl myristate, paraffinum liquidum (Latin for wax), allantoin (lanolin extract), triethanolamine, methylparabens, propyl parabens and parfum. It is the typical lotion-cream-soup-goop found on so many shelves in so many drug or cosmetic stores vying for your dollars.

A look in a farm store veterinary medicine shelf turned up not just Bag Balm but also Udder Balm, Dynamint Udder Cream, Udder Comfort, Milk House Udder Guard and Ken AG Udder Cream, all imitators of Bag Balm, but not as greasy.

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The primary difference between Bag Balm and all the “udder” ones is the antibiotic. When skin gets cracked on cows or hands, bacteria tend to overgrow there. The antibiotic helps to kill them and allow healing. The only possible negative for Bag Balm is a rare contact allergy to the lanolin, also called wool wax alcohol.

Bag Balm was taken to the North Pole by Adm. William Byrd and used during World War II by troops to protect weapons from rust. In more modern times, it was applied to the paws of cadaver sniffing dogs at ground zero after 9/11, and employed by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The main point of this column is to point out that Bag Balm and Udder Cream products are “udderly” different. Water is the first ingredient in Udder Cream, and there is no antiseptic in it, so it is basically another moisturizer.

Bag Balm may not be good for whatever ails you, but it might be worth it to try a variety of minor topical ointments as a home remedy.

Could it perhaps be applied to the singed lips of politicians who are flapping their mouths at cosmic speeds and spewing forth promises that would not necessarily be fulfilled in heaven?

Also, do the chocolate treats called “Cow Pies” made in Wisconsin

have the same beneficial results if applied instead of eaten?

Dr. Frank Bures is a Winona dermatologist.

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