This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics Inorganic Substances", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia medica and therapeutics.
In these and allied forms of congestive and inflammatory skin disease, bismuth compounds are often extremely useful, by virtue of their absorbent, astringent, and soothing properties. In erythema and erysipelas, intertrigo, and bedsore they may be applied in powder, alone, or diluted with starch or magnesia, or made into a cream with water and glycerin, or into an ointment in the proportion of 30 to 120 gr. in the ounce of prepared lard, cold cream, or vaseline. (Dr. McCall Anderson, in praising this ointment, notes that it should not be made with benzoated lard, or else, for some unexplained reason, it becomes liable to irritate.) An oleate of bismuth is also a good preparation: according to Dr. Louis Lewis, oleic acid may be made to take up 20 per cent. of oxide (Pharmaceutical Journal, December, 1876).
In the acute stages of eczema, when there is much irritability and much serous discharge, these preparations are also very serviceable; they seem to be sufficiently astringent, yet not so much so as lead, zinc, or tannin, and will often act better than those remedies. In later stages, when there is infiltration with redness and scaliness, a stronger solution of the soluble nitrate in glycerin becomes suitable.
In the erythema connected with acne of the face, bismuth forms a good ingredient in soothing lotions: a small quantity of corrosive sublimate (2 gr. to 8 or 10 oz. of liquid) is often combined with great advantage, when sulphur and other stimulants could not be borne.
As a cosmetic under the name of "blanc de perle," bismuth salts have long been celebrated: they are liable to become darkened by contact with sulphur in any form (e.g., the sulphuretted hydrogen of ordinary gas, etc.), some proportion of the black sulphide being generated.
For chaps, and fissures about the hands, lips, nipples, etc., bismuth ointment is very good, and especially with a little tincture of benzoin (20 to 30 min. to 1 oz.). Trousseau specially commends it for anal fissure (Bulletin de Therapeutique, v., p. G3), and others for ulceration of the septum nasi, and excoriations of the cervix uteri. Follin used a glyce-role, containing 1 or 2 parts in 3 of the liquid, for chronic granular conjunctivitis.