It is important to realize that every agent that has an effect also has other (side) effects. Even water, one of the most benign natural compounds, will kill you if you get too much in your bloodstream or your lungs. Oxygen, which is necessary to animal life, including us, is very nasty if it is concentrated. Salt is another necessity with a few tricks up its sleeve. Anything that can help can also hurt.

Chemical antimicrobials
“Chemical” preparations are more likely to contain what the label says, but that is no guarantee of safety, either. We use chemical surfactants every time we use soap, and these may contain antibacterial ingredients. For many years these were considered to be safe and effective, but time has proved that to be untrue, and they are being removed from everyday use. Microbial resistance is a major problem, especially since the most dangerous pathogens are the most likely to survive, while the more benign bacteria – many of which actually suppress the more dangerous bacteria – are killed. Allergies are another issue. These antibacterial agents are useful, since they are used in surgical and dental settings but where daily exposure occurs, allergies develop, and the agents can no longer be used.

Chlorhexidine is one of these. The usual strength is between 2% and 4%, and it is fairly effective against many bacteria on intact skin. However, it is extremely irritating in the higher concentrations – to the point where it can cause deafness if introduced to an ear, for example, and it is considered a severe eye irritant. However, in the UK a 4% concentration was found to be no more effective than soap and water. The European Standard EN 1499 discontinued its use. In 2017 in the US, the FDA released a special alert about allergic reactions. Chlorhexidine is so irritating to the respiratory tract that even small exposures can cause respiratory distress. There is no question that chlorhexidine is a useful compound, but where, when, and how often should it be used?

O-phenylphenol, (o-benzoyl-p-chlorophenol) is another big mouthful. This particular chemical is known in the trade as Microban, and it is definitely useful for cleaning around overflowed toilets. Another name is Triclosan, which is now being removed from consumer products as being unsafe. These are surface cleaners, and generally are not used in even skin care, let alone wound care. This is not only an issue of toxicity; they just aren’t active enough to stop microbes unless the solution is too strong to be safe. Sure, use them to clean up spills, but maybe not on your horse.

We get so used to seeing long chemical names, we tend to assume if there was a shorter, more familiar name, they would use that. Take 5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)phenol. If they just said Triclosan, once common in antimicrobial soaps, it would be so much easier. The FDA has decided that soaps and other antiseptic wash products made with triclosan can no longer be marketed in the U.S. That rule goes into effect in September 2017, so you may still see some products with triclosan. It has been suspected to cause certain health problems, but for the most part, it could not be proven to be any better than just plain soap and water.

Iodine (as in tincture of iodine, betadine, etc.) has been losing activity for years now. Betadine has been shown to actually harbor microbes and caused many post-surgical infections before it was banned in the surgery. Methyl violet is listed as a mutagen and mitotic poison (really bad things to get on you). Copper-containing chemicals such as copper napthenate and copper sulfate are old-time remedies (they used to use lead- and mercury-based chemicals, also!) which range from harsh to very harsh on skin. These are also permanent additions to your environment.

Agricultural chemicals used in various remedies
While we are discussing chemicals, it is useful to mention some other chemical names. N-trichloromethylthio, 4-cyclohexidine-1, 2 dicarbamoxide is certainly a mouthful. Captan is much easier to say. And Captan is an agricultural fungicide that certainly has many uses. It is also listed as a probable human carcinogen, so you might want to minimize your exposure to that, too.

Having an extra hydrogen ion here and there, Hydronium should be acidic, but as you buy it, it is so dilute as to be only vanishingly so. Even though all water contains a small amount, when pure, this is a notoriously dangerous and unstable material. “Stabilized hydronium” is listed as the active ingredient in one prominent remedy, and the pH is close to neutral. Happily, dilute hydronium is as safe as the ionized water that it is mixed with; one wonders if simply washing the area with plain water wouldn’t work as well. In fact, it looks a lot like “just plain water” to us.

Bleach and other redox agents
This one’s a little harder to explain. These chemicals either give off or soak up electrons – aggressively. Skipping the chemistry, suffice to say they are very damaging to proteins such as skin and meat. More so than acids. Chemists who routinely handle strong acids will step carefully around redox agents.

Ordinary bleach is the most common. Bleach is made from sodium hypochlorite (a source of chlorine) and water. It will damage living tissues, particularly if left on for any period of time. It is never used in medicine. The main problem here is that “tissue damage” in this case means chemical burn, which is hard for the body to deal with, and which also may provide new food for re-invading microbes. So, it seems to work for a while, but then problems return and how.

Dakin’s Solution is basically a dilute solution of household bleach which is used in medicine as a last resort when cleaning major wounds and such. This has been a go-to mixture for wound care since WW2. Full strength Dakins Solution is 0.5% (12 times weaker than bleach), and this seems to be generally effective (although some common pathogenic fungi have developed considerable resistance to this concentration, and even much higher concentrations), without being too irritating to the wound bed. However, even slightly higher concentrations are quite damaging to tissues, and 0.45% concentration is not sufficiently active. Chlorine evaporates easily from a solution, leaving salt water, so fresh mixtures should be used at each treatment. So it’s tricky, and hard to get right. With Dakin’s Solution, some wounds heal, some don’t, and some get worse.

Chlorine dioxide is another redox agent, usually sold at ridiculous prices. “Chlorine dioxide is fraudulently marketed as a magic cure for a range of diseases from brain cancer to AIDS. Chlorine dioxide is relabeled to a variety of brand names including but not limited to MMS, Miracle Mineral Solution and CD protocol. There is no scientific basis for chlorine dioxide’s medical properties and FDA has warned against its usage.”

Hydrogen peroxide from the pharmacy is good for a first-time cleansing, but again, not for long-term care. And, it has no ability of its own to penetrate into small cavities such as are found in the horse’s foot.

Home remedies
Honey has received recent attention as a wound dressing, and several wound care preparations use it. Not a whole lot of research has been done yet, but it looks promising. However certain specifics apply. The honey you buy in the grocery store is mostly sugar syrup, fed to bees, and the resulting “honey” is sold to consumers. This has no particular special properties beyond the sugar it is based on. Powdered sugar was used on wounds at one time, because it draws fluid to itself, and this osmolar pressure inhibits bacteria. Honey does the same, and real honey also has peroxide, which inhibits bacteria. Certain specific honeys, such as manuka honey (manuka is the Latin name for tea tree) contain methylgloxol in varying amounts (from a trace to a substantial amount) which strongly inhibit microbes.

The caveat here is that honey in the raw state also contains dangerous bacterial spores. Honey is not fed to infants due to the risk of clostridium infections, which can easily occur in wounds. Heat sterilization works for food products, but heat destroys the antibacterial properties, so gamma radiation must be used for any wound care preparation. Once this is done, a concentration of roughly 20% seems to be quite useful in wound care. It is unlikely that inexpensive wound care products contain irradiated manuka honey in this concentration. However, if they do, provided they are used as frequently as every four hours (to prevent dilution from wound drainage) they might be useful. Studies on animal wounds, specifically horses, have not been done, so much of this is speculation.

Vinegar is another ingredient in popular wound care products. Although it has been used for hundreds of years, vinegar isn’t necessarily either safe or effective. While raw cider vinegar may contain ingredients which inhibit germs, vinegar is basically acetic acid. Acidity from any source will inhibit certain bacteria (although it may encourage others). The real issue here is that in any useful concentration, it causes severe pain, and it increases scarring. The best you can say about it is that if it is diluted enough it isn’t likely to be harmful.

Natural substances and essential oils
“Natural” does not always mean safe or effective. Some essential oils and tree wood oils are actually quite toxic or cause strong and/or long lasting reactions when applied to the skin. When mixed together, the results can be unpredictable, ranging from ineffectiveness to higher toxicity than any one ingredient by itself. And then there is the problem of purity. Analysis of various “herbs” and oils from different suppliers shows that these are not always exactly what they claim to be. Even those that are can have very different concentrations of main ingredients and sometimes even contaminants. Part of this is just because they are natural.

Essential oils are comprised of many individual chemicals. The amounts of each chemical do vary a lot, even by the time of year the plant is harvested. Contaminants come from agricultural pesticides and the like which are used to improve harvest, present in the soil, etc. Sometimes, unscrupulous suppliers will even go so far as to add in cheap ingredients to emulate or increase the amount of a more expensive product.

But the main drawback of most “natural” remedies is they are just not very effective.

Antibiotics are often present in topical formulas. Erythromycin is a fairly common one. These can be effective, or not, depending on what is causing the skin problem. Terramycin, erythromycin and a few others are old drugs, very inexpensive, and if there are susceptible bacteria they can be very effective. However, using them might cause some serious problems. First, they will – not can, they WILL – begin the process of selecting antibiotic resistance in the bacteria on the skin, both yours and your horse’s. There is a small chance that allergies will develop. This is more likely to be you than your horse. But here’s the big one. They have no effect whatever on fungi. In fact, one extremely common side effect of treatment with these is a fungal infection. Why? Because the harmless bacteria in the area often keep the fungi under control. Essentially, you have to treat for both. And antibiotics are usually specific to one or the other.

Terramycin has another drawback, although unless you are drinking it this probably won’t matter. When it ages it becomes quite toxic. This is one reason it isn’t often used for humans.

Another issue is many of the older antibiotics are becoming ineffective. Many of these are still sold in various products, even though the FDA has or is considering delisting them. Most hoof products containing antibiotics use one of these, mostly, we think, because they are cheap.

Sometimes doing nothing is doing the right thing
It is important to realize that simply cleaning a wound and exposing it to air can and does help it heal. Often enough, by the time we actually treat a wound it is in the process of healing by itself. Keep this in mind when you read reviews of different products. If, for example, someone has been treating a wound with a damaging mixture such as full strength peroxide or strong bleach mixtures, using a product that simply cleans without damaging the wound surface can seem miraculously effective.

Having said that, some wounds do require medical treatment to heal well.

Sweet itch and similar infections can leave massive scarring from wounds the horse inflicts on itself, due to itching. Deaths have occurred from self-inflicted wounds such as repeated scratching. Sepsis (the infection getting into the blood) is always a risk when a wound becomes infected. In the case of sepsis it is extremely important to give parenteral antibiotics (shots, pills, etc.) as quickly as possible to avoid major complications. Topical agents can be used, and often should be used, but only with caution.

Any time you apply a topical antimicrobial you change the microbes in that area. This is obvious. What is less obvious is the careful balance that exists within the microflora. Eliminating one microbe can allow (or actively encourage) another to grow. This can be either a result of the eliminated microbe no longer suppressing another, or that the conditions that suppress one type encourage another. This is actually the cause of sweet itch. The bacterium that causes most dermatitis in horses (Dermatophilus congolensis) can exist for years without causing problems. However, when an insect introduces an allergen and a fungus through feeding, a wound is created and the bacteria can get in. This tiny puncture wound closes quickly, protecting the bacteria underneath. The infection spreads under the skin until itching causes the horse to rub or chew, a wound forms, spreads, and goes deeper.

Topical agents can be applied, and some are effective against most (although not all) of the microbes in the wound. Horse’s skin is thick, and durable. If the infection is underneath the outer layer of skin, all you are doing is adding moisture. Washing any wound can help it heal, especially if soap is used, and the area is gently dried. If nothing else, it removes dead tissue and drainage that would encourage bacterial growth, and increases blood flow. If a medication can’t reach the infection, it does nothing more, and may do less, than simply washing the area. Bottom line: Once the germ gets under the skin, what you use had better either be able to penetrate to it, or you will need to use something that will work from the other side (a pill or a shot).

What about you, the person putting this stuff on your critter?
The risk to the person applying many of these things over and over again can be more serious. Horses do not live as long as humans, and so do not experience the same buildup of exposures. And if a human becomes allergic to a commonly used disinfectant, it can have profound impact his or her life.


This is why it took so long to perfect Equinell. Killing bacteria and fungi isn’t all that hard, but doing it without damaging the tissue under the infection or causing other problems such as allergies becomes very difficult indeed. Combinations of natural ingredients leading to safe and effective germ killers cannot be predicted, and are few and far between.

Equinell products are made from the tested and patented Tonel® base. This was first developed for human use. It kills many types of molds, fungi, yeasts and bacteria. It is made from a special type of oregano oil, combined with natural menthol. Every batch of this special oregano oil (“Origanum”) must be selected on the basis of its chemical analysis. Every batch carries certificates of natural origin, grade, and purity (analysis, including freedom from pesticides and heavy metals). The menthol can only be derived from natural sources (levo- or l- menthol).

The safety of this combination has been proven over and over again in tests conducted by registered independent laboratories as required by law for human-use products (Safety Review of Ingredients Study, LLNA, Draise Test, Primary Dermal Corrosion, HRIPT, Human Safety and Effectiveness Test). OnikoLabs LLC, the parent company of Equinell, paid to have these tests run.) Having said all that, would you want to drink it? Nooo. Pure Origanum is labeled as a toxic material for a good reason, not just the new shipping label requirements: get enough of it in you and it will hurt you. On the other hand, menthol, unless smoked or inhaled in large amounts, is not considered very harmful, even in higher concentrations.

For the Tonel® base, we know from the research conducted on the main ingredient (carvacrol) by others, the toxicity (LD/50) of 90% Tonel® base is no higher than 810 mg/kg if ingested (eaten or drunk). Well, if you weigh 150 lbs, better not drink more than half a bottle (2.5 oz. to be exact) of Equinell Oil! Better still, be very careful not to let children and/or pets get ahold of it. It’s nothing to mess around with. But as a poison, it’s not even half good.

Lastly, Equinell products are safe in the environment. They break down in the presence of air. Mostly, they just evaporate.

Information sources

FDA Warns Consumers of Serious Harm from Drinking Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS)”. 3 February 2011. Archived from the original on 3 February 2011. Retrieved 5 April 2018.

The Bioactivity and Toxicological Actions of Carvacrol. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition May 2013. DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2011.653458 · Source: PubMed

Wound Care in Crisis – The Death of Dr. Dakin’s Magical Panacea. Wound Source. Michael Miller, March 27th, 2012

ECHA (European Chemicals Agency): L-menthol Registration Dossier.

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