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April 2016

The Purple Dye That Heals

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, Miami, Florida
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(4):495. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.4239

Buckets of purple dye rain down on Canadian engineering students every year to honor the mid-19th to mid-20th century Engineering Corps of the British Navy, who were distinguished by their purple armbands.1 This triphenylmethane dye, gentian violet (GV), also known as crystal violet, methyl violet, pyocyanin, or hexamethyl pararosaniline, was first synthesized in 1861 as the “Violet de Paris” by Charles Lauth, a French chemist. In 1880, the German pharmacist George Grubler popularized GV and sold it exclusively to scientists. Hans Gram used GV to create the Gram stain for bacteria in 1884, but GV’s antiseptic and antitumor properties were not discovered until 1891.2