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"Mysteries" of Topical Agents

Richard M. Caplan, MD
Arch Dermatol. 1973;108(5):726. doi:10.1001/archderm.1973.01620260070031.
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To the Editor.—  Most undergraduate medical students seem puzzled by the "mysteries" of topical agents. The important physical and chemical properties of the various lotions, creams, and salves and their appropriate uses can be explained in a talk or read in a book. Yet this knowledge seems imparted most forcefully when the novice has opportunity to see, smell, and feel the commonly used agents.The Figure demonstrates an inexpensive learning aid —30-gm labeled pharmacy jars seated in holes bored in a block of wood — that provides an opportunity for the student to directly experience the commonly used topical agents from the hospital formulary. This learning aid was used at the University of Iowa College of Medicine.The student may rub on a bit of cold cream and contrast its "vanishing" properties with plain or hydrated hydrophilic ointment. Calamine lotion, zinc oxide cream, coal tar ointment, petrolatum, and any other


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