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Tiger Balm is a brand-name topical medication used to alleviate pain. Its primary ingredients include camphor and menthol, which help relieve muscle and joint discomfort while providing a cooling sensation.
Tiger Balm itself has been around for over a century. Its current offerings in the United States include topical creams and gels. The company makes four formulas:
There are also subsets of these formulas intended for different body parts and issues.
While Tiger Balm isn’t intended to cure any type of chronic pain-related disease, some research does support the efficacy of its key ingredients.
Talk to your doctor before using Tiger Balm, especially if you’re already using other prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) products to manage pain.
Tiger Balm is legal in the United States. It’s widely available in drugstores, health stores, and online. Still, Tiger Balm is not approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
While Tiger Balm is marketed as a natural remedy, it’s still important to remember that it’s technically a topical medication.
Only use the product as directed. See your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve after one week of use.
To use Tiger Balm, apply the product to the part of your body where you’re experiencing pain.
If you’re using it for colds and congestion, the balm may be applied to your chest and forehead.
To enhance its effects, the company recommends massaging the product into your skin until it’s fully absorbed rather than just applying it and letting it sit on top of your skin.
You can repeat the application and massaging process up to four times per day, according to the company. You’ll also want to avoid bathing immediately before or after use.
If your skin reacts to Tiger Balm and stays red or irritated, stop using it.
Tiger Balm is touted as a multipurpose product that may be used for a wide range of issues, especially pain. Here are 18 potential uses:
- Toenail fungus: The active ingredient camphor may treat this type of fungal infection. However, this study was done using Vicks VapoRub, not Tiger Balm.
- Back pain: The active ingredients camphor and menthol may help soothe this type of pain.
- Common colds: Menthol may alleviate cold symptoms.
- Congestion: A combination of menthol and eucalyptus may clear up congestion.
- Flu-related symptoms: Menthol and eucalyptus may help aches associated with the flu.
- Headaches: Menthol may provide relief. The addition of eucalyptus can also have pain-relieving effects.
- Non-arthritic joint pain: Menthol and camphor may help treat this type of pain when it’s related to exercise and other activities.
- Minor burns: Camphor and menthol may cool and soothe them.
- Mosquito bites: Menthol may
treatand repel these bug bites (but using a physical repellant, like bed nets, alongside menthol is best).
- Neuropathy: Capsicum may alleviate neuropathic symptoms.
- Muscle aches and strains: Menthol can
- Osteoarthritis pain: Capsicum and menthol may alleviate this type of pain.
- Poor blood circulation: The key ingredient camphor may improve blood circulation.
- Rheumatoid arthritis pain: Menthol as well as anti-inflammatory ingredients like cassia and capsicum may reduce this type of pain.
- Shoulder and neck pain: Topical menthol gel may help provide relief from this type of pain.
- Stomachaches: Some people claim menthol and camphor help treat stomachaches when applied to the abdomen, but research is needed.
- Stretch marks: Proponents of Tiger Balm say its blood flow and cooling effects can improve stretch marks, but research is need
- Toothaches: Some claim the menthol and clove and cajuput oils can soothe toothaches when applied along the jawline, but research is lacking.
If you’ve researched Tiger Balm, you may have come across “white” and “red” formulas.
Some formulas, such as Tiger Balm Muscle Rub, have all three ingredients. Your choice depends on what issues you’re trying to treat.
Tiger Balm is touted as a topical natural pain-relief method. This is often safer over the long run compared to long-term use of OTC or prescription pain relievers.
The way these products work is based on their combination of ingredients:
- Camphor has both cooling and warming effects on the skin and also
increases blood circulation. It may also treat toenail fungus.
- Menthol or methyl salicylate are made from mint extracts. They’re common anesthetics and work by constricting muscles to help decrease muscular and joint pain. This ingredient may also help aid colds and congestion when inhaled.
- Cinnamomum cassia oil provides anti-inflammatory effects. It may soothe arthritis and other inflammatory pain.
- Eucalyptus can also help treat coughs and colds.
- Capsicum may help reduce inflammation and pain in a variety of chronic conditions, such as arthritis and neuropathy.
All Tiger Balm products have either camphor or a form of menthol, but the other ingredients may vary.
When used as directed, Tiger Balm is unlikely to cause side effects. In some cases, it may cause:
- stinging or burning sensations
- skin irritation
- breathing difficulties (when applied on chest for congestion)
It’s a good idea to do a patch test before applying Tiger Balm to a large area of the body.
To do this, apply Tiger Balm to the inside of your elbow. Wait a couple of days to see if you have any adverse reaction. If this isn’t the case, you’re likely safe to use Tiger Balm for pain on other parts of your body.
Signs of an allergic reaction can include redness, swelling, and itchy hives.
Anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction, can cause breathing difficulties and facial swelling. Seek emergency medical care if you experience any symptoms of anaphylaxis.
If you or someone else has anaphylaxis, call 911 or go to an emergency room.
Tiger Balm is considered safe for adults when used as directed.
Don’t take it orally. Don’t apply the product to irritated, sunburned, and chapped skin. The menthol can cause further irritation. Also avoid placing Tiger Balm in your eyes, mouth, and any open wounds.
Tiger Balm isn’t intended for the inside of the ears or in the groin.
Don’t cover the application area with heat pads, cold packs, or bandages.
While no drug interactions have been identified so far, still check with a doctor before you try Tiger Balm if you take any herbs, vitamins, or medications.
Avoid using Tiger Balm alongside other products containing similar ingredients, such as Icy-Hot or Bio-Freeze.
Tiger Balm is an OTC remedy that can help alleviate pain.
It’s not an oral remedy, so never take Tiger Balm by mouth. Talk to your doctor before use. Be sure to follow up with them if you have any side effects.