Vicks VapoRub is a topical ointment that contains the active ingredients:

  • menthol
  • camphor
  • eucalyptus oil

This topical ointment is available over-the-counter and typically applied to your throat or chest to relieve cold- and flu-related symptoms, such as congestion.

Does Vicks VapoRub work and is it safe to use everywhere, including in your nose? Keep reading to find out what current research says.

Vicks VapoRub (VVR) is not a decongestant. In other words, it doesn’t actually relieve nasal or chest congestion. However, it might make you feel less congested.

When applied to your skin, VVR releases a strong minty odor due to the menthol that’s included in the ointment.

Menthol doesn’t appear to actually improve respiration. However, research suggests that inhaling menthol is associated with the perception of easier breathing. This might be due to the cooling sensation you feel when you inhale menthol.

Camphor is also an active ingredient in VVR. It may relieve muscle pain, according to a small 2015 study.

Eucalyptus oil, the third active ingredient in VVR, is also associated with pain relief.

According to a 2013 study among people who were recovering from knee surgery, inhaling eucalyptus oil lowered both blood pressure and subjective pain ratings.

A few studies have reported benefits unique to VVR.

For example, a 2010 study found that parents who applied vapor rub on their children before bed reported reduced nighttime cold symptoms in their children. This included reduced coughing, congestion, and difficulty sleeping.

Similarly, a 2017 study evaluated VVR use and sleep among adults.

While it isn’t clear whether VVR actually improves sleep, people who took it for cold symptoms before bed reported better quality sleep than those who took a placebo.

Summary

Vicks VapoRub is not a decongestant. However, the menthol in the ointment might make you feel less congested. Research has shown that both camphor and eucalyptus oil, the other two ingredients in VVR, are associated with pain relief.

Studies among both children and adults have shown that VVR may improve sleep quality.

The short answer is no. It’s not safe to use VVR inside or around your nose. If you do, it could be absorbed into your body through the mucus membranes lining your nostrils.

VVR contains camphor, which can have toxic effects inside your body. Ingesting camphor is especially dangerous for young children.

The short-term effects of inhaling VVR aren’t fully understood. A 2009 animal study compared the effects of inhaling VVR among healthy ferrets and ferrets whose airways were inflamed.

For both groups, VVR exposure increased mucus secretion and buildup in the windpipe. More research needs to be done to understand whether this side effect also applies to human beings.

Similarly, frequent VVR use could have effects over the long term. A 2016 case study described an 85-year-old woman who developed a rare form of pneumonia after using VVR daily for approximately 50 years.

Again, more research needs to be done to understand the long-term effects of VVR use.

Summary

It’s not safe to use Vicks VapoRub in your nose. It contains camphor, which can have toxic effects if absorbed through the mucus membrane in your nose. Ingesting camphor can be especially dangerous for children.

The most effective way for children and adults over 2 years old to use VVR is to only apply it to the chest or throat area. It can also be used on muscles and joints as a temporary pain reliever.

You can apply VVR up to three times per day or as directed by your doctor.

It isn’t safe to ingest VVR. You should also avoid getting it in your eyes or applying it to areas where your skin is broken or damaged. In addition, you should avoid heating VVR or adding it to hot water.

VVR isn’t safe for children under 2 years old. Swallowing camphor, an active ingredient in VVR, can cause serious side effects in children, including seizures and death.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, speak to a healthcare professional before using it.

Besides using VVR on your chest or throat, these home remedies may also help ease your congestion symptoms:

  • Use a humidifier. A humidifier or vaporizer can quickly reduce pressure, irritation, and mucus buildup in your sinuses by adding moisture to the air.
  • Take a warm shower. Warm steam from a shower can help open your airways, providing short-term relief from congestion.
  • Use a saline spray or nasal drops. A saltwater solution can help reduce inflammation in the nose. It may also help thin out and flush excess mucus. Saline products are available over the counter.
  • Increase your fluid intake. Staying hydrated can reduce mucus buildup in your nose. Almost all liquids can help, but you should avoid drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol.
  • Try over-the-counter medication. To relieve congestion, try a decongestant, an antihistamine, or other allergy medication.
  • Rest up. It’s important to allow your body to rest if you have a cold. Getting plenty of sleep will help boost your immune system so you can fight off your cold symptoms more effectively.

Congestion caused by a cold typically goes away on its own within a week or so. If your symptoms last for more than 7 days, follow up with your doctor.

You should seek medical attention if congestion is accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • a fever greater than 101.3°F (38.5°C)
  • a fever that lasts longer than 5 days
  • wheezing or shortness of breath
  • severe pain in your throat, head, or sinuses

If you suspect you have the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, follow these steps to determine whether you should seek medical attention.

It’s not safe to use Vicks VapoRub inside your nose as it can be absorbed into your body through the mucus membranes lining your nostrils.

VVR contains camphor, which can have toxic effects if absorbed into your body. It can be especially dangerous for children if it’s used inside their nasal passages.

The most effective way for children over 2 years old and adults to use VVR is to only apply it to the chest or throat area. It can also be used on your muscles and joints for temporary pain relief.