Vicks VapoRub and generic versions may be toxic if applied to certain areas of the body, including inside the nose. When used correctly, it can help relieve cold symptoms.

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

  • menthol
  • camphor
  • eucalyptus oil

This topical ointment is available over the counter (OTC) and is typically applied to your throat or chest to relieve cold- and flu-related symptoms.

Does Vicks VapoRub (VVR) work and where is it safe to use? Keep reading to find out what current research says.

People typically use VVR and generic balms with the same active ingredients for relief from common cold symptoms and pain. The benefits may include:

  • helping you feel as though you are breathing better
  • relieving cough due to the common cold
  • providing relief from muscle or joint pain
  • may help you sleep better with the common cold

According to a 2022 review of research, applying an ointment with the active ingredients of VVR can improve people’s perception of their common cold symptoms, leading to better sleep.

The authors suggest that applying VVR or a similar product to children before bed can relieve nighttime cold symptoms, especially in children who cannot take certain medications.

Similarly, a 2017 study evaluated VVR use and sleep among adults. They found they it may positively affect your perception of how well you sleep with a common cold.

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.

These benefits come from VVR’s research-backed active ingredients.


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.

That’s because, when applied to your skin, VVR releases a strong minty odor due to the menthol that’s included in the ointment. Older research from 2013 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.

But menthol doesn’t appear to actually improve respiration.

Treatment guidelines for the common cold from 2019 also mention that menthol on its own may improve your perception of easier breathing, though it does not relieve cough.


Camphor is also an active ingredient in VVR. It is commonly used in pain-relieving balms and ointments.

It may relieve muscle pain, according to a small 2015 study.

A 2022 study on camphor derivatives suggests that camphor may have antiviral properties. However, more research is needed on its effectiveness.

Eucalyptus oil

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

A 2021 review of research notes that eucalyptus essential oil may have the following properties:

  • antibacterial
  • antifungal
  • antiviral
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • wound healing properties

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 and other benefits.

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

If you have a stuffy nose, using VVR may make you feel as though you can breathe better. However, it does not relieve nasal congestion.

You can apply VVR to the chest and throat area in a thick layer.

But to relieve a stuffy nose, you may find more success with other remedies. OTC decongestant medications may help relieve sinus pressure and improve your breathing.

The most effective way for adults and children over 2 years old to use VVR is to only apply it in a thick layer 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 a doctor.

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.

Ingesting camphor can cause seizures and death.

The short-term effects of inhaling VVR aren’t fully understood.

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.


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 cause seizures and death.

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, you may want to follow up with a doctor.

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

  • a fever greater than 102°F or above (38.8°C)
  • a fever that lasts longer than 5 days
  • wheezing or shortness of breath
  • severe pain in your throat, head, or sinuses

A fever in an infant under 3 months requires immediate medical attention.

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.