While medical studies have tested this use of Vicks VapoRub for colds, there are no studies about using it on your feet to relieve cold symptoms.
Keep reading to learn more about Vicks VapoRub, what it is, what the research says about its effectiveness, and precautions you should be aware of.
Vapor rubs are not new. These popular ointments have been around for hundreds of years and typically contain menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oils.
Vicks VapoRub is the brand name for a vapor rub made by the U.S. company Procter & Gamble. It’s marketed to relieve cold and cough symptoms. The manufacturer also claims that Vicks VapoRub helps to ease minor muscle aches and joint pain.
Like the traditional formula of vapor rubs, the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub include:
The main ingredients in Vicks VapoRub may explain why it might have — or seem to have — some effect on cold symptoms.
Camphor and menthol produce a cooling sensation
Using Vicks VapoRub on your feet or other areas of your body has a cooling effect. This is mainly because of the camphor and menthol.
The cooling sensation of the vapor rub may be pleasing and temporarily help you feel better. But it doesn’t actually reduce body temperature or fevers.
Eucalyptus oil may soothe aches and pain
Another ingredient of Vick’s VapoRub — eucalyptus oil — contains a natural chemical called 1,8-cineole. This compound gives it antibacterial and antiviral properties. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
This means it may help soothe pain and reduce swelling. This may also temporarily soothe aches and pain from a feverish cold.
Its strong smell may trick your brain into thinking you’re breathing better
All three of these ingredients have a very strong, minty smell. According to the Mayo Clinic, Vicks VapoRub doesn’t relieve a stuffed up nose or sinus congestion. Instead, the menthol smell is so overpowering that it tricks your brain into thinking that you’re breathing better.
However, if you apply Vicks VapoRub to your feet, it’s unlikely the smell will be strong enough to reach your stuffy nose and make your brain believe it’s breathing better.
There’s limited research on the effectiveness of Vicks VapoRub. And none of these studies look at its effectiveness when applied to the feet.
Study comparing Vicks VapoRub to petroleum jelly
The study doesn’t specify what kind of vapor rub was used or where on the body it was applied. Vicks VapoRub would likely not have the same cold benefits if used on the feet.
Penn State parent survey study
Research by Penn State found that Vicks VapoRub helped treat cold symptoms in children better than other over-the-counter cough and cold medications. The researchers tested the vapor rub on 138 children ages 2 to 11.
Parents were asked to apply Vicks VapoRub on their child’s chest and throat 30 minutes before bedtime. According to surveys filled out by the parents, Vicks VapoRub helped reduce their child’s cold symptoms and let them sleep better.
Benefits of this vapor rub for congestion and other cold symptoms likely come from smelling it. That’s why the manufacturer recommends that it be used on your chest and neck only.
Won’t cure cold symptoms if used on feet
Using Vicks VapoRub on your feet may soothe tired, achy feet, but it won’t help with cold symptoms like a stuffy nose or sinus congestion. In addition, you may apply too much VapoRub on your feet if you feel like it’s not working.
Don’t use on under your nose or in your nostrils
Don’t use Vicks VapoRub on your face, under your nose, or in your nostrils. A child — or adult — might accidentally ingest Vicks VapoRub if it’s put in or near the nostrils.
Keep out of reach of children
Swallowing even a few teaspoons of camphor can be toxic to adults and fatal for a toddler. In higher doses, camphor is poisonous and can damage nerves in the brain. In serious cases, this can trigger seizures in babies and small children.
Avoid getting into eyes
Also avoid rubbing your eyes after using Vicks VapoRub. It can sting if it gets in your eyes and may even injure the eye.
See a doctor if ingested or if you have an allergic reaction
Talk to a doctor immediately if you think you or your child have accidentally swallowed Vicks VapoRub, or if you have eye or nose irritation after using it.
Some ingredients in Vicks VapoRub, especially eucalyptus oil, can cause an allergic reaction. In some cases, using Vicks VapoRub on the skin might cause contact dermatitis. This is a skin rash, redness, or irritation triggered by a chemical.
Do not use Vicks VapoRub if you have any open or healing scratches, cuts, or sores on your skin. Also avoid it if you have sensitive skin. Some people may have a burning sensation when using Vicks VapoRub.
Test a tiny amount of Vicks VapoRub on your skin before using it. Wait 24 hours and check the area for any sign of an allergic reaction. Also check your child’s skin before you treat them with Vicks VapoRub.
Along with using Vicks VapoRub as directed, other home remedies can help ease cold symptoms for you and your child.
- Wait and rest. Most cold viruses go away on their own in a few days.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, juice, and soup.
- Use a humidifier. Moisture in the air helps to soothe a dry nose and scratchy throat.
- Try over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant syrups and nasal sprays. OTC products may help reduce swelling in the nose, which may improve breathing.
See a doctor immediately if you or your child have any of these symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- high fever
- severe sore throat
- chest pain
- green mucus or phlegm
- difficulty waking up
- refusal to eat or drink (in children)
- seizure or muscle spasm
- limp neck (in children)
Limited research shows that Vicks VapoRub may help with cold symptoms. When applied to the chest and throat, it may help ease cold symptoms like nose and sinus congestion. Vicks VapoRub will likely not work to help ease cold symptoms when used on the feet.
Adults can safely use this vapor rub on the feet to ease muscle aches or pain. Don’t use Vicks VapoRub on children under the age of 2, and use only as directed (on chest and throat only) for all children.