Vicks VapoRub is a mentholated ointment made by U.S. household and personal care manufacturer Procter & Gamble.
Originally formulated by North Carolina pharmacist Lunsford Richardson to treat his son’s croup, the salve has been around for more than 125 years.
People are still inventing uses for it — some of which are backed by solid science and others that are (so far) unstudied.
Procter & Gamble lists the following active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub:
It also contains several inactive ingredients that may be responsible for some of its popular uses:
- cedarleaf oil
- nutmeg oil
- turpentine oil
The salve has a strong menthol scent and a petroleum jelly-like texture.
Doctors, researchers, and the product’s manufacturer have recommended Vicks VapoRub for the following purposes.
Vicks VapoRub isn’t a decongestant. Rather, strong menthol and camphor vapors create a cooling sensation in your nasal passages that trigger receptors in your brain to feel that you’re breathing more openly.
The results of a 2017 study, in which adult cold patients self-reported how they slept, suggest that using VapoRub can improve subjective sleep quality.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol as cough suppressants.
A word of caution, though: Vicks VapoRub isn’t recommended if your cough has lots of phlegm or if it’s chronic, such as with asthma or emphysema.
The manufacturer recommends that you follow these steps to maximize effectiveness for cold symptoms:
- Rub a layer of Vicks VapoRub on your chest and neck only. Don’t use it near your mouth or in your nostrils.
- Drape a warm, dry cloth over your head while you’re sitting upright or standing.
- Loosen any clothing around your chest and throat so vapors can rise to your nose area.
- Repeat, if needed, up to three times in 24 hours.
Not on your nose
Avoid putting Vicks VapoRub on, in, or around your nose. Research from 2014 shows that camphor can be absorbed through your mucous membranes and is toxic, especially to toddlers and babies.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)mandates that no over-the-counter (OTC) product can contain more than 11 percent camphor.
- Never use Vicks VapoRub on children younger than 2 years old.
- Vicks VapoRub can also damage the cornea, so keep it away from the eyes.
Soothing sore muscles
The NIH describes both camphor and menthol as topical analgesics, or pain relievers you rub on your skin.
Products containing camphor and menthol can create a powerful cooling sensation that may temporarily override your ability to feel the pain of sore muscles and joints.
Similar products like Biofreeze, which contains 4 percent active menthol, have helped reduce pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, according to
Treating toenail fungus
All three of the active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub have antifungal properties. After previous studies suggested that OTC mentholated ointments may be effective in treating toenail fungus, a small 2015 study tested the effectiveness of Vicks VapoRub against toenail fungus in people living with HIV.
The results suggested that Vicks VapoRub may be a cost-effective alternative to expensive antifungal medications, especially for those without insurance and who may be socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Not sure about using Vicks VapoRub on toenail fungus? Here are some other remedies to try.
While there’s little or no research to support the following uses of Vicks VapoRub, some people have said they tried it with favorable results.
Fading stretch marks
Stretch marks are purplish, red, or white lines that appear on the skin after a period of quick growth. They most often appear around puberty and pregnancy.
If you want a surefire remedy, you may want to try one of these three treatments:
- needling (injecting collagen under the skin)
- laser therapy
Some people believe the strong scent of Vicks VapoRub can keep pets from urinating on or scratching up furniture in your home.
Dabbing a small amount of the product on the area you want to protect may keep your pet at bay, but make sure your pet can’t lick or chew the ointment off the surface.
Never put Vicks VapoRub directly on your pet’s skin.
Camphor is toxic to animals. It can cause a skin reaction, and in large enough amounts, it can cause seizures and even death.
Healing rough skin on your heels
The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends petroleum jelly as a moisturizer, especially when used on damp skin, because it keeps moisture from evaporating.
That may explain why some people have found Vicks VapoRub helpful for healing rough skin on the feet and heels.
But more research is needed to support the anecdotal claims about its usefulness as a treatment for dry, calloused skin on the feet.
According to a
However, while natural oils may provide some defense, if you really want to keep mosquitoes away, DEET and picaridin are still the most powerful repellents.
Treating acne spots
Beauty bloggers have promoted the use of Vicks VapoRub as an overnight spot treatment to shrink pimples.
Research suggests that several of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub are effective at healing blemishes, but other ingredients may actually worsen acne.
For example, dermatologists have recommended camphor essential oil as an acne treatment. But another ingredient in Vicks VapoRub — petroleum jelly — may cause breakouts.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends against using products with petroleum jelly on acne-prone skin.
If you want to take advantage of the anti-inflammatory properties of camphor, some beauty bloggers recommend mixing a few drops of camphor essential oil with a carrier oil like jojoba and dabbing it on a blemish.
However, the amount of menthol in the tested products was much higher (6 percent and 10 percent) than the amount of menthol in Vicks VapoRub (2.6 percent).
So far, there aren’t any studies that support the use of Vicks VapoRub for treating headaches.
Health officials and the product’s manufacturer say you shouldn’t use Vicks VapoRub:
- on children under 2 years old
- on open wounds
- under tight bandages
Other safety warnings include the following:
- Store Vicks VapoRub safely out of reach of children.
- Don’t heat Vicks VapoRub before you use it, as it can cause burns.
- Never eat or swallow Vicks VapoRub. The ingredients are toxic when ingested.
- There have been cases when Vicks VapoRub caused the skin under the nose to lighten.
- There have been
rare caseswhen long-term or excessive use of Vicks VapoRub caused a rare form of pneumonia.
- If your cough or muscle soreness lasts longer than a week, talk with a doctor.
Is VapoRub good for pneumonia?
Before using Vicks VapoRub for pneumonia, talk with a doctor. According to the directions on the package, you should talk with a doctor before using Vicks VapoRub for any illness with a cough that occurs with too much mucus.
Depending on the severity of your illness, it may also be unsafe to use topical products containing menthol. These products can trick your brain into thinking you’re breathing more easily than you are. This can lead you to avoid seeking medical care for breathing trouble when you need it.
Is it OK to use Vicks VapoRub with COVID-19?
Products containing menthol are not recommended for people with COVID-19. Menthol can trigger receptors in your brain that make you feel as though you’re breathing more clearly than you are and can lead you to underestimate the severity of your symptoms. This may result in delaying necessary medical treatment.
If you’re experiencing trouble breathing due to a SARS-CoV-2 infection, it’s best to talk with a doctor about treatment options. Do not use off-label medications for treating an infection with the coronavirus.
What does putting Vicks on your feet do?
Some people claim that putting Vicks VapoRub on your feet can help with cold symptoms. However, there isn’t any scientific evidence to support this theory. The manufacturer’s guidelines say to apply the product to your chest.
Menthol and camphor, two of the active ingredients in VapoRub, may help soothe your muscles by acting as a topic anesthetic, according to the NIH. Applying Vicks to your feet may help soothe sore muscles.
Can Vicks hurt your lungs?
Long-term misuse of petroleum-based oils like Vicks VapoRub can cause a rare form of pneumonia called
Though uncommon, ELP has occurred in patients who have used mineral oil or petroleum-based lubricants and decongestants, like petroleum jelly (Vaseline), Vicks VapoRub, and lip gloss, frequently and over a long period of time.
Symptoms of ELP can include:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
When applying Vicks VapoRub, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply it to your chest or throat. Don’t apply VapoRub to the nose or nostrils or near the mouth.
Does Vicks VapoRub help with breathing?
Vicks VapoRub releases vapors of menthol, eucalyptus, and camphor that can soothe nasal passages. This can trigger receptors in your brain that make you think you are breathing more clearly. But VapoRub isn’t a decongestant.
Studies have shown that using Vicks VapoRub according to the instructions on the package may help improve sleep quality.
Vicks VapoRub has been a medicine cabinet staple for more than 125 years. Although it’s not listed as a decongestant, there’s solid research behind using the product to get relief from a stuffy nose or cough.
There’s also evidence that the camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol in the ointment make it a good choice for relieving muscle and joint pain. And a couple of studies found that it works to stamp out fungal infections in toenails.
Vicks VapoRub is also a popular choice for people trying to fade stretch marks, heal rough skin, treat headaches, and keep outdoor bugs away.
It’s been tried as an acne treatment, but other products may work just as well without risking the irritation some of its ingredients can cause.
Some people have used the strongly scented ointment to keep pets from peeing on or scratching furniture, but be careful using this training method. The ingredients in Vicks VapoRub can be dangerous for animals.
Vicks VapoRub is generally safe for use on older children and adults. Don’t use it on children younger than 2 years old, as it can cause serious health concerns for them.