Vicks VapoRub is a mentholated ointment made by American 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 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
  • petrolatum
  • thymol
  • 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.

Relieving congestion

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.

In a 2010 study involving 138 children with upper respiratory infections, parents reported that Vicks VapoRub helped ease nighttime symptoms, allowing their children to get a better night’s sleep.

Easing cough

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:

  1. Rub a layer of Vicks VapoRub on your chest and neck only.
  2. Drape a warm, dry cloth over your head while you’re sitting upright or standing.
  3. Loosen any clothing around your chest and throat so vapors can rise to your nose area.
  4. Repeat, if needed, up to three times in a 24-hour period.
Not on your nose

Doctors recommend that you avoid putting Vicks VapoRub on, in, or around your nose. The camphor can be absorbed through your mucous membranes and is toxic, especially to toddlers and babies.

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that no over-the-counter 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.

Doctors at Mayo Clinic say that 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 research.

Treating toenail fungus

A 2011 study tested the effectiveness of Vicks VapoRub against toenail fungus. A total of 18 people applied the ointment to their toenails over a period of 48 weeks.

Five participants were totally cured of the fungal infection at the end of the treatment period. Ten saw a distinct improvement, and five saw no change at all.

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.

Researchers haven’t found evidence that any topical cream or lotion is effective in reducing stretch marks. Nevertheless, some people report success in fading stretch marks using Vicks VapoRub.

If you want a surefire remedy, you may want to try one of these three treatments:

  • microdermabrasion
  • needling (injecting collagen under the skin)
  • laser therapy

Training pets

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

Dermatologists recommend 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.

Repelling mosquitoes

According to older research, the camphor oil found in Vicks VapoRub repels certain species of mosquitoes. Products containing menthol are also effective against mosquitoes, reports more recent research.

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.

Several of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub have been found to be 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 Dermatologists 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.

Relieving headaches

Some small studies have shown that gels and ointments containing menthol have been effective at relieving headaches when applied to the base of the skull.

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 cases when 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, see your doctor.

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 at least one study 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 problems for them.