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Cold and Flu Center

What Are the Benefits of Vicks Vaporub?

author image Jared Paventi
Jared Paventi is the communications director for a disease-related nonprofit in the Northeast. He holds a master's degree from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication and a bachelor's degree from St. Bonaventure University. He also writes a food appreciation blog: Al Dente.
What Are the Benefits of Vicks Vaporub?
A mother comforting her sick daughter in bed. Photo Credit Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images


Vicks VapoRub is one of the oldest and best selling cold remedies on the market. Consumer marketing company Nielsen reports that the ointment is the number one cold treatment for children by overall sales in 2009. First sold in the 1890s as a croup and pneumonia remedy, VapoRub contains three active ingredients--camphor, eucalyptus oil and menthol.

Cold Relief

Vicks VapoRub's intended use is as a cold medicine. The directions for people over two years old are to apply a thick layer on the chest and throat. Under loose clothes or a dry towel, the menthol-eucalyptus-camphor acts as aromatherapeutically. Inhaled fumes loosen mucus and phlegm and soothe the urge to cough. Camphor and methol are also topical analgesics, offering pain relief. Mayo Clinic physician Dr. Jay Hoecker writes that while VapoRub is not marketed as a nasal decongestant, the powerful fumes may also unclog sinuses. Vicks also suggests adding a teaspoon of the rub to hot steam vaporizers. The medicated steam acts as an alternative or supplement to VapoRub placed on the body.
Additionally, VapoRub contains no sugar and is not ingested, making it a safe cough and cold treatment for diabetics.

Toenail Fungus Killer

Toenail fungus is a common infection, affecting 15 percent of Americans according to The New York Times' health blog. Ingredients in Vicks VapoRun may be effective against the unsightly, but not serious, condition. A 2003 study conducted at Michigan State University found that a similarly constructed store-brand medicated rub had a fungicidal effect. Camphor, menthol and the inactive ingredient thymol were the most effective. Italian research has shown that thymol has a specific effect against the fungus candida albicans. The People's Pharmacy, a publisher of home remedy guides, recommends applying VapoRub to the fungal infection twice daily.

Dry Skin and Dandruff Treatment

Another inactive ingredient in Vicks VapoRub is petrolatum, which is also known as petroleum jelly. Petrolatum is an emollient, using oils to fill in cracks caused by dry skin. The oils help the skin retain moisture and prevent further loss, according to the Acne Guide. The People's Pharmacy reports that the moisturizing properties of the petrolatum heals chapped lips and dry skin on the body.

VapoRubs aforementioned antifungal effects may also extend to the scalp. Dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis can be caused by a fungal infection of the scalp. Applying it directly to the scalp can reduce scaling and itching, according to the People's Pharmacy. The guide's authors recommend cutting the VapoRub with mineral oil to make it easier to wash out.

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