The Truth About What's Really In Vicks VapoRub

Vicks VapoRub has long been used to treat cold and flu symptoms — but is it really an effective nasal decongestant? Vicks VapoRub is a topical ointment made with camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil (via Mayo Clinic). It is meant to be rubbed into the throat and chest area to help relieve symptoms that affect the throat and nasal passages, like cough, congestion, and runny nose. Although the strong odor of the ointment can create the sensation of breathing through an unclogged nose, Vicks VapoRub doesn't actually relieve congestion.

"It gives you the sense of your throat being cooled off," Dr. Neil Bhattacharyya, a professor of otolaryngology at the Harvard Medical School and surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear hospital in Boston, told Consumer Reports. "Just like in Bengay, by the way, or Tiger Balm, the counterstimulation substitutes for the soreness of a sore throat or the feeling of congestion, and it tricks your brain."

Is Vicks VapoRub safe?

However, it should only be applied to your throat and chest. Since Vicks VapoRub is made with camphor, it should never be inhaled or ingested in any way (via Healthline). Camphor can be toxic when absorbed through the mucous membranes and may cause dangerous effects inside the body, especially among young children. That means it's not safe to use it in or around your nostrils and nose area.

While further research is still needed, a 2009 animal study published in the journal Chest found that inhaling Vicks VapoRub increased mucus secretion and inflammation in the airways in both healthy and sick ferrets. According to another 2016 case study published in BMC Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders, an 85-year-old patient developed a rare type of pneumonia after continuous inhalation of petroleum-based Vicks VapoRub over the course of 50 years. That's why it's important to avoid using it on your head and face. For best use, apply Vicks VapoRub to your throat and chest area up to three times per day or as directed by your doctor (via Vicks).