Can Putting Vicks on Feet Help With a Cold?

There is little evidence that this use for VapoRub actually works

There's no scientific proof that putting Vicks VapoRub on your feet at night will help ease a cough. However, some people use Vicks on their feet to treat foot fungus, relieve foot pain, and smooth cracked heels. There is more support for some of these off-label uses.

This article discusses the practice of using Vicks VapoRub on the feet as a cough and cold remedy. It also reviews the research on other uses for the product and the potential dangers of using it in ways that are not recommended by the manufacturer.

How Vicks VapoRub Works

VapoRub is made of camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol. It is a kind of aromatherapy, or an alternative/complementary treatment involving the use of scented oils and other compounds.

When you're congested, putting VapoRub on your chest (its intended use) can help you feel like your breathing has improved. It does this by releasing menthol vapors that feel cooling once they hit your nasal passages. This tricks your brain into thinking you are breathing more easily.

VapoRub doesn't really help relieve congestion or a cough, though. Your brain just thinks it does.

How to apply VapoRub

Verywell / Tim Liedtke

Using Vicks on Your Feet For a Cough

Knowing this, it's clear that putting Vicks VapoRub on the soles of your feet won't help you. The product is too far from your nose, so it won't provide any aromatherapy benefits.

Still, there is a popular theory that says Vicks may help a cough by stimulating the nerves in your feet. According to the theory, this stimulation is passed up the spinal cord to the medulla oblongata in the brain. The medulla oblongata is the part of your brain that regulates coughing.

Some compare this idea to a theory about muscle cramps. Some scientists think hyperactivity of certain nerves may cause at least one type of muscle cramp.

A number of studies have shown that a drink made with strong spices can be helpful for these types of cramps. Spices like cinnamon and capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot, may distract the nerves that cause these cramps.

According to the theory about Vicks VapoRub on the feet helping a cough, the product might have a similar effect on the nervous system.

It's important to remember, though, that a plausible idea isn't the same thing as a tested scientific theory. Scientific theories are put through rigorous study before they are confirmed. Many plausible-sounding theories have been proven false by research.

Other Uses For Vicks VapoRub On Feet

Vicks VapoRub also has other popular off-label uses—and these have more support than use of the product on the feet to improve a cough.

Vicks is sometimes used on the feet to relieve neuropathy pain, treat toenail fungus, and soften callouses.

Topical Pain Relief

Some people apply Vicks VapoRub to sore muscles and joints. Camphor and menthol—two ingredients in Vicks VapoRub—are topical analgesics (pain relievers).

Research also shows the menthol in Vicks VapoRub may help to relieve nerve pain.

Three ways to use Vicks VapoRub on feet for pain relief:

  • Use it as a muscle rub to prevent post-workout soreness
  • Rub it on your wrists to ease carpel tunnel syndrome
  • Apply it to your feet to relieve neuropathy

Treat Foot Fungus

The camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus in Vicks VapoRub have antifungal properties that may be useful for treating foot and toenail fungus. In fact, two studies found this off-label use of Vicks may be effective.

In one small study, Vicks VaporRub helped to ease onychomycosis (toenail fungus) symptoms in 83% of study participants. More than one-quarter experienced complete clearance of the underlying fungus after applying Vicks VapoRub to their toenails daily for 48 weeks.

Smooth Cracked Heels

Some people use Vicks VapoRub on their feet for cracked heels. This may be because Vicks has a base of petroleum jelly. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends petroleum jelly for softening calluses on your feet and heels.

A common recommendation on beauty blogs, there's no scientific evidence to support it works. That said, it can't hurt to try it if you have some in your medicine cabinet. However, plain petroleum jelly works and costs a fraction of the price.

Careful Use of Vicks VapoRub

Vicks VapoRub is an over-the-counter product that has been in use for a long time. This may make it seem like it has minimal risks, but there are some serious warnings about this product you should pay attention to.

  • It contains a poisonous ingredient: Vicks VapoRub is made of camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. Camphor is poisonous when swallowed and can cause seizures, coma, or death. This is true even for small amounts. It may also cause harm when too much is inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
  • It's not for small children: The Vicks VapoRub packaging clearly states it shouldn't be used on children under 2 years of age. This is true for any part of the body. Many people ignore this warning.
  • It shouldn't be put under the nose: In adults and children older than 2, the product should only be used on the chest.

Putting Vicks VapoRub under the nose can lead to respiratory distress or difficulty breathing. This has been proven through studies and reported by real-world users.

Summary

There is no evidence that using Vicks VapoRub on your feet will help ease a cough. This product may seem to help when rubbed on your chest because menthol vapors make you feel as if you are breathing more easily. However, those aromatherapy benefits are hard to get if the product is far away from your nose.

VapoRub is not safe for children under 2. It contains camphor, which is poisonous if swallowed. This product should only be used on the chest, and only by adults and children over the age of 2.

A Word From Verywell

Vicks VapoRub is a popular product with some valid uses. Still, some people use the product in ways that are unproven and come with serious risks.

If you are concerned about cough and congestion, talk to your doctor about the best ways to ease symptoms. Never skip other treatments in favor of this product alone.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can Vicks make your hair grow?

    Some people claim it does, but there’s no proof. One of the main ingredients in Vicks, menthol, has been shown to stimulate hair growth in animal studies, but the mix of ingredients in Vicks may not have the same benefits.

  • What happens if you swallow Vicks VapoRub?

    Ingesting a small taste will probably not be harmful to children or adults. But the camphor in Vicks is toxic and can cause vomiting, seizures, respiratory distress, coma, or even death, depending on how much is consumed.

  • Can putting Vicks on your feet help you sleep better?

    Vicks rubbed on the chests of children with cold symptoms can improve their quality of sleep. However, there’s no evidence that rubbing it on someone’s feet will help ensure a good night’s rest.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.