Everything You Need to Know About Vicks VapoRub

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Vicks VapoRub is good for relieving minor throat irritation and cough. It is also used to treat minor muscle and joint pain and a number of other conditions such as toenail fungus and dry skin. Vicks VapoRub is available over the counter (OTC) and should only be used on the skin.

Although Vicks VapoRub has many benefits, it may not be safe for everyone, including young children.

This article looks at what Vicks VapoRub is, how it's used, and who shouldn't use it.

Vicks VapoRub box and jar on a shelf
jaminwell / Getty Images

What Is Vicks VapoRub?

Vicks VapoRub is an over-the-counter ointment manufactured by Proctor & Gamble. The ointment is made of:

  • Camphor
  • Eucalyptus
  • Menthol

Inactive (non-therapeutic) ingredients include:

  • Cedar leaf oil
  • Nutmeg oil
  • Petrolatum
  • Thymol
  • Turpentine oil

The petroleum-like substance is intended to be rubbed on the chest and throat to ease a cough or onto sore areas to relieve muscle or joint pain.

What Is Vicks VapoRub Good For?

The product can help treat a cough and aches and pains, and can make you feel less congested. It may also also help with toenail fungus.

Cold Symptoms and Congestion

Although Vicks VapoRub may make you feel less congested, it doesn't actually clear congestion. When you breathe in the vapors, they make your nasal passages feel cooler. That makes your brain think you're breathing better.

A 2010 study also found that Vicks VapoRub was more than 98% effective in helping children ages 2 to 11 with congestion sleep better.

Never put Vicks VapoRub in or under your nostrils. Although it's rare, inhaling petrolatum-based products can cause a form of pneumonia.


According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub—camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol—are all cough suppressants. The 2010 study mentioned above also found that Vicks VapoRub reduced coughing in study participants.

To treat a cough, the manufacturer says to rub a thick layer of Vicks VapoRub on your chest and throat. Then, if desired, cover with a warm, dry cloth.

Don't use more than directed on the label.

Does Putting Vicks VapoRub On Your Feet Help a Cough?

No, using the product on your feet will not help with a cough. Vicks VapoRub works to ease a cough when you inhale the substance through your nose. Because your foot is far from your nose, putting it there won't do anything for your cough.

Toenail Fungus

Vicks VapoRub may help with toenail fungus. Studies have shown that the product's ingredients have anti-fungal properties, and a study from 2015 tested how well the ointment could reduce symptoms of toenail fungus in 20 people with HIV. The researchers found that the treatment helped resolve the fungus after six months of use in 83% or the participants, and that it was safe to use.

Sore Muscles

When it comes to pain relief, the camphor and menthol in VapoRub are considered counterirritants. That means they overwhelm your cells' pain receptors so they no longer notice your pain.

The effects are real when it comes to making you feel better, though. Studies have shown that counterirritants are effective in relieving many kinds of pain.

To treat muscle aches, rub Vicks VapoRub directly over the sore muscle. Don't use Vicks VapoRub internally and always follow the directions on the label. Do not apply Vicks VapoRub to broken skin or burns.

Other Benefits of Vicks VapoRub

People have found a wide range of uses for Vicks VapoRub, but not all of them are backed by science.


A couple of small studies showed that a topical treatment containing menthol, one of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub, helped reduce migraine symptoms when applied to the forehead, temples, and base of the skull and neck. However, the concentrations of menthol were much higher in the studies (6% and 10%) than in Vicks VapoRub, which contains only 2.6% menthol.

There isn't any research to support the use of Vicks VapoRub to relieve headache symptoms.


Vicks VapoRub has been touted by some as a way to clear up acne because it contains camphor oil, which may be an effective acne treatment. But there's no evidence that Vicks VapoRub itself helps fight acne.

In fact, using it may actually backfire. The product contains petroleum jelly, which can cause breakouts in some people.

Rough Skin

Some people rub Vicks VapoRub on dry skin because it contains petroleum jelly, which can effectively relieve rough, flaky skin. However, there's no research to support Vicks's use as a moisturizer. If you're curious whether petroleum jelly will help your dry skin, you'll get more value for your money by using plain petroleum jelly.

Bug Repellant

Because camphor oil has been shown to ward off certain mosquitos, some people use the product as a bug repellant. However, scientists haven't tested how well Vicks works as an insect repellant.

There's no reason to use Vicks VapoRub to avoid mosquitos when products containing DEET or picaridin have been shown to be effective.

Who Shouldn't Use Vicks VapoRub

Children: The manufacturer's website says Vicks VapoRub is "appropriate for ages 2 and up." In some studies, the product has appeared safe for children over 2.

However, a case report on three children between 15 months and 3 years old suggested that camphor can cause:

Because of this conflicting information, be sure to check with your child's healthcare provider before using it on a child between 2 and 3 years old.

Adults: This product is considered safe for older children and most adults. Ask your healthcare provider before using it if you:

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have a chronic cough caused by smoking
  • Have emphysema
  • Have ever had an allergic reaction to any of its ingredients

Severe Allergic Reactions

Call 911 or go to the ER immediately if you or someone in your care has any of these symptoms after using Vicks VapoRub:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Hives
  • Irregular heartbeat


Vicks VapoRub is a popular over-the-counter remedy for treating cold symptoms and muscle aches. It should not be used by children under 2. Use caution in children between 2 and 3. It should never be applied under the nostrils.

Studies have shown that Vicks VapoRub helps relieve cough, congestion, sore muscles, and toenail fungus. It hasn't been proven safe or effective for other purposes, such as to treat headaches or as a bug repellant.

8 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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By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.