An Overview of Tiger Balm

An Over-The-Counter Topical Pain Reliever

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Tiger Balm is a topical over-the-counter pain reliever that contains ingredients such as camphor, menthol, cajuput oil, and clove oil. It comes as a cream, gel, or liquid that is applied superficially to the area of pain and absorbed through the skin.

Tiger Balm is often used for the relief of a variety of types of pain, including back pain, joint pain, stiffness, sprains, and arthritis pain.

Tiger Balm has a long history. It is manufactured and distributed by Haw Par Healthcare in Singapore, boasting a "secret" herbal formula that dates back as far as the Chinese emperors. Today, over 20 million jars of Tiger Balm are sold each year in over 70 countries.

How to Use Tiger Balm
Verywell / Cindy Chung

How It Works

The active components of Tiger Balm are extracted from plants and held together by paraffin oil. Menthol, eucalyptus, and oil of wintergreen are believed to relieve pain by briefly inducing a sensation of discomfort, possibly serving as a distraction from the pain. Such formulations are called counterirritants and offer temporary pain relief.

The active ingredients include:

  • Camphor, which comes from the Cinnamomum camphora plant, induces warm and cold sensations in the skin and increases blood flow.
  • Menthol, which is made from mint oils, may induce constriction of the muscles inside the blood vessels, which has been shown to reduce pain.
  • Cajuput oil comes from cajuput trees and is used for pain relief from toothaches and headaches in some cultures.
  • Cassia oil, which comes from the bark of the Cinnamomum cassia plant, may have an anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Demetholized mint oil comes from a peppermint plant and has been used as a topical treatment for pain.
  • Clove oil, which comes from a clove plant, is used for pain relief from toothaches.

Tiger balm is generally used for relief of deep pain, such as musculoskeletal pain, but it has also been used for superficial pain, such as the pain of shingles.

There are also claims that it can relieve headaches, sinus congestion, and discomfort from mosquito bites. Research has shown it to be as effective as paracetamol (acetaminophen) in the treatment of headaches.


You can use Tiger Balm even if you use oral over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers. You should check with your doctor if you plan to use it along with another topical pain reliever because the combination may irritate your skin. Tiger Balm is only used topically.

Tiger Balm is used PRN, which means that you can use it as needed when your pain arises. Most people will apply it several times a day and reapply when the pain returns. It should relieve your pain within 10 to 20 minutes.

Available Forms

There are several different formulations available, all of which contain the same ingredients and can be used differently, depending on the location and type of pain.

Tiger Balm formulations include:

  • Tiger Balm Extra-Strength Pain-Relieving Ointment: This is the standard Tiger Balm ointment formula and can be found in most drugstores. It has a strong menthol scent.
  • Tiger Balm Ultra-Strength Rub: This ointment contains more pain-relieving menthol than Extra-Strength Tiger Balm and is non-staining. It also has a strong menthol scent.
  • Tiger Balm Arthritis Rub: Designed specifically for arthritis pain, this rub is a cream rather than an ointment. It comes in an "arthritis-friendly pump" and is alcohol-free, so it should not irritate the skin.
  • Tiger Balm Neck & Shoulder Rub: This option is designed for fast relief of neck and shoulder pain and has a 'vanishing scent.'
  • Tiger Balm Patch: Similar to other pain-relieving gel patches, this product is designed for larger muscle and joint pain relief. It works particularly well on shoulder and lower back pain. The odor is minimal.
  • Tiger Balm Liniment: This is a liquid version of Tiger Balm that can be applied to larger areas to relieve pain.
  • Tiger Balm Muscle Rub: Formulated for muscle strains, this non-greasy cream is designed to ease pain from exercise and other physical activity.

Precautions and Side Effects

Tiger Balm is for external use only, should not be taken by mouth, and should not come in contact with your eyes or other sensitive areas, such as your ear canals, vagina, or rectum. You should not use Tiger Balm on an open wound.

Test the product on a small area first to make sure it doesn't cause irritation before applying it widely on your skin. Skin irritation can produce pain, redness, or, rarely, bleeding of the affected area.

Tiger balm may also cause an allergic reaction, which can manifest with a skin rash, swelling of the skin or throat, or breathing difficulties.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes pain is caused by a serious or urgent medical condition, and often it is caused by a non-life-threatening problem, such as osteoarthritis. Once you have a diagnosis for the cause of your pain, you can consider using Tiger Balm. You are the best judge of whether it is working for you, and can decide how often you will use it.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are using Tiger Balm or any other non-prescription oral or topical medications, as they can interact with prescription medications and cause side effects.

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