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. It contains camphor, menthol, cajuput oil, and clove oil, plus other ingredients. You can buy it as a cream, gel, or liquid.

Tiger Balm is often used to relieve back pain, joint pain, stiffness, sprains, and arthritis pain. You apply it to the area that is in pain, and it's absorbed through your skin.

The product has a long history. Manufactured and distributed by Haw Par Healthcare in Singapore, its "secret" herbal formula is said to date 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 Tiger Balm Works

The active components of Tiger Balm come from plants. They are blended with paraffin oil.

Menthol, eucalyptus, and oil of wintergreen are believed to relieve pain with a cooling sensation that distracts you from the pain. Such products are called counterirritants and offer temporary pain relief.

These are the active ingredients:

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

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

However, it cannot be used on open wounds. For example, shingles causes blisters that can break open and crust over. These are considered open wounds, so Tiger Balm should not be applied to them.

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

Use

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

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

Recap

Tiger Balm's pain-relieving action comes from the cooling effect of camphor, menthol, and herbal oils on the skin. It's used to relieve many different types of pain, from headaches to muscle aches.

Available Forms

Tiger Balm is available in different formulations. All of them have 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 with a strong menthol scent. It can be found in most drugstores.
  • Tiger Balm Ultra-Strength Rub: This ointment contains more pain-relieving menthol than Extra-Strength Tiger Balm. It does not stain.
  • 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." It's alcohol-free, so it is less likely to cause skin irritation.
  • Tiger Balm Neck & Shoulder Rub: This option is designed for fast relief of neck and shoulder pain. It 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 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:  Made 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. It should not be taken by mouth. Don't get Tiger Balm in your eyes or on 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 of skin to make sure it doesn't cause irritation before you apply it widely. Skin irritation can cause pain, redness, or, rarely, bleeding of the affected area.

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

Recap

Tiger Balm comes in cream, gel, lotion, and ointment forms. It can also be purchased as a patch. No matter which formula you choose, Tiger Balm should only be used on unbroken skin. It shouldn't be taken by mouth or used on open wounds. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the product.

Summary

Tiger Balm is a topical pain reliever. There's some evidence that its ingredients may ease pain or reduce inflammation. It's possible that the product's cooling effect distracts users from the pain of muscle aches, tension headaches, or joint pain.

To use Tiger Balm, rub it into the skin in the area where you feel stiffness or pain. Be careful not to get it in your eyes, mouth, or other sensitive areas, and don't use it on open sores or wounds.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes pain is caused by a serious or urgent medical condition. For less severe pain such as joint pain or muscle aches, you can consider using Tiger Balm. You are the best judge of whether it is working for you, and you can decide how often you will use it.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I use Tiger Balm to relieve muscle pain?

    Yes. In addition to treating muscle pain, Tiger Balm is helpful in relieving other types of pain, including back pain, joint pain, arthritis pain, and sprains.

  • Does every form of Tiger Balm contain the same ingredients?

    Yes, every Tiger Balm formulation is made up of the same ingredients. The main difference is the type of pain that is meant to be treated. For example, the Tiger Balm Patch is intended for relieving muscle and joint pain in a specific area, while the Tiger Balm Liniment is a liquid form that is meant to treat larger areas of the body.

  • Can I use Tiger Balm for a toothache?

    No. Tiger Balm should only be used as a topical treatment. However, clove oil, one of the ingredients in Tiger Balm, is used as a pain reliever for toothaches.

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7 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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