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What Is the Science Behind Your Favorite Vicks? Find Out Here

Expertly reviewed by Dexter Macalintal, MD · Internal or General Medicine

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Apr 15, 2022

What Is the Science Behind Your Favorite Vicks? Find Out Here

Probably, you are one of the many people with a good memory of that little blue jar in your house. When you were younger, your mother used to rub Vicks on your chest whenever you were feeling a little bit down and out. And it did magically make you feel better! What’s the science behind this old but promising staple in your household?

Brief Background About Your Trusty Vicks

The wonderful uses of Vicks can be traced back to the 1890s when a pharmacist in North Carolina named Lunsford Richardson decided to sell 21 patent medicines using the brand called, “Vicks.” Out of all the medicines, it was the Vick Croup and Pneumonia Salve that gained the most popularity. 

Years later, Lunsford added menthol and a key Japanese ingredient to his mix. The additional ingredient made the salve better and offered significant effects after application. The menthol vaporizes as a person applies the ointment to the chest. Thus, generating comforting medicated vapors that could last for hours. This version is what people now know as Vicks Vaporub. 

Since then, the company has been finding ways to innovate its cold and flu-symptom relief products to cater to many people. 

A Closer Look at Vicks Vaporub

Vicks Vaporub rose to fame during the 1918 pandemic flu, providing some relief to people. Since then, it has remained a popular over-the-counter fix for respiratory ailments. Hence, it is an undeniable top consideration of many Filipino families out there.

This minty cold rub contains the following active ingredients:

These three potent ingredients, as per the National Institute of Health (NIH), can act as cough suppressants. Camphor and menthol, on the other hand, are both topical analgesics (pain relievers) that people apply to their skin. 

Additionally, it also contains inactive ingredients like cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, special petrolatum, thymol, and turpentine oil. 

Because of these ingredients, the rub offers that therapeutic effect, making people sleep better at night.

Aside from relief from coughs and a congested nose, it claims to offer other forms of relief including:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Headache
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Body aches

Applying it to the muscles and joints provides temporary relief from minor aches and pains. Furthermore, some studies also suggest its efficacy in treating other conditions such as toenail fungus

How to Use Vicks Vaporub

This topical ointment can be used in two different ways:

Rub-on massage

This is the most common way of using it. Massage gently on the chest, neck, and back to aid in restful sleep even when you have colds. Use it accordingly; 3.5 g for children and 7.5 g for adults.

Steam inhalation

Some people steam Vicks to provide that soothing aromatic effect. Fill a bowl halfway with steaming water and add 2 teaspoons Vicks VapoRub. Gently inhale the vapors while wearing a towel over your head and holding the bowl. This can aid in the relief of a blocked nose and the alleviation of breathing difficulties. You may repeat this process up to four times per day.

It is important to keep in mind that it is only for external use. You should not use it by mouth, with tight bandages, in nostrils, or even on wounds or damaged skin.

Key Takeaway

People swear by Vicks Vaporub for the many benefits it brings. But, it is still best to consult your doctor before using this product, especially when you have a medical condition. 

Learn more about General Health Knowledge here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Expertly reviewed by

Dexter Macalintal, MD

Internal or General Medicine

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Apr 15, 2022

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