Jar of Vicks VapoRub

Vicks VapoRub is a venerable brand. It was developed by pharmacist Lunsford Richardson in Greensboro, North Carolina, not long before the turn of the 20th century. Richardson had a long last name and a little blue bottle for his salve, so he used his brother-in-law’s name on the label. Not only did it fit; Dr. Joshua Vick was a physician with an excellent reputation in the city. Vicks VapoRub got a huge boost in brand recognition during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Americans have been using it for colds and coughs ever since then. But once in a while, someone runs into trouble with Vicks VapoRub.

Trouble with Vicks VapoRub:

Q. I had a bad cold with a cough recently and rubbed Vicks on my chest and in my nose. I got a burn on my chest similar to a bad sunburn, with little bumps.

I read the Vicks label and it cautions against putting Vicks in the nostrils. But that’s how most of my friends and relatives usually use it.

Two questions: Should I put Vicks in my nose and, second, if it burns my chest, could it burn my feet so I couldn’t even walk?

Staying Out of Trouble with Vicks VapoRub:

A. Do NOT put Vicks VapoRub in your nostrils. The petroleum jelly base, if inhaled, could irritate the lungs and cause pneumonitis. Here is another reader’s experience with lipoid pneumonia due to putting Vicks in the nose. This form of pneumonia is not caused by pathogens but by the tissues’ reaction to the petrolatum. It is very hard to treat (Hadda and Khilnani, Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, Dec. 2010).

That is one reason we have recommended putting Vicks on the soles of the feet. The feet are far enough away from the nose that pneumonitis is not a concern.

Your skin reaction is of concern, however. You might be sensitive to one of the ingredients in Vicks, possibly camphor, eucalyptol or menthol. You would do well to avoid it completely.

There is more information about Vicks VapoRub in our Guide to Unique Uses for Vicks.

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  1. Gerri

    Hmmm. I was given a tube of Mupirocin ointment to put in my nostrils whenever I used the oxygen breathing tube at the hospital. The nurse said this ointment would protect me from bacteria and steph. I used a lot of it. I got pneumonia. This product contains polyethylene which is made from petroleum. This article is too late for me but it may help someone else.

  2. Heather

    Just know that the Vick’s sold today uses synthetic camphor.

  3. BillH

    When I was young we used Vicks in two ways for a cold; on the chest with a towel over it(to keep the grease off the sheets) and on the upper lip but not in the nostril.

  4. frank

    i have been using vicks in my nostrils for 60 years, breathe good at night and never had any reactions. 82 now

  5. Colvin
    Mt Pleasant,SC

    Any warnings about using Vicks on the soles of my 11/2 yo granddaughter?

  6. Al

    Is the risk for pneumonitis the same if you put the vapor rub under your nose, but now inside? If I am stuffy, it helps to open up my passageways.

  7. Robert
    Bellevue, Wa.

    Since Vicks shouldn’t be used in the nose should I also avoid Vasoline or other petroleum jelly in the nose. I get nose bleeds in the cold weather so I occasionally put a bit in my nose to prevent nose bleeds?

  8. Patti

    Just thinking, could he have also used a heating pad and forgotten to mention that? I realize probably not, but that’d do it. The menthol is the reason we shouldn’t use heat when we use bengay.

  9. Helen

    Vick’s has been recommended for toe nail fungus, I’m wondering if it’s good for cracked heels also?

    • Sally

      I don’t know if it would work on cracked heels but I’m thinking it could sting like crazy. Have you tried Vaseline? That always help my dry feet.

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