The People's Perspective on Medicine

Amazing New Uses for Old-Fashioned Remedies

Old-fashioned remedies like Vicks VapoRub or Listerine have a myriad of unexpected uses.

Suffering is the mother of creativity. People will do almost anything to relieve their discomfort. Perhaps that is why some folks have tried rinsing their scalps with old-fashioned Listerine for flaky dandruff. Others have dabbed vodka on their itchy poison ivy.

People reach for what they have on hand, which might account for why common household products show up so frequently in strange home remedies. Who knew you could use Phillip’s Milk of Magnesia as an underarm deodorant instead of a laxative?

The Wonders of Vicks VapoRub:

Perhaps the most versatile of all is Vicks VapoRub. This old-fashioned salve has been used for more than a century to ease chest congestion. But people have invented an astonishing assortment of other uses.

Vicks Against Toenail Fungus:

Seven years ago we heard from Jane Kelley, RN, a foot care nurse in Massachusetts. She told us that some of her colleagues were using Vicks VapoRub on patients’ fungus-infected toenails. Since then, it has appeared in the medical literature. This article is titled: “A Novel Treatment for Onychomycosis [toenail fungus] in People Living with HIV Infection: Vicks VapoRub Is Effective and Safe” (Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, Jan-Feb. 2016).

Vicks to Calm a Nighttime Cough:

Then we heard from another nurse that smearing Vicks on the soles of the feet could help a child with a cough sleep through the night. It wasn’t long before the floodgates opened and we began to hear about using Vicks on paper cuts, mosquito and fire ant bites and seborrheic dermatitis.

Some folks use Vicks to keep frisky kittens from scratching their legs. Others find it useful for softening calluses on their feet or scaly skin on elbows.

Vicks for Hemorrhoids–Don’t!

One woman insisted that Vicks can relieve the discomfort of hemorrhoids, but we generally advise against this application.

John Welter, an essayist who tried it, reported that

“The active ingredients in VapoRub–which I think are menthol, camphor and napalm–instantly engulfed my hemorrhoidal locality in spontaneous combustion.”

Keep Vicks Off Other Sensitive Tissues:

There is another place one should probably not put Vicks.

We received this message from a reader:

“I was experimenting with Vicks VapoRub to see if it would help my jock itch. I inadvertently got some where I shouldn’t. I believe I have found a poor man’s Viagra!”

This is not the first we had heard of this effect of Vicks. Pharmacist Anna Barrigan told us of her experience in Alaska in the 1950s, when most of the jobs were in construction, gold dredges, bars and the military. With a ratio of 50 to 60 men for every woman, there were long lines outside the houses of prostitution every payday. The “ladies of the evening” all got paid the same, so if they wanted to make more they had to work quicker. Apparently some of them sped things along with a tiny dab of Vicks in a critical location.

According to Ms. Barrigan,

“It would get the blood flowing to that organ in very little time. I guess this was a very early form of Viagra.”

We urge readers NOT to try this at home! Vicks is intended for external use only and is not for delicate tissues.

If you’d like to know more about the fascinating things people do with Vicks VapoRub we offer our Guide, Unique Uses for Vicks.

Revised 6/7/18

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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How much Vaporub must I smear on the soles of my feet? Too many of these remedies are very nonspecific.

BTW, if your job involves close proximity to rotting corpses (or other bad smells), a little Vicks above the upper lip can help.

I use MILK OF MAGNESIA as deodorant and works very well for me. and vicks for colds and caughing on feet and it works too, and for nail fungus; also, place a half of an onion near the bed nigthtstand, will stop the caugh in children and adults. And Listerine under the breast n summer when I get a rash, it works better than some medications.

Although I think I read everythng I see about health, medicine, drugs etc., I think I decided to use Vicks on my toes nail fungus all by myself. It’s so interesting to see it’s an idea some podiatrists recommend. I’ll let you know when/if it works.

Many uses for Vic’s: to put on scratch, insect bite, on cotton tip to get rid of ear ache, to make lips a bit bigger before putting on lip stick.

Insect repellant against mosquitos and after being bit, to rid of toe nail fungus, to get rid of cough by putting on bottom of your feet, night congestion.

The NYT said it was the thyme oil in Vick’s that was effective on toe nail fungus. My podiatrist recommended Vick’s. It takes time but it works & is less odiferous than thyme oil.

I used it on the bottom of my feet when I caught a very bad cold 2 months ago. It allowed me to get a good nights rest.

Milk of magnesia is recommended as a mouth wash for burning mouth syndrome. It doesn’t cure it but it does refresh the mouth & makes it feel better.

You just wonder now, if the old remedies are really the best to use.

Listerine has been used as a solution to under arm odor

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