logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Why Does Vicks VapoRub Help Against Some Nail Fungus & Not Others?

Vicks VapoRub is one of many different home remedies that may be effective for fighting unattractive nail fungus.
Why Does Vicks VapoRub Help Against Some Nail Fungus & Not O...
Vicks VapoRub and toenails

Home remedies are rarely studied in double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. As a result, we don’t often have scientific research to show how well-or not-they may work. It is unusual for us to have a solid explanation for the success of certain popular home remedies. One example is the use of Vicks VapoRub for toenail fungus.

Fighting Toenail Fungus:

Q. I have lived with a fungus infection of one big toenail for several years. Various over-the-counter remedies I tried did not work.

I read the following article in the “CR Health” department of the March, 2006 issue of Consumer Reports magazine:

“Applying Vicks VapoRub to fungus-infected toenails can clear up the notoriously hard-to-treat condition. Michigan State University clinicians found that applying the product daily to the infected nail cleared the condition in 32 of 85 patients, though it took anywhere from 5 to 16 months…”

I purchased a tube of Vicks Greaseless Cream VapoRub in mid-February, and have applied it morning and evening to the affected toenail. I use only a small amount, enough to scrape off my finger under the front of the nail and around the cuticle.

To my immense gratification, IT WORKS! (At least for me.) After six weeks of use, the nail has lost most of its previous black color and is showing about a quarter of an inch of fresh, healthy-looking nail coming out of the cuticle as the nail grows. It’s worth trying – nowhere near as expensive as the ineffective stuff they sell for the purpose!

How Well Does Vicks VapoRub Work?

A. Over the years we have heard from many people who have had success with Vicks VapoRub in the treatment of nail fungus. You will read some of their stories below. Others tell us this remedy is totally worthless.

That is not surprising. Many people report failure with pricey prescription anti-fungal products too. Some people spend quite a bit of money on oral antifungal medicine and take it for many months, only to have the fungus return after a temporary “cure.”

It seems as if nail fungus is surprisingly variable. This may be due both to the range of fungal pathogens that can affect nails and to differences among the hosts’ immune systems. Some people never get nail fungus even though they walk barefoot in the garden, in the shower or at a locker room. Others find all their toenails are thick, yellowish-brown and misshapen. Not only do they look ugly, but they are hard to clip. One treatment may work for awhile, but the fungus seems to come back relentlessly.

We often wonder whether there are different fungi at work or if the relationship between the immune system and the fungi have something to do with this problem.

The Research on Vicks VapoRub for Nail Fungus:

As for Vicks VapoRub, there actually have been a few studies showing benefit against nail fungus. In one, people with AIDS (whose immune systems do not function well) had their nail fungus treated with Vicks. The conclusion: safe and effective (Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, Jan-Feb., 2016).

Previously, a pilot study had shown results in 15 out of 18 people using Vicks VapoRub on the nails daily for 48 weeks (Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Jan-Feb., 2011). Even before that, a study of some of the essential oils in Vicks VapoRub showed that they are active against five different species of fungus that infect nail tissue (Phytotherapy Research, April, 2003). Camphor, menthol, thymol and oil of eucalyptus are effective against these organisms. Moreover, fungi rarely develop resistance to them (Mycopathologia, Feb. 2016).

Vicks VapoRub Stories and Experiences from Readers over the Years:

Tom N. touts the house brand at lower cost:

“My solution was simple and no fuss. I rubbed Walmart house brand version of VapoRub (1/3 cost of Vicks) on toenail, uncovered, each night before retiring. After 5 months the fungus has grown out the end of the nail.

“Disclosure: I am not a shill for Walmart….”

We have no opinion as to the quality of generic Vicks VapoRub. The relatively low cost of either the name brand or the house brand does not make this a big issue for us. Keep in mind that a jar will last a long time, even with daily applications.

Vagisil for Nail Fungus?

Jim P. offers a different option–a vaginal anti-itch product:

“On a radio show years ago, Joe or Terry mentioned that resorcinol was an anti-fungal. This is the active ingredient in Vagisil (and store brands).

“So I tried it on my toenail fungus. The results were equal to Vicks VapoRub (complete cure on 3 nails, partial on 1), but the nail surface was smoother and more normal-looking. All I do is rub Vagisil into the affected nails and nail bed once a day after my shower. 30 seconds once a day is all it takes, and there’s no odor or greasy residue.

“Note – you won’t clear up existing fungus; you have to wait for new nail growth to see the difference. (I tried a weak tea tree oil lotion years ago, and all the fungus grew back. I haven’t tried a 100% tea tree oil.)”

Resorcinol has been around for more than 150 years. It has been used topically as an antiseptic and to treat a variety of skin conditions including psoriasis, eczema and acne. Not surprisingly, it has antifungal activity, which might account for why it could be useful against nail fungus.

Amber Listerine & White Vinegar:

Jen says Listerine and vinegar are her go-to solution:

“I used tea tree oil faithfully for several years with some improvement. Also oregano oil, recommended as stronger than tea tree oil – and quite expensive. Again, some improvement. I tried the Vicks with socks at night, but I don’t like sleeping with socks.

“Then I began one hour per week of soaking in water with lots of white vinegar. I had immediate success – the fungus cleared almost completely and quickly.

“Since then I have continued the weekly soaks with vinegar and the amber Listerine and no water – one hour while sitting at the computer. I wonder if there is more than one kind of fungus since the tea tree oil was only somewhat successful, while the vinegar was much better for me. If there is more than one kind of fungus, that would explain why different strokes for different folks seems to be a key factor.

“Incidentally, the weeds in my garden do not like vinegar so I just dump my used soaking mixture there – I have lots of weeds to use it on! And it works.”

We have lost count of the number of people who insist that when all else fails, white vinegar and Listerine foot soaks do the job. We are not surprised. Listerine has a good dose of alcohol and other ingredients that attack fungi.

Vinegar also makes the environment inhospitable to fungi. It does take the kind of patience that Jen describes to work the magic.

Cornmeal Mush Foot Soaks:

K.B. offers one of the stranger home remedies we keep hearing about. His baggie trick is quite clever:

“Regarding the cornmeal treatment: I read about it on this website perhaps two years ago, but, at that time, there were no specific instructions as to usage, so I devised my own, and had great success in approximately six weeks.

“I half-filled a ziploc baggie with corn meal, and as I read or applied makeup or watched television, I placed my foot into the bag so that my afflicted nail was submerged into the dry cornmeal. I would do that twice a day for ten or fifteen minutes at a time.

“For housekeeping purposes, one would need a towel so that foot could be free of cornmeal when finished with treatment. The results were miraculous, and this was such a simple remedy after years of having this unsightly nail, and even visiting dermatologist for prescriptions that did not work. The healthy condition has been maintained without cornmeal.

“I tell everyone about your website and your Saturday morning program on NPR as you truly stay abreast of so many things. of course, we all read your weekly column also.”

K.B.’s innovative approach is quite different from anything we have heard when it comes to cornmeal. The more typical remedy is to make a cornmeal batter. Here is one example:

Larry loves cornmeal mush. We are still astonished that it could work SO fast. It kind of defies logic, but hey, there’s not much to lose giving it a try:

“When examining me my doctor noticed that I had nail fungus affecting toes on each foot.  He recommended that I make a batter by mixing cornmeal and water, let it sit for an hour, and then using a shallow pan, soak my feet for an hour.  He told me to do this once a week for a month.  If the fungus was not gone, I was supposed to apply Vicks Vaporub once a week for a month.

I did the cornmeal therapy for three week and the fungus was gone. I don’t know why it works, but it’s cheap, harmless, and it worked for me.”

We make no promises about any nail fungus remedy. What works for Larry may not work for Sue or Henry or Mary. You will have to experiment to discover whether Vicks VapoRub or some other remedy is the best approach for you.

Please share your own experience in the fight against nail fungus in the comment section below.

Rate this article
3.7- 595 ratings
About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
  • Snell M et al, "A novel treatment for onychomycosis in people living with HIV infection: Vicks VapoRub™ is effective and safe." Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, Jan-Feb., 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.jana.2015.10.004
  • Derby R et al, "Novel treatment of onychomycosis using over-the-counter mentholated ointment: a clinical case series." Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Jan-Feb., 2011. DOI: 10.3122/jabfm.2011.01.100124
  • Ramsewak RS et al, "In vitro antagonistic activity of monoterpenes and their mixtures against 'toe nail fungus' pathogens." Phytotherapy Research, April, 2003. DOI: 10.1002/ptr.1164
  • Flores FC et al, "Essential oils for treatment for onychomycosis: A mini-review." Mycopathologia, Feb. 2016. DOI: 10.1007/s11046-015-9957-3
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.