The People's Perspective on Medicine

Should You Pay Less for Vicks VapoRub®?

An irate reader discovered that a favorite rub now contains a synthetic ingredient instead of natural essential oil. Should we pay less for Vicks VapoRub?

Vicks VapoRub® is a familiar household product with a venerable history. It has been around since the turn of the 20th century, and for much of that time, it contained natural essential oils. In the 21st century, however, the manufacturer substituted a synthetic compound for one of the ingredients. Does that mean you should pay less for Vicks VapoRub?

With Synthetic Camphor, Reader Wants to Pay Less for Vicks VapoRub:

Q. I recently spent $4.50 for a 1.75-ounce tub of Vicks VapoRub® (brand name). When I read the ingredients, I noticed that after camphor it says (synthetic). I wrote to the company and the response was: “We have used synthetic camphor since 2004/2005.”

I have found house-brand chest rub for just $0.99, and the ingredients don’t list anything synthetic. I don’t see why we should pay so much more for synthetic.
I was recently in Germany and had a nasty cough. It responded immediately to Klosterfrau chest rub, which contains camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil. Nothing synthetic in it!

A. The manufacturer of Vicks VapoRub® stated in response to your query,

“VapoRub’s formulation has natural ingredients as well as synthetic ingredients to more reliably ensure our ability to source our raw materials. The synthetic camphor was tested and proven to deliver the same product benefits as the natural camphor for VapoRub®.”

The active ingredients in Vicks are camphor, eucalyptus oil and menthol. They have been staples in this product for over 100 years. Other “inactive” ingredients include cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, petrolatum, thymol and turpentine oil.

To learn more about unusual ways people have used Vicks VapoRub®, you may wish to download our free Guide to Unique Uses for Vicks. Tell us how you use it, and whether you have found a way to pay less for Vicks VapoRub®.

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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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Instead of Vick’s my whole family has used Unker’s for many years because it has all Natural botanical oils with eucalyptus, wintergreen, menthol crystals, pine needle oil, and camphor. It smells just like Vick’s. I get it on line and at our local health store. Love the stuff for arthritis and sore muscles and much more.

I just bought Vick’s Vaporub just over a week ago for about $8(3.53 oz jar). After I got home I opened it to smell it. This did not smell like what was put on me when I was a sick child. It is not as strong as it used to be. I bought to use on my grandchildren when they get sick. I hope it works but I will go looking for the off brand without synthetic camphor. A few days ago I tried to use it above my lip for a stuffy nose. It barely had any effect. I would wake up unable to breathe through one nostril, depending on which side I was sleeping on.

I have had Restless Leg Syndrome for three years.. all the different treatment I tried didn’t help me..I couldn’t feel my feet or wiggle
My toes.
I read a Vicks Vapo Rub ad that said to rub Vick’s on my feet & toes,
Put on socks to bed, & in the morning, I couldnt believe it, but I could feel my feet & Wiggle my toes. I haven’t looked back.
Now, I rub Vick’s on my legs, & thanks to Vick’s..

I first noticed the difference in smell when I bought a new bottle of Vicks chest rub. I looked at the ingredients as well and noticed a difference. I got a new jar, off-brand, and it has the natural ingredient. I think many of the “off brands” are available with the original ingredients.

I too will look for another substitute for Vicks. If the natural ingredients have proven effective why take a chance on synthetics?

I think that seeing the list of “other ingredients” helps me to understand why being exposed to cedar leaf in a floral arrangement class gave me a strong reaction. My mother used Vicks when we were kids. We were the generation that also swallowed it.

As an adult, I realized that Vicks made me sick, which was something I never noticed as a kid because I was already sick. But I react strongly to eucalyptus in various forms. When used in floral arrangements at church, I had to leave the chapel because it made me so sick, even though the chapel was large. I never used Vicks on any of my 4 kids.

I am happy for the people that it helps.

a brand of chest rub from my local dollar store for several years with the same results as the Vicks VapoRub brand. There’s a big difference in price and no synthetics, if you can believe the “made in China” label.

I, too, have a bad reaction to eucalyptus in any form. I’m glad to be reminded that Vick’s contains this oil. I use toner pads to clean my face and they make me cough for a couple of minutes. I’m assuming they have eucalyptus in them.

I’m more interested in knowing what The Peoples Pharmacy thinks. For me I think I’ll start looking for a substitute for Vicks.

One can purchase menthol (Mentholatum) with camphor or buy natural camphor separately as well as eucalyptus and mix your own.

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