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Vicks VapoRub for Treating Toenail Fungus

Professional foot care nurses know that remedies like Vicks VapoRub may be good for treating toenail fungus. Listen to Jane share her story!

Have you had difficulties treating toenail fungus? Often, such infections are very hard to eradicate. Some readers have gotten good results with an improbable remedy, though–Vicks VapoRub.

Vicks Overcame Athlete’s Foot as Well as Nail Fungus:

Q. I had athlete’s foot and nail fungus that wouldn’t go away. Daily application of a house brand chest rub (with the same ingredients as Vicks VapoRub) cured both. The nail fungus disappeared within about four months. I don’t know if this works for everyone, but it sure works for me.

A. Decades ago a professional footcare nurse told us that applications of Vicks VapoRub could help against nail fungus. A small study published in the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (Jan-Feb. 2016) reported that “Vicks VapoRub was shown to be an effective and safe treatment of onychomycosis [nail fungus].”

The antifungal activity of some ingredients in your chest rub (thymol, eucalyptus, camphor and menthol) may account for the benefits you have seen. That may also help explain the benefits against athlete’s foot, a common fungal infection of the skin.

How We Learned About Vicks VapoRub for Treating Toenail Fungus:

About 25 years ago we heard from Jane, a foot care nurse in Massachusetts. She traveled the state taking care of patients with diabetes and other conditions that create all sorts of foot and nail problems.

Jane told us that she had a great remedy for treating toenail fungus: Vicks® VapoRub®:

“I am a professional footcare nurse who sees about 200 clients per month. A large percentage have fungus in their nails. Many have used expensive prescription medications, often for long periods, without relief.

“Since learning about the vinegar remedy a few years ago, I have shared the information, and asked my clients to make sure there were no medical contraindications before using it. Daily vinegar footbaths are essential for this remedy to work effectively. It takes months for the new nail to grow out completely. During this time, I gradually trim away the old diseased nail. When my clients see the new healthy nail coming into view, they realize this remedy works.

“Another remedy under study is the use of Vicks VapoRub on diseased nails. This method may be easier for some people to follow. It will be interesting to see the results of the research.”

We were so intrigued with her story that we interviewed Jane on our syndicated public radio show: Here is her story about treating nail fungus in her own words:


Initially, we were a bit skeptical. How could a chest rub that has been around for more than 100 years do anything for fungus-infected nails? Dermatologists and podiatrists had told us with great confidence that nothing really penetrates the nail to affect the fungus underneath. Nonetheless, Jane had years of experience and she also communicated with other foot care nurses around the country.

Treating Toenail Fungus with Vicks: The Big Experiment!

We decided it was worth writing about in our nationally syndicated newspaper column. When we did, we began hearing from many experimentally-minded individuals who tried Vicks on their nails and were satisfied with the results. Here is an early response:

May 24, 1999

After reading about toenail fungus, I could not resist passing along my recommendation. Four months ago a nurse who does foot care suggested I use Vicks VapoRub for my own nail fungus. I rub it on each nail every day, and my nails are growing out clear. This way of treating nail fungus is cheap and easy. I’m sure many households keep Vicks on hand for congestion just as we do.”

Fast forward to spring, 2022:

“For some time I was bothered with toenail fungus and complained about it to my doctor. He prescribed medication to be taken daily and noted that the cure would take months.

“I faithfully took the drug for four months and never saw any improvement. Then I read in your column that Vicks VapoRub might be helpful. I started applying Vicks to the sides and under the toenail each morning upon rising and evening upon retiring.

“Within a week the fungus was retreating. Before too long it had cleared up and has now remained fungus-free for over a year. I continue to apply Vicks once a month, needed or not, to try to prevent a recurrence.”

What’s in Vicks That Might Help in Treating Toenail Fungus?

As we have mentioned, the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub include camphor, menthol, eucalyptus oil, cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, petrolatum, thymol and turpentine oil. Some of these ingredients have antifungal activity. Applying a dab to a diseased nail seems like an inexpensive and safe treatment. Scientists would like to see more than one or two small studies, though (Skin Appendage Disorders, July 2022).

More Stories About Treating Toenail Fungus:

June 28, 1999

“I never had a problem with nail fungus until a can fell on my foot in the grocery store a few years ago. I began using the Vicks VapoRub I read about in your column and my nail is growing out clear.”

Victory Over Toenail Fungus with Vicks:

Mac McC., Sept. 20, 1999

“I had toenail fungus so bad that there were little white things on the left big toe eating away at the nail. My family doctor said it would take three visits and three treatments and the medicine can be hard on the liver. What really got my attention was the cost: $700.

I checked with a friend who is a podiatrist. He confirmed what the doctor said but assured me that the liver scare was no big problem.

“A week later, just before my wife and I left on a one month trip to Europe, she read your column about using Vicks VapoRub to kill toenail fungus. As soon as we got to Switzerland we went to an international pharmacy and bought a small jar of Vicks.

“I went straight to my room and put on my first treatment. The next morning the white things were gone. Six weeks later, there is no sign of toenail fungus! Now I apply it only once a week.

“I probably should share the $700 I saved with you but I spent it in Europe. I do want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for printing this home remedy.”

Details About Treating Toenail Fungus:

If you would like more detailed written information about all sorts of solutions for hair and nail problems, you may wish to download our FREE Guide to Hair and Nail Care. You will learn how to deal with dastardly dandruff with MoM (milk of magnesia) or Listerine. You will also discover some amazing tips to get rid of lice, should anyone in your circle of friends, family or acquaintances ever need some nontoxic solutions to this vexing problem. And find out why some folks sing the praises of the oral supplement MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) for healthy hair and nails.

If you would like to read more stories about Vicks VapoRub, you might wish to download our FREE Guide to Unique Uses for Vicks. It reveals the most unusual use of all: Putting Vicks on the soles of the feet to ward off a nighttime cough.

Here is a cool story to whet your appetite:

“My mother-in-law always used to swear by Vicks on the bottom of the feet for a cough. We thought it was ludicrous.

“Well, Mom might have been right after all. I have an upper respiratory virus and haven’t slept in two nights, because of coughing. All day today, I couldn’t get out more than two or three words at a time without coughing. My doctor said to just let it run its course and try some Mucinex. But that hadn’t worked in the past. So, I thought, why not Vicks?

“I rubbed the bottom of my feet and put on some clean white cotton athletic socks. Within minutes, literally, I could get out a full sentence. I still have an occasional cough this evening, but it is 95% better.

“Hopefully this will give my sore ribs a rest for a few hours. I swear, the last time I coughed, before I tried the Vicks, I thought I twisted a kidney! I do agree with the reports I have read though. It should never be used in children under 2 years old.”

If you found this story fascinating, you will want to know why Vicks might work to calm a cough. Here is a link to one of our most popular articles:

Vicks on the Soles of Your Feet Is Better Than Diamonds on the Soles of Your Shoes

The Science Behind Treating Toenail Fungus with Vicks VapoRub:

Lest you think all the Vicks stories are anecdotes, there is additional research to back up the use of Vicks VapoRub against nail fungus. Check out this article in ISRN Dermatology, Jan. 26, 2012.

The authors concluded:

“Vicks VapoRub (The Proctor & Gamble Company, Cincinnati, OH) is effective against onychomycosis [nail fungus] and is a reasonable option in patients who choose to forgo conventional treatments.”

And this article in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine reported on the results of an actual study, demonstrating a “positive treatment effect in 83% of the subjects.”

So, there you have it. The People’s Pharmacy take on Vicks VapoRub for treating toenail fungus: It won’t work for everyone, but a surprising number of people say it does help.


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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.”.
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  • 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
  • Nickles MA et al, "Complementary and alternative therapies for onychomycosis: A systematic review of the clinical evidence." Skin Appendage Disorders, July 2022. DOI: 10.1159/000521703
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