logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Vicks VapoRub Has a Venerable History

Vicks VapoRub Has a Venerable History

Vicks VapoRub in the familiar blue bottle is an American icon known round the world. Its distinctive aroma of camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil brings back memories of loving treatment for childhood colds or congestion.

This product dates back more than a century. Pharmacist Lunsford Richardson moved his family to Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1890. When his three young children caught nasty colds, the poultices and vaporizing lamp used to treat respiratory infections were messy and hard to use, so Richardson set to work to create a better product.

According to family legend, he had traveled in France where he observed the use of menthol, an exotic ingredient from Japan. He developed a croup and pneumonia salve containing menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, thymol and turpentine oil.

Richardson named his new creation for his brother-in-law Dr. Joshua Vick. Not only was Dr. Vick well-known and respected in town, he also had a name short enough to fit on labels pasted on the lids of the blue jars.

The devastating flu epidemic of 1918 had one positive outcome: It made Vicks VapoRub a household name. Millions of jars were sold and sales went from $900,000 to $2.9 million in just one year. In 1985 the entire line of Vicks products was acquired by Procter & Gamble.

We viewed Vicks VapoRub as a quaint relic of bygone times until a few years ago when we heard from foot care nurse Jane Kelley of Richmond, Massachusetts. She alerted us to the possible use of Vicks to treat nail fungus. Here are her tips for using this home remedy on affected finger- or toenails:

“A daily, light film of VapoRub gradually penetrates the affected nail, softening the debris and enables easier removal, while it seems to prevent fungal invasion into the newer emerging nail.”

Since we first mentioned Vicks for toenail fungus we have heard from dozens of readers who have had success with this home remedy. Some of the essential oils in this venerable product have antifungal properties and their synergistic action may account for its benefit.

One man reported that severe nail fungus had plagued him for years. The dermatologist advised him to live with it. After reading our column, he started treating his toes around the nails with a generous application of Vicks twice a day. A year later, he was cured.

Here is another message from a visitor to this website:

“I went to this site 2 months ago in a desperate attempt to cure my toenail fungus that I acquired at least 5 years ago. It was getting too painful to even walk because the nail was curling inward, not to mention ugly as sin! So suffice it to say, it was bad!

“However, after reading this site, my toenail fungus is 3/4’s healed!!! The bottom of my nail is coming in, a beautiful whitish pink and the ugly yellow/blue/black thick nail is only at the very tip of the nail now (when it was all the way to the cuticle before). I could actually watch the progress, as the new healthy pink nail growth gradually ascended higher and higher.

“I used the (equal parts) white vinegar/yellow listerine solution and soaked my toes every night for 20 mins. I also rubbed vicks vapor rub into the nail bed and underneath the nail about twice a week. I started in the middle of April, so its only been about 2 months. I was lazy and skipped the soak maybe 3 times in the 2 month period. So I wasn’t completely neurotic about it, but I was fairly disciplined. lol

“As a side note….I had to visit the doctor a few weeks ago for poison ivy and while i was there asked him for a prescription for toenail fungus. I didnt mention to him that i was already in the middle of my own home remedy procedure. He informed me that the prescriptions dont work and wouldnt even prescribe me anything. He said from his experience the best results came from VicksVaporub.

“So I left feeling assured that I was on the right track…and I’m happy to report that it’s working! I will soon be able to walk around without nail polish anymore! Yaaaaaaay!”

We have also heard from people who have developed other ingenious uses for this old home remedy. Although the bottle warns against applying Vicks to wounds, one reader reports that it is great for paper cuts: ” It works better than aloe or anything else I have used. I keep a jar on my desk that everyone uses. They are surprised at how fast it works and that it doesn’t hurt when you apply it.”

Readers also tell us Vicks is good for relieving the itch of mosquito bites or the pain of wasp stings. They use it for tennis elbow or seborrheic dermatitis around the nose and eyebrows as well as severe dandruff on the scalp. And here’s one of the most amazing stories of all:

“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 that 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 didn’t work in the past. So, I thought, why not!

“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 would like to learn more about the amazing properties of this old-fashioned remedy you may wish to download our Guide To Unique Uses for Vicks.

Who would imagine this old-fashioned salve could inspire so many new uses? The herbs and essential oils in Vicks VapoRub make it as popular today as it was a century ago. And we assure you, we have zero interest in the company that makes Vicks VapoRub and they ignore our unusual stories. So, there is no conflict of interest, just interesting uses for an old product. That’s what you have come to expect from The People’s Pharmacy. Learn more here.

Rate this article
star-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-emptystar-fullstar-empty
3.2- 14 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.” .
Get the latest health news right in your inbox

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

Screenshots of The People's Pharmacy website on mobile devices of various sizes
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.