The People's Perspective on Medicine

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.

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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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I liked everything but all i wanted to know if the old vicks had something in it that the new vicks dont Thanks marlene my question wasnt answered

I don’t know, but beware of off-brand “vaporubs.” Within the past three years I have seen store brands that had only menthol plus artificial scent to make it smell like Vick’s, but without the essential oils that seem to give Vick’s so many of its healing effects. Read the labels.

Is there anything Vicks can’t do? Vocks VapoRub has helped me with my Seborrheic Dermatitis. I had scoured the internet for home remedies and natural treatments to help my skin. I read in one of the articles that Vicks helps kill fungus. You are very prone to a fungal infection if you have Seborrheic Derm. I have it on my face and as a 15 year old, that really kills my self esteem. It’s on the skin of my eyebrows, my eyelids and my cheeks. I have Dermatitis covering almost every inch of my skin; except for my hands, feet, genitals, stomach and neck.
For now, I am just glad that I don’t have it kn my scalp or my hands. Back to the point! I also read that S.D. is caused by the natural oiliness of the skin and you need to avoid all oils in order to help stop the fungus to grow. Vicks fights the fungal infection, while putting moisture back into your skin. Do not rub baby oil to or any other oils into your skin to try and moisturise it. QV cream is very helpful if your skin is not too dry.
Vicks has helped me so much, it cleared up my face for months. I won’t promise that Vicks will get rid of S.D COMPLETELY, but I will promise you that if you keep using Vicks to ward off the infection, I guarantee that the S.D will stay away. (Also, go out in the sun! Natural UV lights help fight the fungi! If that doesn’t help, go to your GP and ask if you can try their Light Box Treatment! Search it up! It has cleared most of my skin up! I only have to get rid of the damn scars!)
God Bless y’all who are suffering.Xxx

I have seborheic dermatitis on my face. I have tried countless prescriptions and “at home remedies” and nothing would work! It got to the point where I was so self conscious and depressed I hated to leave the house or see anyone.
I applied vicks on the areas and seen results that same day! I couldnt believe it! Im on day 2 and its 50% better!! Im amazed!

I bought some Vicks the other day and it doesn’t smell the same! It was some citrusy smell! I prefer the original!!!! How can I get it????

My grandma (R.I.P.) was a fan of Vaporub. It almost seemed like according to her, if Vaporub, Listerine or CamphoFenec couldn’t cure what ails you, just give it up, because you just can t be cured! LOL!! Yes,she would put Vaporub on our feet when we had colds. I thought it was to make our feet slippery so we couldn’t run away! Also, she would have us drink lemon juice and honey in warm water and eat horehound candy. Bless my grandma, she knew what was best, even though it seemed like torture at the time. A TRIBUTE TO ALL OF OUR GRANDMOTHERS WHO LOVED US SO MUCH

Thank you for curing the fungus on my toenails with vicks – didn’t beleive it would really work but it did. My problem now is how do I cure my thick yellow toenails as they are hard to trim and to say nothing about being very unattractive esp when I wear sandals. Is there an easy way to cure this after many years?

I would like to know if by using the vicks are u suppose to stay inside or was that just a tale I heard? Also any remedies for headaches they wake me up at night and I usually have them every day and I will put it this way it is easier to say when I haven’t had one since that is so seldom.

This really does work for coughs. I use it every night so that I don’t wake up in the morning with a sinus headache.

Fungi hate an acidic environment. The simplest remedy for nail fungus is to soak in vinegar water a few times a week. Your nails will look better quickly, and re-growth will be normal.
I used this method successfully on my mother in her 80’s and 90’s, when she lived a nursing home, where nail fungus is epidemic. This treatment healed her toes tremendously, and kept new infection at bay.

A friend had beginning shingles. Her doctor gave her the latest info about how vicks can really help with beginning shingles. It may burn a little, but seems to really help reduce the all around agony of the stuff. My friend went home, tried vicks and was thrilled.

Question: how long did you or the person with shingles use the Vicks? I take gabapentin 100 mg 3x day. Trying to use something to reduce the PHN pain so I won’t have to use the gabapentin as much.

I would like to use Vicks for toe nail fungus, but am concerned about applying “special petrolatum, thymol, turpentine oil” (unhealthy ingredients?) to my skin and nails for such a long period of time. Graedons?
PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: From all the reports we have gotten, we would say that skin reactions to these ingredients do happen but are not at all common. One further warning: sometimes the toenail being treated for fungus comes off.

I encountered poison ivy for the first time and was surprised with the terrible itch/burning sensation and discomfort. Initially, not knowing what the rash was, I rubbed the area with Vicks after washing my arm with anti-bacterial soap. Experienced a cooling sensation that was soothing almost immediately. The itch/burning and other discomfort stopped. Did this 3-4 times a day for about a week.

Great testimony. I’ve used Vicks since childhood and recently carried it on my Backpacking journey across the world. As I recall Vicks was available in most countries. It works on ‘Bug Bites’, some fungus infections, ‘dry nostrils’, hemorrhoids, ‘dings & nicks’ and as a chest rub. I wouldn’t be without it – ever!
Regards, Bob

See US Patent numbers 6344190 and 6361785 for a discussion on the use of Vicks for toe nail fungus.

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