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Why Would Vicks VapoRub Soothe Poison Ivy Itch?

Have you ever wondered why hot water can ease a poison ivy itch or the itch of a mosquito bite? We think it's all about TRP. We think TRP might explain why Vicks VapoRub might also work.

Did you know that Vicks VapoRub has been around for more than a century? It can be found all over the world. We have been collecting Unique Uses fo Vicks for decades. Here is one that we never heard before: Vicks against poison ivy itch. At first blush we thought it was odd. On further reflection, we think we have an explanation for why it might work.

More Vicks history at this link:

A New Use for an Old Remedy:

Q. I’d like to tell you about a new use for Vicks VapoRub. I got some poison ivy on my legs when I was mowing the lawn, and I just couldn’t get it to stop itching.

When I slapped some Vicks on it, the rash stopped itching. The next morning the redness had diminished.

How Could Vicks Relieve a Poison Ivy Itch?

A. Skin cells that encounter a stimulus like a mosquito bite or a poison ivy reaction use nerves to send the message (“it itches!”) to the brain. These nerves contain transient receptor potential (TRP) channels that are sensitive to itch (Neuron, May 2, 2018).

TRP channels respond to certain chemicals in addition to temperature and itch. Overwhelming them can shut down the sensation of itch for a while. That is why a short blast of hot water works so well to stop an itch.

Capsaicin, the hot stuff in hot peppers, can do the same thing (Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, online Feb. 10, 2018).  Other TRP channels respond to menthol and camphor, key ingredients in Vicks VapoRub (Neuropeptides, Feb. 2010).

We suspect this might help explain why Vicks eases a poison ivy itch. We have been embracing the TRP channel hypothesis for a number of home remedies. If you find this interesting, check out these TRP-related remedies.

Hot Water for Itches: TRP explanation?

HotShot for Muscle Cramps: TRP!

Find out how we learned about the TRP connection with leg cramps at this link:

Hiccups and TRP?

How Could a Cold Mouth Stop Your Migraine? TRP perchance?

There are lots more possibilities for the TRP hypothesis of home remedies. They include soap for nerve pain and leg cramps.

and aromatherapy: Can a Sniff of Alcohol Relieve Nausea?

It’s entirely possible that TRP channels may explain other mysterious home remedies, including Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet to halt a cough. Anyone who would like to know more about the science behind alternative therapies may find our newest eGuide of interest: Graedons’ Favorite Home Remedies. It is available at this link.

Perhaps the idea that Vicks VapoRub might help ease a poison ivy itch isn’t so strange after all.

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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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