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Will Vicks VapoRub Help Your Athlete’s Foot?

Vicks is not promoted as a treatment for athlete's foot. How could Vicks VapoRub help? It contains many essential oils with antifungal activity.
Will Vicks VapoRub Help Your Athlete’s Foot?
Vicks VapoRub and toenails

If you have ever struggled with persistent athlete’s foot, you know it can be hard to eradicate this fungal infection. Of course, there are plenty of over-the-counter products for treating it. In addition, doctors may prescribe powerful antifungal creams. One reader found, however, that the best treatment is an old-fashioned cold remedy. How could Vicks VapoRub help control athlete’s foot?

Vicks VapoRub for Athlete’s Foot:

Q. I am a health care provider. Ever since I participated in college athletics (and did not wear flip-flops in the shower), I have struggled with athlete’s foot. I have tried every “azole” on the market–ketoconazole, clotrimazole, etc. All have failed, especially in summer when my heels split and crack.

Finally, I chanced upon a solution: shortly after bathing, when my feet are semi-dry, I remove the upper layer of callus. I then liberally apply Vicks VapoRub and wear thick socks to keep it from smearing the floor. Within a day, my feet are like new.

Why Does Vicks VapoRub Help?

A. Vicks VapoRub is not sold as an athlete’s foot product. However, this ointment contains a number of essential oils with antifungal activity. They include: camphor, eucalyptus oil, menthol, thymol, cedarleaf oil and nutmeg oil. Possibly putting them all together utilizes synergy that improves their effectiveness.

Other readers have also found that Vicks VapoRub is helpful against athlete’s foot and toenail fungus. One small study compared Vicks to plain petroleum jelly for nail fungus and found that it was effective (Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Jan-Feb, 2011).

When ordinary antifungal drugs don’t heal athlete’s foot, doctors may be encouraged to prescribe oral medication (Mycopathologia, Nov-Dec 2008). Perhaps the first step should be to ask the patient to do a trial and see whether Vicks VapoRub helps. If not, an oral medicine might well be appropriate.

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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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  • Derby R et al, "Novel Ttreatment of onychomycosis using over-the-counter mentholated ointment: A clinical case series." Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Jan-Feb, 2011. DOI: 10.3122/jabfm.2011.01.100124
  • Gupta AK et al, "Update in antifungal therapy of dermatophytosis." Mycopathologia, Nov-Dec 2008. DOI: 10.1007/s11046-008-9109-0
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