Safety of Vicks VapoRub for Young Kids

Safety of Vicks Vaporub for young kids

The safety of Vicks VapoRub for young kids is a matter of concern for parents across the world because it is widely used to provide relief from common cold and cough symptoms. Vicks VapoRub is a trusted topical analgesic ointment to provide temporary relief from common cold and cough symptoms. As per the company’s website, when applied on chest, throat and back- it provides 8 hours of relief from cold and cough congestion to enjoy a restful sleep.  When applied to muscles and joints, it provides temporary relief from minor muscles aches and pains as well. In Germany, the same Vicks VapoRub is sold under the trade name “Wick VapoRub”.

In a comparative case study published in the magazine Pediatrics, Nov 2010- Vicks VapoRub was found to be more efficient than white petroleum jelly to subside common cold symptoms among children to ensure better sleep.

Total number of children – 138

Age group – 2 to 11 years

All of them were suffering from common cold, cough and nasal congestion. They were divided into three groups.

  • Vicks VapoRub was applied to the chest and neck of the children of the first group around 30 minutes before the sleep
  • Petroleum jelly was used for the second group
  • Placebo (no medicine) was used for the third group.

The children of the first group (Vicks VapoRub) had better sleep than other two groups.   

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Ingredients of Vicks VapoRub

Going by the company’s claims, it contains a unique combination of camphor and various essential oils with petroleum jelly as a base.

All of its ingredients are 100% natural.

Vicks VapoRub is available in the market in two varieties: Regular and Lemon flavor.

Ingredients for both the varieties are same. Lemon flavored variety has additional lemon fragrance for improved aroma.

Active ingredients (approximate concentrations)

  1. Camphor – 4.8% (Topical analgesic and cough suppressant)
  2. Eucalyptus oil- 1.2% (Cough suppressant)
  3. Menthol – 2.6% (Topical analgesic and cough suppressant)

Inactive ingredients (concentrations not defined)

  1. Essential oils (Cedar leaf oil, Nutmeg oil, Turpentine oil)
  2. Thymol (a derivative of thyme oil)
  3. Petrolatum (also known as petroleum jelly)

Camphor is a waxy material, white in color with a strong odor. It is used externally to treat cough, cold, nasal congestion and various skin infections.

Eucalyptus essential oil is a potent anti-inflammatory oil with expectorant properties- it helps to loosen the phlegm (mucous) so that nasal congestion can be relieved.

Menthol provides a cooling effect by activating the cold-sensitive receptors of your skin. This cooling effect helps in reducing the nasal congestion. Also, it generates a pain killer (analgesic) effect.

Thymol is a derivative of thyme essential oil. It has proven anti-microbial oil properties. It can neutralize the Candida (yeast infection) as well. There are research studies to acknowledge its effectiveness.

As quoted in the magazine Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, Dec 2008 issue – Thyme essential oil, at 1% concentration can effectively inhibit the growth of fungi responsible for nail infection.

Another research study published in the magazine Mycoses, Nov 2007 issue concludes that Thyme essential oil kills Candida (yeast infection) by attacking its cell membranes and metabolism.

How it works

Various ingredients of Vicks VapoRub provide an overall anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anti-microbial effect to help relieve cold and cough symptoms. But, Vicks should not be considered as a substitute for doctor’s diagnosis. It just gives a temporary relief from cold symptoms for a better sleep.

Vicks VapoRub doesn’t open the blocked nostrils as such. The cooling sensation of menthol does the trick by giving the impression of increased air flow through the congested nostrils. It provides your brain an impression that now breathing is easy.

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How to use

  • Rubbing on chest, neck and back– For relief from cough and cold, rub a thick layer on the chest and throat. Wear loose clothing so that the vapors can easily reach your nose. Tight clothing would obstruct the flow of vapors. You can repeat maximum up to three times in a single day.

For better results, some parents rub it on the kids feet also.

  • Inhalation of vapors– Its vapors can be inhaled through hot steam as well. Add 1-2 teaspoons of VapoRub in a bowl of hot water (not boiling), dissolve it properly. Then, lean your face over the steam for around 5 minutes. Use a towel as a tent over your head and the bowl so that your congested nostrils get enough exposure to the medicated vapors.  Steam inhalation is more suitable for adults than children.

Is it safe for long term use

Camphor is one the chief active ingredients of Vicks VapoRub. Due to its poisonous nature, internal consumption of camphor is dangerous. Even for external use, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set an upper limit of 11%- it means that any external topical solution (cream, oil and shampoo) should not have camphor concentration more than 11%. In this case, Vicks with 4.8% camphor is a safe bet. Do remember not to use Vicks on open wounds and cuts as it can enter your bloodstream which may prove toxic.

There is no research evidence to report if long term use of Vicks Vaporub does have any side effects.

In India, it is sold as an Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurvedic medicines have a reputation of being quite safe having almost no side effects when used in the long term.

Safety of Vicks VapoRub for Young Kids

For small kids (2 years and below), the ingredients of Vicks Vaporub can act as nasal irritants to increase the inflammation in the inner lining (membrane) of nostrils. It would result in increased mucus (phlegm) which can choke the airways of young kids to make breathing difficult. Hence, it is clearly mentioned on the outer labeling of Vicks VapoRub not to be used for young children (2 years and below).

There are a few recorded incidences where applying Vicks Vaporub under the nostrils of young children made the things worse and even resulted in hospitalization.

To be on safer side, for children of any age (and even adults), avoid applying it under or inside the nostrils.

Safety Precautions

Various safety precautions are clearly mentioned on the outer labelling of Vicks VapoRub. If you follow them properly, Vicks is very safe for you and your whole family. Let us revise them again:

  • Not to be used for young children (2 years and below)
  • Vicks VapoRub is strictly for external use
  • Don’t use it on cuts or open wounds
  • Avoid eyes
  • Don’t use it inside or under the nose. Otherwise, it can obstruct the normal breathing process.
  • Keep out of the reach of children
  • For pregnant and breast feeding women, prior doctor’s consultation is advised
  • Breast feeding women should not apply it to chest as it can get into the baby’s mouth while feeding. Also the strong odor of Vicks can create breathing troubles for them.

Side effects

Overuse (using more than three times in a day) may have one or more of the below side effects:

  • Breathing troubles
  • Burning sensation
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of concentration
  • Feeling thirsty

Vicks Vaporub is for minor cold and cough symptoms. If you are dealing with chronic cold and cough symptoms or experiencing too much mucus (phlegm) – consult a doctor immediately.  Similarly, if your muscle ache or cold symptoms (cough) lasts for more than 7 days even after using Vicks, it can be a sign of some serious health issue. Immediate doctor’s attention is suggested.

If you experience symptoms such as skin redness, rashes or burning sensation- stop using it and consult your doctor.

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Storage instructions

Store it at room temperature, away from direct heat or sunlight. Few of its ingredients, including the essential oils can be volatile in nature. Hence, don’t apply heat before use. For vapor inhalation, water temperature should not be too high and add Vicks VapoRub slowly into that.

From where to buy

Vicks VapoRub is an over-the-counter topical ointment which is available in various chemist shops and departmental stores quite easily. Otherwise, you can check it at Amazon for some discounts:

If you are from USA, click here to check

If you are from UK, click here to check

If you are from India, click here to check


Safety of Vicks VapoRub for young kids is not a matter of concern if you follow the above explained safety measures. Do not use it for young kids (2 years and below). For other kids and even adults, do not use it under or inside the nostrils.



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