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What Is Vapor Rub?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Feb 10, 2024
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Vapor rub, also referred to as chest rub or mentholated rub, is a petroleum-based topical gel that is primarily used to treat symptoms of the common cold such as congestion and cough. While it was originally marketed to treat respiratory illnesses, a variety of additional uses have been found for this product. Some of the most popular uses of this product include the treatment of fungal infections such as ringworm, the soothing of sore muscles and joints, and the moisturizing of dry, cracked heels. Most people are able to use vapor rub without experiencing any negative side effects, although mild skin irritation is sometimes reported. Any questions or concerns about the various uses of this product or the safety of its use in an individual situation should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

The traditional use of vapor rub involves rubbing the ointment on the chest in order to reduce cold symptoms such as cough, chest congestion, or nasal congestion. This medication has a strong odor and is typically used just before bed, often allowing the affected person to breathe more easily and sleep more soundly. Milder formulations are commercially available for infants and young children.

There are several skin benefits associated with the use of this product. Fungal infections such as ringworm or athlete's foot may be prevented or treated by daily application of this product to the affected area. Nail fungus can be difficult to treat, but there have been many reports claiming the successful treatment of this condition with regular use of vapor rub. This product can be applied several times per day to dry, cracked heels to soothe discomfort and promote healing. Acne, rosacea, and eczema may also respond to treatment with this product.

Ingredients such as menthol that are found in vapor rub make this product a promising treatment for muscle and joint pain. This gel can be gently massaged into sore muscles or over the affected joints for quick pain relief. The hands should be washed thoroughly after applying this rub to the skin, as pain and irritation can occur if this product gets in the eyes.

Other reported uses for vapor rub include relief from sinus headaches, sore throat, and fever. This product is also thought to be an effective insect repellent when a thin layer is applied to the skin. Negative side effects are rare, and mentholated rubs are considered to be safe for most people. Any new or bothersome symptoms that develop after beginning treatment with this product should be reported to a doctor for further medical evaluation.

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Discussion Comments
By Ahmerus — On Feb 02, 2014

It certainly seems to be a product for all seasons and every ailment. I just remember how miserable I was as a child, to have vapor rub applied by my mother. Of course, I was just a child, and perhaps the formulation since then has changed a little, but I don't remember feeling any better after the application. I do, however, remember the distinguishable smell.

However, the next time I have a severe cold, cracked feet, sinus headache, nail fungus, sore joints or am attacked by mosquitoes, I will remember this article. Desperate times call for desperate measures, which there will have to be for me to choose to use the smelly stuff as an adult.

By Certlerant — On Feb 01, 2014

That is a good tip, Glasis.

The reason vapor rub would work in that instance and works to relieve headaches and chest congestion is that the menthol opens up pores and sinuses.

Although it is not the best solution, someone with asthma can use vapor rub in an emergency in place of an inhaler until they can get medical help.

By Glasis — On Feb 01, 2014

A good tip for relieving a bad cough before bedtime is to apply vapor rub to the bottom of your feet and put on a clean pair of socks.

Even the deepest cough will go away quickly, allowing you to sleep better.

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