Vicks VapoRub Isn't Just For Colds—Here's 12 Ways to Use It


Tawn Bannister for BYRDIE / Design by Michela Buttignol

While many medical treatments from the early 1900s have been vehemently debunked, a handful have managed to stand the test of time. At the top of this list is everyone's favorite blue goo, Vicks VapoRub, a topical cough suppressant designed to clear the sinuses and alleviate the symptoms of the common cold. But in addition to this marketed use, Vicks has a handful of other, lesser-known uses that are far more interesting (and no less effective). From alleviating headaches to so many different skin uses– we wanted to get the inside scoop on all of the magical ways to use this affordable gel.

To learn more, we reached out to dermatologist Dr. Howard Sobel and general practitioner Dr. Pauline Jose. Read on to learn some genius uses for this drugstore staple.

Meet the Expert

  • Howard Sobel, MD, is the founder of Sobel Skin and attending dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
  • Pauline Jose, MD, is a specialist in family medicine. She is also a clinical instructor at UCLA.
5 Great Alternative Ways to Use Vaporub
Michela Buttignol / Byrdie 
01 of 12

Heal Your Feet

Vicks VapoRub is a common home remedy used to alleviate certain foot conditions, including athlete’s foot. The standout antimicrobial ingredients of the rub, plus the inclusion of petroleum jelly, help to lock in moisture while killing off bacteria. "Vicks VapoRub has three major oils in its ingredients. It has camphor, 4.7% which is found in trees in China, Japan, and other countries in Asia, and Eucalyptus 1.9% from Eucalyptus plants and menthol 2.6%," says Jose. These are the hero ingredients that make this product so effective.

Key Ingredients

Petroleum jelly is composed of natural mineral oils and waxes. It helps seal in moisture, soothe cuts, and accelerate the skin healing process.

02 of 12

Treat Acne

If you have eczema or acne, one of the top uses for Vicks VapoRub is helping to soothe skin, reduce inflammation, and clear up your complexion. This is due to ingredients like camphor and eucalyptus, which are known anti-inflammatories and antibacterial agents; however, just like any DIY skincare tip (toothpaste on a pimple anyone?), we suggest taking this one with a grain of salt. "Vick’s is made with anti-inflammatory ingredients such as eucalyptus, so putting a little on a patch of acne can actually calm skin." says Sobel. Vicks is made with petroleum jelly, and while it's great for keeping wounds moist (and acne lesions are technically wounds), it could actually be the cause of breakouts, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

"It’s important to only use sparingly as the jelly can be known to clog pores and might end up causing additional breakouts," says Sobel.

03 of 12

Deter Insects

Jar of Vicks VapoRub
Vicks VapoRub $5.00

We may be fans of Vicks, but insects decidedly are not. Dab a bit on your arms, legs, neck, or other areas of exposed skin to keep bugs (including mosquitoes) at bay, however, it is not as effective at preventing bites as a commercial insect repellant. "Camphor is a white crystalline substance obtained from the tree Cinnamomom camphora and used for centuries as a spice, component of incense and medicine. It is also an insect repellant and kills fleas," says Jose. "This is the major substance in Vicks, aside from Vicks use in upper respiratory infections, that can be used to repel mosquitoes and even fleas."

04 of 12

Reduce The Appearance of Stretch Marks

underwear with stretch marks

Lucas Ottone / Stocksy

If you're looking to fade the appearance of stretch marks, this is one of the most surprising uses for Vicks VapoRub. "It definitely won’t hurt," says Sobel. Again, the anti-inflammatory properties of the product have been known to reduce scarring (including stretch marks). While it is not proven to be an effective way to diminish the appearance of stretch marks, it may be worth giving it a shot.

05 of 12

Fade Bruising

For minor bruises, you may consider using Vicks VapoRub. This is due in large part to menthol, which helps to lessen the pain associated with the bruise by providing a cooling sensation that alleviates inflammation. "The product is very cooling, so it can certainly help with minor bruises to calm the skin," confirms Sobel.

06 of 12

Treat Scrapes and Burns

The petroleum in Vicks VapoRub may help to heal minor cuts and scrapes when applied once or twice daily as the thick formula creates a barrier between your cuts. "The menthol and eucalyptus act as anti-inflammatory properties to help promote and stimulate healing," says Sobel. But a word of caution: some of the ingredients may be irritating on an open wound. If you notice any type of pain or a burning sensation, take the product off immediately and stick to Neosporin and a Band-Aid.

07 of 12

Alleviate Headaches

Do you notice how quickly your congestion loosens when you use VapoRub on your chest? Well, if you suffer from sinus headaches, one of the best uses for Vicks VapoRub is to simply breathe in the scent. It's a potential quick fix to clear your head and alleviate cranial pain. "The third major ingredient of Vicks is menthol, which when derived from peppermint helps with headaches," confirms Jose. Apply a bit to your chest, or check out these shower tablets that turn your shower into a full-on spa experience.

08 of 12

Moisturize Dry Skin

While Vick's is great at soothing cracked heels, it also is soothing for other patches of extremely dry skin. The petroleum jelly helps to lock in moisture while the menthol is anti-bacterial. Apply a thin layer over any areas that need a little bit of extra moisture.

09 of 12

Ease Muscle Soreness

To walk back the negative sensations of an intense workout, apply a bit of Vicks VapoRub to the affected area. While studies still need to be done on how effective the product is for this use, the cooling sensation works to soothe irritated or tired muscles.

Combine Vicks with a hot compress to help soothe sore muscles.

10 of 12

Healing Rough Skin on Your Heels

One of the more unknown uses of Vicks VapoRub? Use it to heal rough skin on your heels! We love to slather our feet in the product before bed, apply socks, and sleep tight. Wake up in the morning to flawless feet.

11 of 12

Relieve Joint Pain

According to Jose, the camaphor also works to relieve joint pain. "It works as an analgesic as it works on the nerve endings." Try applying a bit to any joints where you are experiencing discomfort.

12 of 12

Relive Itchy Skin

Lavender Scent Cough Suppressant Ointment
Vicks VapoRub Lavender Scent Cough Suppressant Ointment $5.00

Vicks can relive minor skin itching, "It has also been used for skin itch, minor skin irritation though some may be sensitive to the other components of Vicks VapoRub," says Jose. The menthol is anti-bacterial so it can work to soothe itchiness from eczema to bug bites and beyond.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Johar P, Grover V, Topp R, Behm DG. A comparison of topical menthol to ice on pain, evoked tetanic and voluntary force during delayed onset muscle soreness. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012;7(3):314-322.

Related Stories