Browsing the internet for acne remedies can sometimes be a rabbit hole of potentially dangerous solutions given by people that often have biased opinions when it comes to giving such advice.
However, something that recently crossed my radar was a piece of advice given by an Instagram influencer or whatever that had to do something with using Vicks VapoRub on acne.
Therefore, I picked this particular topic in order to spread some knowledge and hopefully prevent a disaster from happening on someone’s skin. So;
Can you use VapoRub on acne?
Or more importantly, is it safe to use VapoRub on acne? Let’s dive right in with the most obvious question.
What Is Vicks VapoRub?
Vicks VapoRub is a topical ointment that contains medicated vapors intended to be inhaled in order to relieve coughs and nasal congestion.
The main active ingredients inside the ointment are camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol, which contribute to the strong and unique smell of this topical analgesic.
Besides these three, Vicks VapoRub also contains several inactive ingredients including;
- cedar leaf oil,
- nutmeg oil,
- thymol -and;
- turpentine oil.
What Is VapoRub Used For?
Vicks VapoRub is definitely not intended to be used as an acne treatment, however, this topical ointment has quite an interesting and very useful ability.
It is intended to relieve nasal congestion, suppress coughs, as well as relieve muscle and joint pain. Additionally, Vicks VapoRub has also been used to treat mosquito bites.
However, Vicks VapoRub doesn’t really relieve nasal congestion, but the strong menthol odor of the ointment may trick your brain so you feel like you are breathing through an unclogged nose.
Vicks VapoRub has another drawback in addition to its ineffectiveness as a nasal decongestant.
It is unsafe for any use in children under 2 years old and it is also not recommended to be frequently applied on the skin as the potent formula of active ingredients can potentially cause burning and irritation.
Can You Use Vicks VapoRub On Acne?
Now, this is where all the fun begins. Plenty of anecdotes say that dotting a cystic acne flare-up with a little bit of Vicks and leaving it overnight will shrink your zit by morning.
Additionally, some of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub are often promoted as anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, pimple fighters, and whatnot.
But there is a problem. Menthol and camphor, although being able to somewhat soothe muscle and joint pain can potentially have some adverse effects on the skin after prolonged use.
Menthol, for example, when applied topically to the skin, produces a cooling sensation. Menthol does not lower the temperature of the body or skin, but instead, it produces a cooling effect by blocking the calcium current along the nerves responsible for detecting temperature. However;
This cooling, refreshing sensation menthol causes is direct evidence that your skin is being sensitized rather than being soothed.
Additionally, menthol is typically diluted into a “carrier oil”, lotion, or another vehicle ingredient. If a high-percentage menthol product is applied directly to the skin, irritation and even chemical burns are possible to happen.
Moreover, products that contain menthol are flammable.
Another problematic ingredient in the Vicks VapoRub is camphor, which is present in the ointment in a concentration of 4.8%.
Camphor is an aromatic substance obtained from the wood of a tree common in Southeast Asia. But besides this, it can easily be manufactured synthetically, which is the case with Vicks VapoRub.
Camphor also produces a cooling effect on the skin, which has the potential to cause skin sensitivity when repeatedly applied to the skin for a long time.
Furthermore, inhaling camphor at concentrations of 2 ppm (parts per million) or more may cause sensitivity of the mucous membrane as well as eye sensitivity on contact.
The last active ingredient in the Vicks VapoRub is eucalyptus oil, which is present in the ointment at a concentration of 1.2%. Eucalyptus oil is a fragrant plant oil whose active constituents are found in the leaves and in the oil obtained from them.
The oil has some minor and meaningless benefits for the skin, however, it is also a potent skin sensitizer due to its chemical components.
While low amounts of eucalyptus oil do not seem to pose a high risk in the long run when it comes to skin sensitivity, its fragrance components are still potential sensitizers.
Lastly, Vicks VapoRub is a thick and greasy ointment that contains petrolatum. Petrolatum is a rich emollient and FDA-approved skin protectant.
While this ingredient can do many merits for dry skins, it can definitely create that excessively greasy appearance for oily skins that are desperately trying to get rid of that.
This isn’t dangerous to your health as petrolatum is highly purified before added in cosmetics, however, the main villain for acne-formation is excess oil that leads to clogged pores.
So, after reviewing the most relevant ingredients present in the Vicks VapoRub ointment;
It is safe to say that this product is not suitable to be used as a quick and easy acne-remedy.
Furthermore, not only that it may not help your acne at all, it may potentially create further irritation, burning sensation, sensitivity, and more acne.
What To Use Instead?
Here are several other ingredients that you may find significantly more useful when it comes to getting rid of acne:
Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most common ingredients in skincare products designed to combat acne breakouts and it is often found in cleansers, toners, gels, and creams.
Through many studies, benzoyl peroxide was finally proven to have an antibacterial effect that specifically inhibits and destroys the acne-causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes or simply P. acnes that live deep in your pores and survive on your natural oil, dead skin cells, and skin tissue.
Read my full article on How Does Benzoyl Peroxide Work.
Salicylic acid is a BHA naturally derived from willow tree bark, wintergreen leaves or sweet birch bark. Different concentrations may vary depending on the product at hand with mild percentages of 0.5 up to strongest percentages being 5.
This multifunctional ingredient addresses many of the systemic causes of acne.
Its primary benefit is as an exfoliant, however, because it has the ability to penetrate into the pore lining and exfoliate inside the pore as well as on the surface of the skin, it is especially effective for reducing acne breakouts, including blackheads and whiteheads.
In addition to these benefits, salicylic acid also has soothing properties to calm aggravated skin, help minimize the appearance of uneven skin tone, and has hydrating properties that can result in smoother skin.
Read my full article on Exfoliating Acids In Skincare – Explained.
Mandelic acid is an increasingly popular alpha hydroxy acid derived from the hydrolysis of an extract of bitter almonds.
It has a large molecular structure, which means it is a gentle exfoliating alternative as it doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as some of the other AHAs, like glycolic acid.
Mandelic acid has been extensively studied for its uses in treating common skin problems including inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.
One of these studies shows that different percentages of mandelic acid can have the upper hand in successfully treating inflammatory acne over salicylic acid.
Additionally, using mandelic acid to treat acne can have significantly fewer side effects such as inflammatory reactions as well as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Read my review on Mandelic Acid 5% Prep Water by Wishtrend.
Coming down to the end of this article and I think we already know what my final thoughts on this one are. Can you use VapoRub on acne?
You definitely can. But the question is, should you?
I mean, there are different cases here. First of all, not everyone has the same skin. Some of us have more and others less resilient skin. So, I am not saying that it didn’t work for some people cause it probably did.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should immediately put it to the test.
There are much more effective products, treatments, and ingredients you can incorporate in your skincare routine and effectively combat acne without potentially irritating your skin in the process.
So my final thoughts are:
Using vapor rub on your skin to combat acne is totally unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
Trying to cope with my obnoxious acne breakouts forced me into finding a solution to my problem by pursuing a career in the beauty industry. Today, I’m a certified esthetician & I’m passionate about sharing what I know to help you achieve healthy, glowing skin. You can learn more about me here.