Vicks VapoRub

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InventorLunsford Richardson
Inception1905 (1905)
Vicks VapoRub ad, 1922

Vicks VapoRub is a mentholated topical ointment, part of the Vicks brand of over-the-counter medications owned by the American consumer goods company Procter & Gamble. VapoRub is intended for use on the chest, back and throat for cough suppression or on muscles and joints for minor aches and pains. Users of VapoRub often apply it immediately before sleep.

First sold in 1905, VapoRub was originally manufactured by the family-owned company Richardson-Vicks, Inc., based in Greensboro, North Carolina. Richardson-Vicks was sold to Procter & Gamble in 1985 and is now known as Vicks. VapoRub is also manufactured and packaged in India and Mexico. In German-speaking countries (apart from Switzerland), it is sold under the name Wick VapoRub to avoid brand blundering, as "Vicks" when pronounced in German would sound similar to the vulgar word wichs (wank).[1] VapoRub continues to be Vicks's flagship product internationally, and the Vicks brand name is often used synonymously with the VapoRub product.


The product can be traced to Jules Bengué, a French pharmacist, who created Ben-Gay, a menthol-based treatment for arthritis, gout and neuralgia. Lunsford Richardson, a pharmacist in Selma, North Carolina, sold Ben-Gay and heard from his customers that it cleared their sinuses. He blended menthol into petroleum jelly, at first calling it Richardson's Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve, later changing the name to Vicks VapoRub. It was named after Richardson's brother-in-law, Joshua Vick, a physician who had arranged for Richardson to have access to a laboratory to create the product. Richardson began selling it in 1905, renaming it VapoRub in 1912.[2] In 2019, Vicks re-introduced VapoCream, a cream version of VapoRub - which was previously discontinued in the early 2000s.

The product is a cultural touchstone among Hispanic and Latino Americans.[3]


Vaporub ad from 1922, showing the international ingredients and the factory

VapoRub can be inhaled with hot steam.[4] Any oil-based product can get into the lungs if used improperly.[5]

In pre-clinical animal studies, the application of Vicks VapoRub directly onto the tracheae of ferrets caused an increase in mucus production compared to a water-based lubricant.[6]

A Penn State study showed Vicks VapoRub to be more effective than placebo petroleum rub for helping cough and congestion with regard to helping children and adults sleep.[7] However, the study also showed that, unlike with the petroleum rub placebo, Vicks VapoRub was associated with burning sensations to the skin (28%), nose (14%) and eyes (16%), with 5% of study participants reporting redness and rash when using the product.[8] The study's first author is a paid consultant for Procter & Gamble, maker of VapoRub.[9]

A study conducted in 1994 suggests menthol and camphor are effective cough suppressants for guinea pigs.[10] It has been suggested that thymol oil can reduce or cure onychomycosis (nail fungus), although the same source mentions that "no human studies have been conducted to test whether thymol is a lasting and effective treatment".[11]


The ingredients, as listed on older product labels, are: camphor, menthol, spirits of turpentine, oil of eucalyptus, cedarwood, nutmeg, and thymol, all "in a specially balanced Vick formula".

United States[edit]

Active ingredients: Label reads: Active Ingredients (Purpose)


Ingredient % Purpose
Camphor (synthetic) 4.8% Cough suppressant and topical analgesic
Eucalyptus oil 1.2% Cough suppressant
Menthol 2.6% Cough suppressant and topical analgesic


Ingredient % Purpose
Camphor (synthetic) 4.7% Cough suppressant and topical analgesic
Eucalyptus oil 1.2% Cough suppressant
Menthol 2.6% Cough suppressant and topical analgesic

Inactive ingredients

Regular & Lemon:



In India, Vicks VapoRub is made by Procter & Gamble (P&G). The formulation is almost the same as the one stated above. P&G claims Vicks Vaporub to be an Ayurvedic medicine,[12] as indicated on the package. The ingredients (per 100 g of product) are stated as follows:

Ingredient English Amount
Pudinah ke phool Menthol 2.82 g
Karpoor Camphor 5.25 g
Ajowan ke phool Thymol 0.10 g
Tarpin ka tel Turpentine oil 5.57 ml
Nilgiri tel Eucalyptol 1.49 ml
Jatiphal tel Nutmeg oil 0.54 ml
Ointment base q.s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "WICK Vaporub Erkältungssalbe: gegen Erkältung" (in German). 2016-01-02. Archived from the original on 2014-02-10. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
  2. ^ Schwarcz, Joe (2003). Dr. Joe and what You Didn't Know. Toronto: ECW Press. p. 142.
  3. ^ Bermudez, Esmerelda (March 26, 2019). "'Vivaporu': For many Latinos, memories of Vicks VapoRub are as strong as the scent of eucalyptus". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  4. ^ Dotzel, M. M. (2000). Human drugs: Antitussive products containing camphor or menthol; final monograph. Food and Drug Administration, HHS.
  5. ^ "Vicks VapoRub Topical Ointment Children's Cough Medicine". Archived from the original on December 9, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2017. Do not use: by mouth, with tight bandages, in nostrils, in wounds or damaged skin
  6. ^ Abanses, Juan Carlos; Arima, Shinobu; Rubin, Bruce K. (January 2009). "Vicks VapoRub Induces Mucin Secretion, Decreases Ciliary Beat Frequency, and Increases Tracheal Mucus Transport in the Ferret Trachea". Chest. 135 (1): 143–8. doi:10.1378/chest.08-0095. PMID 19136404.

    "Popular Cold and Cough Treatment May Create Respiratory Distress in Young Children", Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, 2009.

  7. ^ Paul, Ian M.; Beiler, Jessica S.; King, Tonya S.; Clapp, Edelveis R.; Vallati, Julie; Berlin Jr, Cheston M. (2010-11-08). "Vapor Rub, Petrolatum, and No Treatment for Children With Nocturnal Cough and Cold Symptoms". Pediatrics. 126 (6): 1092–9. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1601. PMC 3600823. PMID 21059712.
  8. ^ Allan, G. Michael; Arroll, Bruce (February 18, 2014). "Prevention and treatment of the common cold: making sense of the evidence". Canadian Medical Association Journal. 186 (3): 190–199. doi:10.1503/cmaj.121442. PMC 3928210. PMID 24468694.
  9. ^ Paul, Ian M. (August 2009). "Vicks VapoRub Study". Chest. 136 (2): 650, author reply 650–1. doi:10.1378/chest.09-0324. ISSN 0012-3692. PMID 19666773.
  10. ^ Laude, E; Morice, AH; Grattan, TJ (1994). "The Antitussive Effects of Menthol, Camphor and Cineole in Conscious Guinea-pigs". Pulmonary Pharmacology. 7 (3): 179–84. doi:10.1006/pulp.1994.1021. PMID 7827436.
  11. ^ O'Connor, Anahad (15 October 2009). "Alternative Medicine Cabinet: Thyme for Toenails". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Semple, David; Smyth, Roger (2013). "Chapter 1 - Psychomythology". Oxford handbook of psychiatry (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-19-969388-7. OCLC 810946942.

External links[edit]