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Camphor & Its Use in Skin Care

By Tamara Laschinsky ; Updated July 18, 2017

Camphor has been used medicinally for centuries to treat many skin conditions, such as itching, irritation and pain. It's a stimulating product, and if you don't use it according to the instructions, it can be poisonous. In skin care products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not approve of camphor if the concentration exceeds 11 percent.


Camphor is a substance derived from the tree cinnamomum camphora. The cinnamomum camphora tree is native to Vietnam, China and Japan. Medicinal use of camphor dates to 600 A.D. Camphor oil can be poisonous and even fatal if not used correctly, and in the allowable dosages.


Camphor is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for skin care use if the concentration is between 3 percent and 11 percent. You can use camphor to relieve skin itching or irritation or to control pain. Camphor is often found in rub-on products for cold sores, insect bites and stings, minor burns and hemorrhoids. You can use camphor as a rub to put directly onto your skin, or you can inhale it. To inhale camphor, add some camphor to a vaporizer and inhale the steam.


Never apply camphor to broken skin. This may lead to poisoning. You should never ingest camphor. The effects of camphor during pregnancy or breastfeeding have not been established. In 2008, the New York City Health Department warned parents and caregivers to keep camphor products away from children. It was discovered three children in the Bronx had all suffered seizures as a result of using camphor. Camphor poisoning symptoms show up quickly, usually in five to 20 minutes.

Side Effects

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say camphor can cause the following symptoms: irritation of the eyes, skin and mucous membranes; nausea; diarrhea; vomiting; headache; epileptiform convulsions and dizziness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned products containing greater than 11 percent concentrations of camphor in 1983. Even small doses can be fatal for your child or infant.


When used properly, camphor provides a cooling sensation and relieves symptoms such as pain, irritation and cough. You can use camphor in soothing backaches and muscle pain. To soothe skin conditions such as eczema or acne, camphor is used due to its ability to reduce redness and irritation.

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