Families have used Vicks VapoRub for decades. It is a common remedy for colds, congestion and even fever. Parents place the thick salve on the chest, back and feet of a child. Adults use it as well. Although some of the ingredients Vicks VapoRub are toxic alone and in large quantities, they come together to produce a remedy that has battled colds since the early 1900s.
The main ingredient of Vicks VapoRub is levomenthol. It is a solid white crystal with a minty smell. It helps give the Vicks VapoRub its characteristic smell. Levomenthol alone may cause dermatitis (rash), but when dissolved into the VapoRub formula, it is perfectly safe.
This active ingredient gives the Vicks VapoRub its signature smell and vapors. You can use eucalyptus oil alone or find it in several other products like mouthwash. According to the National Institutes of Health, this oil allows Vicks VapoRub to serve as a decongestant and offer inflammation relief.
Camphor comes from the leaves and bark of a camphor tree. It also contributes to the vapor quality of Vicks VapoRub. However, it is illegal to use a solution made of more than 11 percent camphor. Fortunately, Vicks uses just 5 percent. This ingredient does make Vicks VapoRub a substance that you cannot swallow because camphor overdose can have severe effects, including death.
An extract of the pine tree, turpentine oil is also toxic if swallowed. Used as a paint solvent, turpentine also is an ingredient in Vicks VapoRub. It also aids in creating Vicks' signature vapors.
Cedar leaf and nutmeg oils help to create the scent of Vicks VapoRub. Stearyl alcohol thicken the solution of the cream. Laureth 7, which comes from ethylene oxide and lauryl alcohol, serves an emulsifier. Poloxamer 124 makes the solution’s many solid and liquid components blend into a homogenous solution.
This ingredient forms the slimy, greasy quality of Vicks VapoRub that allows it to sit on the chest and bottom of the foot. The vapors can then rise to decongest the user without being absorbed too quickly into the skin.