Does Vicks VapoRub Really Help With Congestion?

Vicks has been a staple in many households for over a century, but the idea behind the product goes back much further than that. When you're stuffed up and have to lay down to sleep, you're likely not choosey about products that promise to alleviate your suffering. Enter: Vicks VapoRub.

First made for a pharmacist's son in North Carolina at the turn of the 20th Century, this salve has proven benefits, and some that stem from anecdotal evidence. According to Healthline, the mentholated rub has three active ingredients that do most of the work: eucalyptus oil, menthol, and camphor. These work together to make you feel as if you can breathe easier. However, the outlet reports that Vicks doesn't so much work as a decongestant as opposed to creating a sensation that's similar to a placebo effect. Apparently, the scent generates a "cooling" feeling that soothes the nasal passages — triggering the brain to respond as if they are less clogged. Tricky, right?

That said, Healthline notes that Vicks actually can help with coughing rather than just your brain's reaction. The National Institute of Health dubs all three of Vicks' active ingredients as cough suppressants, so it's definitely worth a shot if you're suffering from a cold. However, you shouldn't use the salve for chronic, long-standing issues — only as a periodic aid to congestion and coughs.

Vicks VapoRub makes your brain think that you're less congested

While this news may come as a shock, you can still keep your Vicks VapoRub salve in your medicine cabinet for various ailments. Aside from tricking your brain into believing that it's easier to breathe, Vicks also works as a pain reliever by cooling muscles and other spots of inflammation, Healthline suggests. But if you're looking for a decongestant, it's best to head to the pharmacy to find a product that can "narrow" the blood vessels in your nasal passages, which can lead to actual relief, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Furthermore, it's best to avoid using the salve on children since too much camphor can be toxic for them. Everyday Health reports that using the substance actually makes it more difficult for them to breathe when they're under the age of two. With little scientific evidence to back up claims that the salve works as a decongestant, it's best to be careful with its application.

Instead of using Vicks, you may opt for a more natural decongestant, as well. Find a clean essential oil supplier and grab some eucalyptus oil to combine with a natural carrier, such as coconut oil. Other holistic remedies include a shower steam, a hot compress on your sinuses, and mint tea. If you don't feel comfortable with the idea of the chemicals present in Vicks, you can always find other ointments that use different ingredients.