Does Vicks Vapor Rub for Toenail Fungus Really Work?
Vicks VapoRub is well known for its ability to shift a blocked nose, clear mucus and soothe minor aches and pains. But, did you know that you can use Vicks is to treat toenail fungus?
There is significant anecdotal evidence on media forums made by people claiming to have used Vicks VapoRub for the treatment of toenail fungus. The famous salve also features predominantly in numerous home remedy lists published in reputable journals and magazines.
Furthermore, there have been several clinical studies that have tested Vicks as a treatment for onychomycosis. All in all, the results were positive. Unfortunately, the studies are not extensive enough to be considered reliable or conclusive.
What we do know is that the ointment does contain several active ingredients that have been used to treat skin complaints for thousands of years. So, does Vicks VapoRub get rid of toenail fungus or are the rumors just an urban myth?
Let’s delve deeper and take a closer look!
Table of Contents:
- 1 What is Vicks VapoRub?
- 1.1 What Are The Ingredients of Vicks VapoRub?
- 1.2 How Do The Natural Ingredients in Vicks VapoRub Work?
- 1.3 What Are the Antifungal Properties of Vicks VapoRub?
- 1.4 Does Vicks VapoRub Really Work?
- 1.5 How to Apply Vicks VapoRub On Toenails
- 1.6 How Soon Will It Get Results?
- 1.7 Are There Any Side Effects or Risks?
- 1.8 Is Vicks VapoRub Suitable for Pregnant Women?
- 1.9 What Are the Pros and Cons?
- 1.10 Does Vicks Work for Athlete’s Foot?
What is Vicks VapoRub?
Vicks is a topical analgesic that first made an appearance in 1905. The ointment is best known for its ability to suppress coughs and is typically rubbed into the chest to help loosen blocked mucus.
Although the salve has been branded as a product to fight common colds and soothe aches and pains, it also contains active ingredients that are believed to have some resistance to foot fungus. Vicks VapoRub is subsequently regarded as one of the best home remedies for treating toenail fungus and clearing up athlete’s foot.
The main reason people believe Vicks VapoRub may help fungal infections is due to several natural ingredients that have known medicinal qualities; eucalyptus, menthol, thymol, and camphor. These ingredients have been used by indigenous cultures for thousands of years to treat a multitude of ailments including fungal infections and various other skin complaints.
Now knowledge of ancient treatments are becoming better known in the west, natural treatments are making a come-back. Subsequently, it is believed the essential oils in Vicks VapoRub have been used by holistic healers to treat nail fungus, athlete’s foot, ear infections and even hemorrhoids among other conditions.
There is every reason to believe Vicks VapoRub could be used as an effective agent to fight toenail fungus. Let’s take a closer look at the relevant ingredients, and discuss why people are convinced Vicks VapoRub is a cure for skin complaints.
What Are The Ingredients of Vicks VapoRub?
There are four primary active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub: levomenthol, eucalyptus oil, thymol oil, and camphor. These are the four ingredients that have specific properties that are known to stunt the growth of bacteria and kill fungal infections.
However, there are also essential oils that also have medicinal and soothing qualities.
The full list of VapoRub ingredients includes:
- Eucalyptus oil
- Cedarleaf oil
- Nutmeg oil
- Turpentine oil
All the ingredients that are used to make Vicks salve are natural ingredients. Plants and trees are used in almost all medicines. The properties that are naturally occurring in plants are, at times, more effective at treating a wide range of ailments than manufactured pharmaceuticals.
For the vast majority of people that use Vicks, there are no side effects. There is a very slim outside chance that you will have an allergic reaction to some of the ingredients. At worst, Vicks will cause an irritation in sensitive skin and perhaps some mild burning.
Having no side-effects is another perceived benefit of Vicks VapoRub when compared to conventional medicines that are prescribed as a treatment for toenail fungus. Considering some pharmaceutical treatments can have serious side effects, using Vicks is worth a try.
How Do The Natural Ingredients in Vicks VapoRub Work?
Although scientific evidence is not conclusive, it is believed Vicks can be an effective agent against foot fungus thanks to active ingredients which work in harmony to destroy toenail fungus; camphor, eucalyptus oil, thymol, and menthol.
These key ingredients are known to have anti-fungal properties which impede the growth of fungus. When fungi are not able to flourish, the infection weakens. Eventually, the infection stops spreading and will disappear altogether.
However, the fungus doesn’t die off. As a new nail grows in, it pushes out the infected nail and takes the fungal infection with it. You are then left with healthy, fungal-free toes.
However, it has also been reported that once you stop using Vicks VapoRub, the fungus can grow back. This, of course, could be a marketing ploy, so you buy the salve over the course of a lifetime.
However, the science behind toenail fungus is a strong indication that you should continue using fungal treatments until you are certain the infection has disappeared.
Even still, Vicks also boasts a raft of other essential oils which are known for helping to fight infections and promote healthy skin, reduce inflammation and ease muscle pain. VapoRub can be more beneficial to your feet than just its use as an anti-fungal ointment.
What Are the Antifungal Properties of Vicks VapoRub?
This is an organic chemical that is extracted from the wood of the camphor laurel tree. The oil has a wide range of chemical uses but is commonly used for treating fungus together with other ailments such as warts, cold sores, hemorrhoids, and osteoarthritis.
Some of the qualities attributed to camphor oil are known to fight nail fungus. The oil has antiseptic properties which help fight infections. It is also a stimulant which aids blood flow to the feet. Increased blood stimuli in the feet help to bolster the immune system and send fungus fighting cells to infected areas.
This is one of the key ingredients that make Vicks a potentially effective cure for toenail fungus. Originating from Australia, the leaf of the eucalyptus tree is renowned for its medicinal properties and is one of the most widely used ingredients in multiple medicinal compounds.
The oil is particularly well known for its antiseptic properties which can quickly heal wounds and remove infections. It is also effective at killing microbes, including fungus and bacteria. Eucalyptus oil also helps to stimulate blood circulation which encourages more blood to the toes to help regenerate skin.
This is best known for its cool, soothing properties. This helps to reduce the irritation and itching that is associated with toenail fungus. It can penetrate the skin and triggers cold receptors in the toes which acts towards fighting nasty microbes.
The organic compound has a strong dose of anti-fungal qualities that prevent fungus from thriving. It is also known to stimulate blood flow to areas in which the oil is applied which subsequently helps fight unwanted bacteria.
This is a naturally occurring ingredient found in Thyme Oil and according to the International Journal of Food Microbiology boasts a class of compounds called biocides, which have strong antimicrobial attributes.
Thymol is shown to have many medicinal benefits, but is particularly effective and destroying unwanted bacteria. A 2003 study found one the most effective properties of the oil can be used for stunting the growth of toenail fungus and candida fungus – associated with athletes foot.
The International Journal of Dermatology reported that thymol oil mixed into a medicinal compound with several other active ingredients was used to treat skin diseases in common rural areas of Ethiopia.
Does Vicks VapoRub Really Work?
The truth of the matter is that nobody knows for certain whether Vicks VapoRub is an effective treatment for toenail fungus. Although research has been conducted, testing has been limited albeit positive.
- Important: Due to the lack of clinical evidence, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not added Vicks VapoRub to their approved list of treatments for fungal infections. At present, anecdotal evidence is the most we have to go on.
Having said that, medicines that are approved by the FDA are not exactly the best treatments either. Lamisil is the most successful drug for treating onychomycosis but still has less than a 50% cure rate. In a 12-week study, only 38% of patients reported improvements. This increased to 49% after 18 weeks.
The danger with Lamisil, however, is that patients can have serious side effects. Furthermore, FDA-approved prescription medicines can interfere with other commonly used medications such as antibiotics. They also have to be taken over an extended period of time.
Medical professionals acknowledge that fungal infections are notoriously difficult to treat. Typical healing times take over a year, and anything up to 18 months to completely disappear. Furthermore, there is also a possibility the fungal infection will return once you stop treatment.
Therefore, religiously rubbing Vicks to your toes could prove as effective as any other treatment – but without the side effects.
Is There Any Scientific Evidence?
Since we have claimed that Vicks VapoRub could be effective as a treatment for toenail fungus, let’s take a look at the scientific evidence. Although research in this area is limited, the studies that have been performed produced encouraging results.
- A study published by the US Air Force reported that 83% of participants showed positive signs to the treatment. Five patients were completely cured, and 10 showed partial relief while only three people showed no change. Vicks was applied daily over a period of 48 weeks.
The conclusion was that “Vicks VapoRub seems to have a positive clinical effect on the treatment of onychomycosis.” However, given there were only 18 participants, the study is not considered as conclusive proof the findings are accurate.
- In 2016, the Journal of the Association of Nurses in Aids Care also tested Vicks on HIV Aids patients that were suffering from nail fungus. Onychomycosis is common in Aids patients on account of a weak immune system which puts them at risk of serious side effects when taking pharmaceutical treatments such as Lamisil and Sporanox.
Again, the study only involved 18 participants. Vicks treatment was administered over a period of 24 weeks. Fifteen patients experienced improvement and did not suffer from any side effects.
- One of the first studies, performed in 2003 at Michigan State University also found that the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub have a “fungicidal effect.” The report concludes that Camphor, menthol and the inactive ingredient thymol were the most effective.
Given studies indicate Vicks VapoRub can help combat toenail fungus, there is certainly no harm in trying. Vicks is a cost-effective alternative to FDA-approved medications and is a risk-free treatment that is highly unlikely to cause any damaging side-effects.
How to Apply Vicks VapoRub On Toenails
Because Vicks is not a conventional treatment for toenail fungus, there is no prescribed method about how to use it. However, conventional wisdom determines that Vicks should be applied to the nails and skin like any other topical cream after washing.
You should also take regular care of your feet and toes by trimming your nails to keep them short. To cut your nails, use a good pair of toenail clippers. If you have hard, brittle toenails, use heavy duty toenail clippers.
Then follow the instructions below twice a day. However, it should be noted that some people’s skin is more sensitive to some analgesic formulas than others. If you find applying Vicks VapoRub twice a day irritates, only use it once a day. You may also want to consult your doctor before using Vicks as a treatment for toenail fungus.
- Take a hot shower or bath. You can also soak your feet in a bowl of hot water.
- If you have hard skin, corns or calluses on your feet, shave away the top layer of dead skin with a pumice stone.
- File your nails down so that the salve can get into the gaps of the toenail bed.
- Clear away any keratin debris from under your nails.
- Rub the Vicks ointment over the entire surface of your toe and nail with your finger making sure the ointment gets to the skin down the side of your nails and underneath the toenail onto the nail bed.
How Soon Will It Get Results?
Toenail fungus is notoriously difficult to cure. As we noted in the scientific studies, some participants noticed results in 24 weeks and the condition cleared up in 48 weeks. However, toenail fungus is also known to take 12-18 months to clear.
The time it takes for toenail fungus to clear depends on the severity of the infection and your reaction to the treatment. No one treatment works for everybody. However, if Vicks VapoRub does work for you, expect to start seeing signs of improvement after about six months.
Are There Any Side Effects or Risks?
Vicks VapoRub does not have any damaging side effects when used as a treatment for toenail fungus. At worst, people with skin that is allergic or sensitive to the ingredients of Vicks (see above for a list of ingredients) may experience some irritation or mild burning.
In contrast, conventional medicines that are prescribed by doctors and are FDA-approved treatments for fungal infections have been known to have severe side effects. For example, Lamisil, the most common prescription can cause side effects such as diarrhea, fatigue, and fevers. You may even suffer from loss of vision, liver damage, nausea, stomach pain, skin rashes and experience difficulties with your breathing.
When doctors prescribe oral anti-fungal medications, you also have to take regular blood tests to make sure you are not suffering from side effects. It is also becoming more common to use “pulse dosing” which involves taking a drug daily for one week a month for several months.
Is Vicks VapoRub Suitable for Pregnant Women?
In 2009, a statement was issued by doctors at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine warning people that Vicks salve should not be used on children under the age of two years old. It was discovered that the strength of the VapoRub could promote mucus production and cause an inflammation of the airways.
Pregnant women are naturally told to steer clear of over-the-counter medicines for colds and allergies on account of a danger of impacting the placenta and creating an unsafe environment for the fetus.
There are two schools of thought. Non-medical groups claim the active ingredient, Camphor contained in the salve can pose a danger to unborn babies. However, there is no clinical evidence to support these claims.
Camphor can cause a miscarriage when ingested on its own. You would also need to consume a significant amount, more than the trace that would be left on your fingertips after applying the salve to your toes.
The other ingredients of Vicks VapoRub are also unlikely to cause any damage to your unborn baby. While it is safe to use the ointment while pregnant, if you do have any concerns, always make sure you give your hands a thorough wash before eating.
Also, if you have children under the age of two, don’t leave the bottle out where your child can reach it. And flush any tissues or cotton buds you may use to apply the ointment down the toilet rather than putting them in a bin. You never know what kids are getting up to behind your back.
What Are the Pros and Cons?
Although there is no significant clinical evidence that Vicks VapoRub is an effective cure for toenail fungus, there is indeed plenty of anecdotal evidence in which people have reported positive results.
- No side effects
- Easy to apply
- Active ingredients that are proven to weaken and kill fungal infections
- No scientific proof it works
- Takes a long time to see results (but so do all toenail fungus treatments)
- Can irritate sensitive skin
- Not everybody like the strong smell of eucalyptus
- The fungal infection can return once you stop using the salve
Does Vicks Work for Athlete’s Foot?
Several home remedies can be effective for treating athlete’s foot. Some of the properties in Vicks VapoRub are known to be an effective agent when fighting foot fungus such as athlete’s foot, and some users have reported positive results.
There does seem to be some merit in using Vicks VapoRub to treat toenail fungus. Given the salve is not expensive, readily available and does not have any side effects for most people, there is no harm in trying it.
However, as with any home remedy, there is no guarantee it will work. Furthermore, once you stop using the salve, there is a risk that the fungal infection will return, which suggest Vicks VapoRub may not kill fungus but merely prevents the infection from growing and spreading.