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Education » Health Care Topics » Vicks Alternative

Vicks VapoRub Alternative

Mom's Remedy

Traditionally used for support healthy respiratory and sinus function. Similar in aroma to Vicks VapoRub. For babies and young children, consider HEO's Breathe Easy blend.


Natural, Essential Oil Alternative to Vicks VapoRub
My well-meaning mother rubbed Vicks VapoRub on my back and chest and put it into a steam vaporizer for me to breathe when I suffered respiratory ailments. I doubt she ever thought about what was in it – "everybody" used it. After I married, my husband and I began to question some of what the generation before us had taken for granted (vaccinations, antibiotics and so on). When we were confronted with respiratory issues, we looked into Vicks, and this, in a nutshell, is what we found. (I'm not a chemist - this is a mom's perspective.)
Vicks VapoRub Ingredients (www.vicks.com):
Camphor 4.8% (synthetic)
Eucalyptus 1.2 %
Menthol 2.6%
Cedarleaf oil
Special Petrolatum

According to the Vicks website and Wikipedia, the camphor used is synthetic. Menthol and Thymol are isolated chemical components from naturally occurring essential oils. By isolating chemical components, pharmaceutical companies are able to produce consistency, but it's the inconsistency in naturally occurring plant essential oils that make them superior to antibiotics in fighting things like antibiotic resistant staph. The chemical makeup of pure, unadulterated essential oils varies from batch to batch (growing season to growing season), so the disease-causing pathogenic micro-organisms (fungal, bacterial, viral) cannot form a resistance to it. Also, isolating one component of an oil may make it less balanced and may even make it toxic, but in its natural state, it can be very beneficial.


Camphor used by Vicks is a synthetic oil rather than a steam-distilled essential oil. Even though you don't expect to feed Vicks to a child, it may be beneficial to know that they can be poisoned by it if accidentally ingested.
Let's look at Thymol. This is the dictionary definition:
"Thymol is a monoterpene phenol derivative of cymene, C10H14OH, isomeric with carvacrol, found in oil of thyme, and extracted as a white crystalline substance of a pleasant aromatic odor and strong antiseptic properties. It is also called 'hydroxy cymene'." (from Webster's 1913 dictionary)
So, thymol is isolated from thyme essential oil. Now look at the toxicology report on thymol and ask yourself if you want to put it on yourself or your child.

Thymol Toxicology:
Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Eye, skin and respiratory irritant. Eye contact may cause serious harm.
On the other hand, the pure, unadulterated essential oil of Thyme in its whole, natural state is actually approved by the FDA for internal usage. It is generally regarded as safe. It is recommended that thyme essential oil be diluted with a vegetable oil when applied to the skin, but it certainly is not harmful.
Cedarleaf Oil
"Taken in excess, this essential oil can produce unpleasant results; it is officially listed as an abortifacient (a drug or agent causing abortion) and convulsant in overdose. The leaf oil is considered toxic, causing hypotension (low blood pressure), and convulsions. Fatalities have been reported. Do not use during pregnancy. Do not use without medical supervision."
While it is unlikely that one might experience unpleasant results, I'd question if the addition of an oil with such a reputation is necessary.

As an alternative, Cedar Wood essential oil on the other hand is approved by the FDA and generally regarded as safe, including taken internally. It doesn't have such a dreadful warning, and is known to be effective for tuberculosis, bronchitis, respiratory issues, congestion, sinusitis and so on.
Menthol is the main chemical component in Peppermint essential oil. Perhaps there's nothing wrong with isolating menthol, but given a choice, I'd like to use the oil in its most natural state, Peppermint.
Next, let's look at Petrolatum. There's a lot that can be said about the hazards of putting a petroleum product on your skin. Here's one report that might help open our eyes.
Petrolatum Health Report
 "Among the studies linking the petrolatum impurity PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] to breast cancer is a Columbia University study in which researchers found that the breast tissue of women with breast cancer was 2.6 times more likely to contain elevated levels of PAHs bound to DNA (called DNA adducts) than the breast tissue of women without breast cancer (Rundle et al. 2000). Serious questions need to be answered over the safety of petrolatum or petroleum jelly as it is more commonly known."

The following is quoted from the Environmental Working Group's website:
"Breast cancer and impurities. EWG's [Environmental Working Group's] assessment of product ingredient labels and data on cancer-causing chemicals identified three common impurities in personal care products that are linked to mammary tumors in animal studies — ethylene oxide, PAHs [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons], and 1,3-butadiene. The ingredients for which these impurities are of concern are used in one of every four personal care products on the market."
"Among girls born today, one in eight is expected to get breast cancer and one in 30 is expected to die from it (NCI 1996, 1997, 2000). A review by scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that as many as one of every five chemical carcinogens causes mammary tumors in laboratory studies, indicating that the breast is more sensitive to carcinogens than almost any other tissue in the body (Gold et al. 1991). EWG's identification of three impurities linked to breast cancer does not represent a full accounting of possible mammary carcinogens in personal care products. Instead, it is a partial accounting based on the National Toxicology Program's assessment of mammary carcinogens (NTP 2000) and other sources in the peer-reviewed literature. Further study would likely identify additional ingredients in personal care products that raise concerns with respect to breast cancer."
"PAHs. PAHs, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are common contaminants in petrolatum, also called petroleum jelly and sold under well-known brand names like Vaseline. Petrolatum is found in one of every 14 products on the market (7.1 percent of the products assessed by EWG), including 15 percent of all lipstick and 40 percent of al baby lotions and oils. FDA restricts petrolatum in food to no more than 10 parts per million, and requires petrolatum used in food packaging or drugs to meet impurity restrictions for PAHs (21 CFR 178, 21 CFR 172.880)."
Nutmeg essential oil supports the adrenals and immune system, and fights bacterial infections. If Vicks uses natural nutmeg essential oil, great!

Tupentine essential oil has the potential to cause skin irritation and is generally avoided on children under two years of age.

Lemon Fragrance - We prefer natural aromas over synthetically-produced fragrance oils.

Final Comments ~ Back to the Ingredient List
I decided to take the ingredient list and make my own product. Instead of Camphor, I used Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 1,8 ct cineol), which is 22% camphor in chemical makeup. I used Eucalyptus radiata, which is anti-infectious, antibacterial, antiviral, expectorant, and anti-inflammatory. Eucalyptus is an antimicrobial oil studied for its action against viruses and is used extensively for respiratory infections and is helpful for conjunctivitis, sinusitis and bronchitis. For the menthol, I used Peppermint, which is 38-48% menthol and is useful for many ailments and very effective for respiratory infections and asthma. Peppermint is a decongestant, anti-infectious, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and mucolytic. I used true Thyme instead of science's altered version, thymol, and Pine essential oil in lieu of turpentine. Instead of the petrolatum, I dilute my mixture in a carrier oil like Coconut oil, which is most compatible to human skin and quickly absorbed.
Vicks Ingredients / Suggested Essential Oil Ingredients:
Camphor - Rosemary ct cineol essential oil
Eucalyptus - Eucalyptus Radiata essential oil
Menthol - Peppermint essential oil
Cedarleaf oil – Cedarwood essential oil
Nutmeg – Nutmeg essential oil
Special Petrolatum – Any of these: Jojoba, Emu, Coconut, Almond, Avocado, Olive
Thymol - Thyme essential oil
Turpentine - Pine essential oil, which doesn't pose the skin irritation risk that Turpentine does.

This pure essential oil blend will be a far superior product. It can be diffused and applied topically with proper dilution to neck, chest and/or back.

In considering what to call this blend, I decided on "Mom's Remedy" in honor of all the moms who endeavor to provide the best for their children.

Tisserand, Robert; Young, Rodney, Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Care Professionals, Elsevier Health Sciences UK 2nd Edition 2014.