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Medical News Today: Can you use Vicks on a baby?

Vicks VapoRub is a medicated ointment containing camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. The active ingredients can help suppress a cough and clear a person’s airways.

Though Vicks states on its label that it is not intended for use on children under 2, some people believe that it is safe to use Vicks VapoRub on a baby’s feet.

However, there is limited evidence to suggest Vicks VapoRub is safe or effective for treating a child’s illness.

Vicks also markets products specifically for infants, such as Vicks BabyRub.

Safety and side effects

Vicks VapoRub
Vicks VapoRub may help relieve congestion and coughing.

When used correctly by older children and adults, Vicks is a safe, topical treatment for coughing and congestion.

However, people should never:

  • ingest the rub
  • put it in the eyes, mouth, or nostrils
  • heat it with water, vaporizer, or in the microwave
  • put it on broken skin

There are only a limited number of studies available that have examined whether Vicks is safe for infants.

One study found Vicks VapoRub was more effective at treating children’s coughs, congestion, and sleeping problems than both petrolatum and non-treatment.

However, the study also found that Vicks was more likely to cause mild skin irritation.

However, it is essential to note that Proctor & Gamble, the company that produces Vicks, funded the research. Also, the number of people who took part in the was relatively small.

A study on animals found that Vicks VapoRub might increase inflammation and constrict the airways. The researchers tested this hypothesis after witnessing breathing problems in a toddler who had Vicks under her nose.

Camphor oil is one of the active ingredients in Vicks. There have been several reports that indicate that some forms of camphor oil can cause seizures in young children.

Other research indicates that ingesting camphor can even be life-threatening to toddlers. For this reason, most doctors warn that it is not safe to use the product on children under 2 years of age.

Vicks offers a safer alternative called Vicks BabyRub for babies and children under 2 years but older than 3 months. This product contains fragrances and aloe in a petroleum jelly base but does not contain camphor oil.

Vicks BabyRub is available in some grocery stores, pharmacies, and online. However, parents and caregivers should still speak with a doctor before using Vicks BabyRub.

Is it effective in older children?

Doctors generally consider Vicks safe for older children and adults to use. However, there is limited research studying the effectiveness of Vicks that is not funded by the company that produces it.

Most evidence of Vicks effectiveness is anecdotal.

How to use Vicks

Baby feet with socks.
Applying Vicks BabyRub to the feet and covering them with socks may help relieve congestion.

People often use Vicks as an alternative to oral medications or as part of their overall treatment for colds and congestion.

Vicks is a topical ointment, meaning a person can rub it directly on to their skin. Parents or caregivers can apply Vicks BabyRub directly to a child’s neck, upper back, and chest, but should avoid putting it anywhere on the face.

A person may wish to cover the treated area with a warm cloth. Otherwise, clothing over the skin should be loose and allow for airflow.

For babies over 3 months old, a parent can apply Vicks BabyRub to the feet and cover them with cotton socks. There is no scientific evidence that this is effective, however.

Takeaway

A parent should never apply Vicks VapoRub to children under 2 years old. For those interested in using a similar product without camphor, Vicks BabyRub is available.

Parents and caregivers should use caution and read all instructions before applying Vicks to their children. When in doubt, it is best to discuss using Vicks with a doctor.

If used as directed on older children, Vicks can be an effective way to reduce coughing and congestion.

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