How to Use Camphor Safely: Benefits and Precautions

Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) is a terpene (organic compound) that’s commonly used in creams, ointments, and lotions. Camphor oil is the oil extracted from the wood of camphor trees and processed by steam distillation. It can be used topically to relieve pain, irritation, and itching. Camphor is also used to relieve chest congestion and inflammatory conditions.

It has a strong odor and taste and is easily absorbed through the skin. Camphor is currently made out of turpentine, but it’s still safe to use as long as you use it correctly. It has the potential for side effects, especially if you use it in high doses. Never take camphor internally or apply it to broken skin, as it can be toxic.

What is camphor used for?
Camphor has a wide variety of topical uses due to its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used to treat skin conditions, improve respiratory function, and relieve pain. Continue reading to learn more about the different uses for camphor and its supporting scientific evidence.

Camphor for skin
Lotions and creams containing camphor can be used to relieve skin irritation and itchiness and may help to improve the overall appearance of skin. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties that make it useful in healing infections. A 2015 animal study found camphor to be effective in treating wounds and ultraviolet light-induced wrinkles, making it a potential ingredient in anti-aging cosmetics. This may be due to its ability to increase elastin and collagen production. Use a camphor cream on the area you’d like to treat at least once per day.

Relieves pain
Applying camphor to the skin helps to relieve pain and inflammation. A small 2015 study found that a spray containing natural ingredients such as camphor, menthol, and essential oils of clove and eucalyptus was effective in relieving mild to moderate pain. The spray was applied to the joints, shoulders, and lower back for a period of 14 days. You may feel a tingling, warming, or cooling sensation when you use camphor products. Apply a camphor spray or ointment to the affected area several times per day.

Heals burns
Camphor balms and creams can be used to heal burn wounds. A 2018 animal study found that an ointment containing camphor, sesame oil, and honey decreased the healing time for second-degree burn wounds and was found to be more beneficial than using Vaseline. To use, apply an ointment to the affected area once a day.

Treats arthritis
Camphor products such as Icy Hot and Biofreeze may be effective in relieving pain, inflammation, and swelling due to arthritis. The hot or cold sensations that arise after application of these creams may distract you from the pain. Camphor has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in animal models that are useful in treating arthritis. To use, apply the camphor cream to any affected areas several times per day.

Treats toenail fungus
The antifungal properties of camphor make it beneficial in treating toenail fungus. Research from 2011 found that using Vicks VapoRub, which contains camphor as well as menthol and eucalyptus oil, was effective in treating toenail fungus. In the study, 15 of 18 people showed positive results after using the ointment for 48 weeks. To use, apply Vicks VapoRub to the affected toenails a few times per day.

Relieves congestion and coughing
Camphor oil works as a decongestant and cough suppressant. According to a 2010 study, vapor rub was most effective in relieving night cough, congestion, and sleep difficulty in children with upper respiratory tract infections.

To use, place 2 teaspoons of Vicks VapoRub in a bowl of hot water. Hold your head over the bowl and cover your head with a towel as you inhale the vapors. You can also apply the balm to your chest or feet and then cover them with socks. Avoid putting it in or around your nostrils.

Camphor products may also be used as a muscle rub. It may help to relieve muscle cramps, spasms, and stiffness. A 2004 study found that camphor has antispasmodic and relaxant properties. To use, massage a muscle rub such as Bengay onto your sore muscles a few times a day.

Other uses
Scientific research is limited for some of the purported uses for camphor and the evidence is largely anecdotal. Camphor oil may also be used to treat:

hair loss
cold sores
heart disease symptoms
poor blood circulation
muscle spasms
low libido


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