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Camphor

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What other names is Camphor known by?

Alcanfor, Camphora, Camphre, Camphre de Laurier, Camphre Gomme, Camphrier, Cemphire, dl-Camphor, dl-Camphre, Formosa Camphor, Gum Camphor, Kampfer, Karpoora, Karpuram, Laurel Camphor, Spirit of Camphor, 2-Bornanone, 2-Camphanone, 1,7,7-Trimethylbicyclo[2.2.1]heptan-2-one.

What is Camphor?

Camphor used to be made by distilling the bark and wood of the camphor tree. Today, camphor is usually manufactured from turpentine oil. It is used in products such as Vicks VapoRub.

Camphor products can be rubbed on the skin (topical application) or inhaled. Be sure to read the label to find out how the product should be administered.

People apply camphor to the skin to relieve pain and reduce itching. It has also been used to treat toenail fungus, warts, insect bites, cold sores, hemorrhoids, and osteoarthritis.

Camphor is applied to the skin to increase local blood flow and as a "counterirritant," which reduces pain and swelling by causing irritation. Some people apply camphor to the skin to treat diseases of the airway and to treat heart symptoms. Camphor is also applied as an eardrop and for treating minor burns.

It is important not to apply camphor to broken skin, because it can enter the body quickly and reach concentrations that are high enough to cause poisoning.

Some people inhale camphor to reduce the urge to cough.

Although it is an UNSAFE practice, some people take camphor by mouth to help them cough up phlegm, for treating infections of the airway, for treating low blood pressure that occurs when standing up, and for intestinal gas (flatulence). Experts warn against doing this because, when ingested, camphor can cause serious side effects, even death.

Camphor is a well-established folk remedy, and is commonly used. Camphorated oil (20% camphor in cottonseed oil) was removed from the U.S. market in the 1980s because of safety concerns associated with accidental intake by mouth. It continues to be available without a prescription in Canada.

Likely Effective for...

  • Cough. Camphor is FDA-approved as a chest rub in concentrations less than 11%.
  • Pain. Camphor is FDA-approved for use on the skin as a painkiller in concentrations of 3% to 11%. It is used in many rub-on products to reduce pain related to cold sores, insect stings and bites, minor burns, and hemorrhoids.
  • Skin itching or irritation. Camphor is FDA-approved for use on the skin to help itching or irritation in concentrations of 3% to 11%.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Osteoarthritis. A rub-on cream containing camphor, glucosamine sulfate, and chondroitin sulfate seems to reduce the severity of symptoms of osteoarthritis by about half. Researchers believe it is probably the camphor, not the other ingredients, that relieves the symptoms.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Insect bite. Early research shows that applying camphor along with menthol and eucalyptus oil might help reduce the size of mosquito bites.
  • Toenail fungus (onychomycosis). . Early research shows that applying camphor along with lemon eucalyptus oil and menthol to the toenail area might help treat toenail fungus. Also, applying chest rub products containing camphor (such as Vicks VapoRub) to affected toenails daily until the infected nail grows out appears to clear fungal nail infections in some people.
  • Low blood pressure after standing up. Early research suggests that taking a product containing camphor and hawthorn by mouth helps prevent drops in blood pressure upon standing. However, it is not clear if taking camphor alone provides the same benefits. Also, this product is not available in the US.
  • Warts.
  • Hemorrhoids.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of camphor for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).


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