Camphor is a strong-smelling substance that looks like wax. It is usually manufactured from turpentine oil and used in products such as VapoRub.
Camphor when applied on the affected skin is believed to work through the nerve endings that help relieve the pain and itching. It creates a cooling sensation inside the nose during nasal congestion so that breathing feels easier. However, doctors do not recommend using camphor inside the nose or around the eye area.
Camphor is used for the following purposes:
- Joint and muscle pain: Camphor is Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved for use over the skin as a painkiller in concentrations of 3-11%. It is an ingredient in many osteoarthritis ointments.
- Itching: Camphor is FDA-approved for local application on the skin to relieve itching or irritation in concentrations of 3-11%. It is used in many rub-on products to reduce joint and muscle pain, cold sores, insect bites, minor burns, and hemorrhoids.
- Cough and cold: Camphor is FDA-approved as a chest rub in concentrations less than 11%. It can also be applied over the neck to reduce the congestion and over the nose to get relief from the cold. Camphor oil is also used in aromatherapy to relieve chest congestion.
- Dandruff: Camphor soothes the scalp and relieves the itching caused by dandruff. Hence, it is available in some over the counter anti-dandruff shampoos and lotions.
- Insect repellent: Preliminary research shows that a combination of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil might help reduce the size of mosquito bites or any rash. It is better to dilute the mixture in virgin coconut oil to reduce the risk of skin irritation.
- Digestive system: A form of edible camphor known as Kaccha Kapoor has been used in Ayurvedic products and by people in India to relieve bloating and other digestive system complaints such as diarrhea. However, you must not use it without consulting an Ayurvedic practitioner and your doctor.
- Protection of clothing: Camphor is used for making mothballs, a popular remedy to protect the clothing and storage areas from the growth of moth larvae.
How safe is camphor?
Camphor is likely safe for most adults when applied on the skin in diluted forms such as in ointments, creams, or lotions. Camphor can cause some minor side effects such as skin redness and irritation. Do not rub the camphor-containing cream or lotion but apply it gently. Camphor in more than 11% concentration can be irritating. Keep camphor products away from sensitive areas such as around the eye or mouth. Do not apply camphor-containing products to broken or injured skin. Camphor gets easily absorbed through broken skin causing toxicity.
Do not eat camphor in any form. It is unsafe and can produce severe side effects such as:
Taking camphor by the mouth can even turn deadly.
Keep camphor-containing products away from children. If they consume them accidentally, it can lead to seizures and even turn life-threatening. Avoid using them for application on the child’s skin as well. Children tend to be more sensitive to camphor than adults.
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Chen W, Vermaak I, Viljoen A. Camphor--a fumigant during the Black Death and a coveted fragrant wood in ancient Egypt and Babylon--a review. Molecules. 2013;18(5):5434-5454.