Latinxs Swear By This Product For Everything — But Is It Safe?

Vicks VapoRub, a topical cough and congestion medicine for most, is much, much more for the Latinx community. Breakouts, sunburns, bug bites, any concern you could possibly think of — moms and abuelas have rubbed the smelly blue balm on it singing, "Sana, sana, colita de rana."
As a Latina, I remember the days I would fall, scrape my knee, and my mom would reach for the vivaporú (as Spanish speakers call it) after using it for my stuffy nose the night before. I often wondered, What is this magical product? And how does it work for everything? Decades later, I'm finally getting answers.
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Procter & Gamble Co, the parent company behind Vicks, stresses that the product is not meant to be used beyond its intended purpose. "Vicks VapoRub is a topical cough suppressant, for external use only," a representative tells Refinery29. "It temporarily relieves cough due to minor throat and bronchial irritation associated with the common cold. It can also be used to temporarily relieve minor aches and pains on muscles and joints."
That hasn't stopped my family from smoothing it over a myriad of other problems — but are these off-label uses safe? We spoke with NYC-based dermatologist Michele Green, MD, who works extensively with the Latinx community, on the ways Vicks ointment is applied in our culture and whether it's actually effective — or even harmful. Keep reading to find out.
Acne
One of the most popular ways VapoRub is used by Latinxs is to fight acne, but Dr. Green says it can actually worsen breakouts by increasing irritation on what should be looked at as "broken skin." Per her suggestion, acne should be treated with the right products that include ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or glycolic acid — depending on your skin sensitivity.
Sunburn
Another no-no, Vic's will only further aggravate your inflamed skin, according to Dr. Green. Instead opt for soothing alternatives like a "cold milk compress, Aveeno oatmeal bath, and aloe vera."
Mosquito Bites
When it comes to those pesky mosquito bites, VapoRub is effective in more ways than one. "It can be soothing for the itchiness and the camphor will also reduce the redness," says Dr. Green, but she stresses not to use it on open wounds or blisters.
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Chapped Lips
"Absolutely not," Dr. Green says. "Camphor should not be ingested." If you're looking for a quick household item to moisturize your lips, she suggests reaching for petroleum jelly instead.
Swelling (Or Chichones)
If you have a bump on your head (from that shelf that came out of nowhere), your abuelita would more than likely tell you to rub VapoRub on it. But Dr. Green says that isn't the best way to go. "Although it contains eucalyptus and has anti-inflammatory properties, it is not recommended to use on swelling," she says. Just let the bump go down on its own, and if it worsens, see a professional immediately.
Fake Tears
If you've ever wondered how Telenovela actresses are able to make themselves cry so much on set, VapoRub has been their industry secret — there are even online tutorials for this. Even if you find yourself needing to cry your way out of a parking ticket, Dr. Green says it's terribly dangerous. "Definitely not under the eyes," she says. "If it gets into the eyes, it can cause burning and blurred vision."
What's the wildest off-label use you've heard of for VapoRub? Let us know in the comments below.
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