Vicks Vapo-Rub for Hidradenitis Suppurativa

One of the most common Hidradenitis Suppurativa home remedies, recommended over and over again by patients, is Vicks VapoRub.  Obviously, being marketed as a cough suppressant, people have a lot of questions the first time they learn of this!  So what is Vicks VapoRub, how is it used in Hidradenitis Suppurativa, and how does it work?

Vicks VapoRub is an over-the-counter topical ointment manufactured by Procter & Gamble and first sold in 1905. VapoRub is intended for use on the chest, back and throat for cough suppression or on muscles and joints for minor aches and pains.  Vicks Vaporub can be found readily at nearly every pharmacy or grocery store, but it can also be purchased online on Amazon, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, and through the Vicks website.

Its ingredients are listed as:

Active Ingredients:

  • Camphor 4.8% (Cough Suppressant And Topical Analgesic)
  • Eucalyptus Oil 1.2%
  • Menthol 2.6% (Cough Suppressant And Topical Analgesic)

    Inactive Ingredients:

    • Cedarleaf Oil
    • Nutmeg Oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Thymol
    • Turpentine Oil

    With two of the active ingredients listed as a topical analgesic (analgesic means pain reliever), patients report most frequently that they can use Vicks Vaporub for temporary pain relief when applied directly to an HS spot.

    Nearly all of the ingredients used in Vicks – both active and inactive – have a strong odor, reported to also help combat any smells related to HS.

    Both Menthol and Camphor are used in over-the-counter anti-itch lotions, like Sarna.  Patients reporting itch near their HS spots may benefit from the additional anti-itch action from these ingredients.

    Among the inactive ingredients, nutmeg oil is reported to reduce swelling and inflammation when applied topically, as well as acting as an antimicrobial agent. Thymol, or thyme oil, has been reported to have anti-fungal properties in animal studies, and naturally occurring fungi in the skin microbiome could contribute to the itch reported in some HS patients.

    Patients also report that it can encourage painful abscesses to rupture and drain, providing relief.  A clean, dry lesion topped with Vicks and covered with a band-aid, with or without the use of a heating pad, can bring a painful bump to a head.

    Because this is a home remedy discovered by HS patients, there are no specific guidelines for the application of Vicks Vaporub on HS lesions, but the manufacturer recommends using Vicks as a topical analgesic (in the case of muscle/joint pain) no more than three to four times daily.  It is always a good idea to make sure that an area is clean and dry before applying a topical product such as Vicks Vaporub.


    Vicks Vaporub is not approved by the FDA for use in HS. There is no scientific evidence that points to its safety or efficacy. It is important to note that the manufacturers say that Vicks should not be applied to broken skin (though patients report that they have no problem applying it near their HS wounds) or areas near mucus membranes (like the eyes, anus, or inner labia) so take careful care in deciding which areas to try this topical product!  Vicks has a strong hot-cool effect, so applying to delicate areas is not advised.  It is important to note that these same ingredients that provide relief can also cause a skin reaction in some people, including burning, redness, or rash, so use sparingly until you know how your body will react.