What’s really in Vicks VapoRub?

Q: I recently spent $4.50 for a 1.75-ounce tub of Vicks VapoRub (brand name). When I read the ingredients, I noticed that after "camphor" it says "(synthetic)." I wrote to the company, and the response was, "We have used synthetic camphor since 2004/2005."

I have found house-brand chest rub for just $0.99, and the ingredients don’t list anything synthetic. I don’t see why we should pay so much more for synthetic.

I recently was in Germany and had a nasty cough. It responded immediately to Klosterfrau chest rub, which contains camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oils — nothing synthetic in it!

A: The manufacturer of Vicks VapoRub stated in response to your query: "VapoRub's formulation has natural ingredients as well as synthetic ingredients to more reliably ensure our ability to source our raw materials. The synthetic camphor was tested and proven to deliver the same product benefits as the natural camphor for VapoRub."

The active ingredients in Vicks VapoRub are camphor, eucalyptus oil and menthol. They have been staples in this product for over 100 years. Other “inactive” ingredients include cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, petrolatum, thymol and turpentine oil.

To learn more about unusual ways people have used Vicks VapoRub, you may wish to download our free Guide to Unique Uses for Vicks at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Q: As a practicing pharmacist, I enjoy reading your column and learning about alternative treatments that you and your readers have found useful. I would like to mention a word of caution about using an NSAID to halt a migraine attack.

My sister used quite a lot of Excedrin Migraine to treat her migraines over the years. Unfortunately, her migraines also caused her to vomit. She was recently hospitalized for an extremely low hemoglobin count requiring multiple blood transfusions. An upper GI endoscopy revealed a hole in her esophagus. NSAIDs, aspirin and Excedrin, which contains aspirin, all can lead to ulcers in the stomach or duodenum. These drugs also can erode the esophagus if vomiting is involved.

A: Thank you for reminding our readers about the potential hazards of aspirin and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). A recent study pointed out that even low-dose aspirin can lead to dangerous bleeding in older people (New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 18, 2018). Other NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, also can cause ulcers and hemorrhage.

Q: Last year my podiatrist treated a plantar wart on the ball of my foot. I guess it was fairly new, as I had not noticed it. She used silver nitrate one time. The wart was completely gone within a week.

My daughter got silver nitrate sticks from my podiatrist to treat her plantar warts. It took several applications but worked within a few weeks. I have yet to meet a local doctor or pharmacist who has heard of this treatment. It leaves a dark stain during treatment, but it’s painless.

A: We, too, were not aware of this treatment for plantar warts. Upon searching, however, we found a study in which "Silver nitrate has been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for verruca pedis [plantar wart], with equal success rates when compared between home and clinical applications" (International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, December 2017).