Does Vicks VapoRub Cure Toenail Fungus?

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Home remedies for toenail fungus are everywhere. A quick Google search reveals that one of the top hits for “toenail fungus” is a home remedy site. And while there are a number of remedies out there, one of the most commonly suggested is using Vicks VapoRub.

Nail fungus, or Ontchomycosis, often occurs in people who sweat a lot, use communal showers (such as those at those at gyms), swim at public pools, or get manicures and pedicures regularly. Part of the reason for this is that fungus thrives in warm, moist areas (MedLine Plus). Symptoms include excessive thickness; brittleness, crumbling, or jaggedness; debris buildup under the nail; dullness; an unusual shape; pain; and possibly an unpleasant odor (Mayo Clinic).

Generally doctors will prescribe oral medication because topical medication is usually less effective. If left untreated, it can persist. In serious cases, the nail may have to be removed. One of the reasons many turn to Vicks is that it doesn’t have the same side effects as oral medications (ISRN Dermatology).

So what have people found with Vicks VapoRub?

What Are the Ingredients in Vicks that Fight Fungus?

The main fungus-fighting ingredient in Vicks VapoRub is thymol, an oil that comes from Thyme.
The main fungus-fighting ingredient in Vicks VapoRub is thymol, an oil that comes from Thyme.

Vicks VapoRub contains antifungal ingredient thymol, which is an oil that comes from thyme. That’s right, the herb hanging out on your spice rack might also be able to help cure your toenail fungal infection (New York Times). But in addition, the camphor and menthol are also effective in preventing nail fungus.

Thymol is quite well known in research studies for its antifungal properties (Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, Letters in Applied Microbiology). It’s been found effective against dermatophytes, and against numerous kinds of fungus, including Escherichia Coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Bacillus cereus (Pharmaceutical Biology). But for the purposes of nail fungus it’s important that it’s been shown in several studies to work against Candida albicans, one of the fungi responsible for nail fungus (Journal of Medical Microbiology, Mycoses).

For this reason, thymol is regularly recommended to those who work in food service and regularly works with their nails in the sort o moist conditions that can help fungus flourish (California Medicine).

The camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol aren’t as effective as thymol at fighting fungus they have been shown to help work against toenail fungus pathogens in studies (Phototherapy Research).

How Well Does it Work?

One very small study without a control group found that Vicks VapoRub seemed to have positive effects on toenail fungus, but we need more evidence!
One very small study without a control group found that Vicks VapoRub seemed to have positive effects on toenail fungus, but we need more evidence!

There are few studies to look at the effects of Vicks VapoRub — there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence. But recently, there was a pilot study to look into the ointment’s effects on nail fungus (Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine).

Eighteen participants with nail fungus used Vicks VapoRub over a period of 48 weeks, with researchers checking in on them at weeks four, eight, 12, 24, 36, and 48. Of the 18 participants, 15 saw a positive treatment effect. Of those 15, five had a mycological and clinical cure, and 10 had partial clearance.  Three of the study’s participants saw no change.

This, along with the data about fighting fungus, shows that Vicks VapoRub appears to have a positive effect against nail fungus. The study was quite small and there was no control group. The researchers called for larger studies that solved this issues and also suggested giving more attention to how well Vicks VapoRub works on the different kinds of fungus that cause nail fungal infections.

If further research did show that Vicks VapoRub worked on certain nail fungi, it would be a cheap alternative for those who refused conventional treatment that has minimal side effects. The most common side effects are irritation or allergic reaction to ingredients (Healthy Aging). But these are still something to watch out for. If you have a negative reaction, stop use immediately.

Bottom Line

Thanks to a recent study, there’s slightly more research to back up Vicks VapoRub use to treat nail fungus than purely anecdotal evidence. But because there is only one study and that study had serious limitations, it’s not enough evidence to warrant going straight to Vicks when you’ve got a fungal nail infection. In fact, based on what we know, conventional methods have more backing for use. But this could be a remedy for those who are adamantly opposed to prescription medications. The best course of action, even if you do inevitably use a home remedy, is to discuss treatment options with your doctor and decide the best course of action for you.

Ingredients: Active Ingredients: Camphor 4.8% (Cough suppressant and topical analgesic), Eucalyptus oil 1.2% (Cough suppressant), Menthol 2.6% (Cough suppressant and topical analgesic); Inactive Ingredients: Cedarleaf oil, nutmeg oil, special petrolatum, thymol, turpentine oil

Have you ever used Vicks VapoRub for nail fungus? What’s your experience?
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