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Vicks VapoRub is toxic to consume and should not be used for teeth whitening

A viral post claims Vicks can whiten teeth. But the topical medicine contains toxins that if ingested can trigger seizures and other serious health problems.
Credit: GYANPRATIM - stock.adobe.com

Vicks VapoRub is a cough medicine with medicated vapors that is made to be applied to skin on the throat and chest areas. But many videos online show people using the medicine in a variety of other ways, including putting it in their mouth, nose, ears or near their eyes. 

A viral post on Facebook that claims the topical medicine can be used to whiten teeth has sparked shock and speculation online. VERIFY viewer Linda reached out via text to ask if Vicks VapoRub can be used to whiten teeth or if doing so will make you sick.


Is it safe to use Vicks VapoRub to whiten your teeth?



This is false.

No, it’s not safe to use Vicks VapoRub to whiten your teeth. Vicks VapoRub is toxic to consume.


The viral Facebook post claims Vicks VapoRub can get rid of discolored teeth, bad breath and sore gums. While Vicks VapoRub is safe to use on skin, it should not be consumed in any way. 

Vicks VapoRub contains 4.8% camphor. Camphor is a white, waxy substance that typically comes from the wood of camphor trees, which are located primarily in Asia. It is also produced from turpentine oil.

Camphor was historically used as a traditional medicine due to its “antimicrobial, antiviral, and antitussive effects,” according to a review published in Molecules. Users would commonly drink camphor oil to relieve a cough, as the plant’s substances form a protective layer on the lining of the upper respiratory system.

In 1983, the Food and Drug Administration began reviewing potential toxicity with camphor. The FDA found that most camphor poisoning deaths were with products containing more than 11% camphor and began requiring that camphor in products not exceed 11%.

Today, health officials, including the NYC Department of Health, warn that eating camphor can cause seizures and even death.

A compound summary published by PubChem recaps all known information about the chemical and says the lethal dose of consuming pure camphor is 4 grams for adults and 0.5-1 gram for children. A 170-gram container of Vicks VapoRub contains about 8.16 grams of camphor.  

The NYC health department adds that “other symptoms of [camphor] poisoning include stomachache, nausea, vomiting, irritability and agitation.” 

Kids can be especially vulnerable to camphor poisoning. The drug facts label on Vicks VapoRub says that children under the age of 2 should not use the product at all, even on their skin. The PubChem compound summary says “there have been reports of instant collapse in infants after camphor has been applied to their nostrils.”

A monograph published by the National Poisons Information Service in 1996 shares multiple occasions where children faced serious complications from nasal or dermal use of camphor. In one case, a 3-month-old collapsed after using Vicks Inhaler (40% camphor), and in another case, a 6-month-old stopped breathing four times after Vicks VapoRub was applied to the nose, lips and chin. 

The National Capital Poison Center adds that “small children are at increased risk for toxicity after consumption of camphor-containing products.” 

Case reports featured on the PubChem compound summary share instances of what has happened when camphor is consumed. 

“Symptoms of camphor toxicity usually begin 5 to 90 minutes after ingestion and are often abrupt in onset,” according to the PubChem compound summary.

Camphor should also not be used in your ears, nose, or in or near your eyes, according to the National Capital Poison Center and Vicks. 

If you or someone else is experiencing symptoms from camphor poisoning, seek emergency help and call the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) to reach the local poison control center.

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