People with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) — also called acne inversa — often look for techniques to manage their symptoms at home. Members of myHSteam discuss using over-the-counter (OTC) products as home remedies — such as Vicks VapoRub, which some people simply refer to as “Vicks.”
“Someone once posted about using Vicks. This has honestly been my lifesaver,” wrote one member. “Literally. The smallest little lump, I put Vicks on, maybe three times a day.”
Another member shared, “I did Vicks VapoRub this morning, and that did help with the pain.”
But how, exactly, does this product work, and is it safe to use on HS lesions (boils)? Read on to learn about how some people have reported using VapoRub to help with their hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms.
Keep in mind that a large majority of the information about VapoRub’s effectiveness for HS is mostly anecdotal, based on people’s personal accounts. In other words, there isn’t specific research or scientific evidence demonstrating its benefits. Your skin may react differently than someone else’s, so always check with your doctor before changing or adding to your HS treatment regimen.
Vicks VapoRub is a cough suppressant and topical analgesic (pain reliever) that is typically applied to the chest, throat, muscles, or joints. People may use it to prevent coughing with the common cold or get pain relief for minor muscles aches. It is not marketed as a product for treating HS or any other skin disease.
Notably, other OTC products — many with variations of “vaporizing chest rub” in the name — are available that contain the same active ingredients as Vicks VapoRub.
Some dermatologists recommend VapoRub to manage flare-ups at home. HS symptoms include painful lesions in the armpits, underneath the breasts, and around the inner thigh or groin that can leak pus. HS can also cause significant pain.
As noted, the information about this product’s benefit for HS is mostly anecdotal. It’s also not intended to be applied to broken skin.
The active ingredients in VapoRub are synthetic camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. Each of these ingredients has potentially soothing properties but can also irritate your skin.
Camphor has historically been used to treat warts, cold sores, hemorrhoids, and osteoarthritis by reducing pain and itchiness. It increases blood flow to the areas over which it’s applied, and it contributes to the hot-cool sensation you may associate with VapoRub. Originally, camphor was made from the bark of the camphor tree. Like many other products, VapoRub contains synthetic camphor, which is made from turpentine oil.
The next ingredient, eucalyptus oil, was used in traditional Aboriginal medicine to treat wounds and fungal infections, and it has also been used to kill germs. Researchers have found that eucalyptus oil can help combat inflammation and itchiness.
VapoRub also contains menthol. This ingredient — found in several topical products recommended by dermatologists — is used to relieve irritation and pain, thanks to its cooling effect and ability to desensitize pain receptors. This cool feeling can be unpleasant at first but should lessen with time. If it feels uncomfortable on your skin, you should wash it off with soap and water.
Talk to your doctor before applying VapoRub or any other product not explicitly meant to treat HS. Because VapoRub is not an officially recognized HS treatment, there are no specific guidelines for using it on abscesses or otherwise damaged skin.
The following are some basic tips you should keep in mind:
Members of myHSteam report having used VapoRub for a variety of reasons, including managing pain after a surgical procedure, reducing odors, and helping get rid of boils.
Members often ask about using VapoRub to help with the burning pain they experience with HS. One person reported using the product in combination with hot Epsom salts baths to soothe the skin on the back of their thighs under their buttocks. The member wrote that their skin felt “hot and inflamed” after the bath and that they felt soothed after applying VapoRub and tea tree oil to the area.
A different member described their experience using VapoRub for post-surgical pain: “It burns to start with, but really takes the swelling down.”
Some people favor VapoRub because its strong smell can cover up HS-related odors, such as “body odor mixed with infection smell,” as one myHSteam member described.
“I got a brand new boil, the largest and most painful so far, not quite two days ago. The Vicks did the trick!” one member shared. “Opened that sucker right up this morning. I highly recommend this treatment option. 😀It feels warm and a little numbing when you put it on. I put it on twice a day. I now put manuka honey on it for healing.”
Another member suggested applying the product and then wrapping it: “As soon as you get a breakout, please try Vicks VapoRub. Clean the site and put on Vicks. If it’s daytime, cover it with a bandage. It will soothe the pain plus heal it and reduce the size until it’s gone. If done right away, it should go away ASAP.”
Note that VapoRub isn’t advised to be used with tight bandages.
Take care when using VapoRub on HS-affected areas, as the product is technically not recommended for use on damaged or broken skin.
Look out for symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as new discoloration, rashes, or a burning sensation. If VapoRub worsens your HS symptoms or irritates your skin, stop using it and seek medical advice from a dermatology expert.
To make sure a new product is safe for your skin, you can test it by applying it to the same small spot of skin twice a day for seven to 10 days. If your skin doesn’t become discolored, itchy, or swollen, the product is likely safe to use.
Additionally, if your doctor has prescribed you another topical therapy, such as an antibacterial medicine, ask them whether VapoRub can be used at the same time. Communicating openly with your doctor about any OTC products you use is the best way to ensure you don’t accidentally make HS flares worse.
On myHSteam, the social network for people with hidradenitis suppurativa and their loved ones, more than 36,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with the skin condition.
Have you tried Vicks VapoRub to manage your hidradenitis suppurativa symptoms? If so, how has it worked for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.