There's a reason all those VapoRub memes on social media make Latinxs laugh so hard: it is true that our abuelas and moms often turn to the menthol ointment for anything and everything, from an actual cold to a headache to perhaps even a broken heart.
And while some of the pains that VapoRub is suggested to cure (i.e. heartbreak) are probably not scientifically proven, there are some major benefits to using the salve if you have other conditions or symptoms. Consider this list your go-to guide on the prowess and limits of VapoRub — and feel free to show this to your abuela when it's time to tell her you're going to skip the Vicks just this one time.
VapoRub For Congestion = Yes
The menthol scent is not getting rid of your cold, but it can help you breathe better. "Vicks VapoRub is a mentholatum ointment, which actually does open up the nasal cavities," Keith Roach, MD, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, told POPSUGAR. "It's not going to cure your congestion, but it will help you breathe easier and feel better."
VapoRub For Muscle Pain = Yes
"I encourage the use of VapoRub for minor aches and pains that are caused by low-grade sprains, strains, and arthritis," explained David Gershkovich, PT, a physical therapist and clinical director at Riser Physical Medicine in New York City. "VapoRub contains eucalyptus and menthol, two essential ingredients in the treatment of joint or muscle aches and pains. Eucalyptus is a natural pain reliever and anti-inflammatory, and menthol has a numbing effect and increases blood flow to an area of injury or irritation."
The same goes if the pain is born from an arthritis diagnosis. "For patients with arthritic joints, VapoRub can help increase blood flow and decrease pain and inflammation to help with improved mobility and functional capacity," Gershkovich said.
VapoRub For Toenail Fungus = Yes
A small study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine tested whether VapoRub had a positive effect on those with toenail fungus. The study, focused on 18 people who used VapoRub on their toenails for 48 weeks, concluded the ointment can help.
Dana Stern, MD, a dermatologist and nail specialist based in New York City, explained why the study (and the overall remedy) should be taken with a grain of salt. "One of the biggest issues with self-treating using home remedies is that the diagnosis is not correct," Stern explained. "Not all yellow, thick, abnormal toenails are fungal; in fact, half are not." She suggests seeing a dermatologist if your VapoRub "treatment is not working after four months for toenails and two months for fingernails."
VapoRub For Dry Skin = Maybe
"Vicks VapoRub may be useful for dry, cracked skin, for example on the elbows, knees, or heels of the feet," explained Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "I do not recommend using it as a treatment for generalized dry skin because the camphor and menthol may lead to skin irritation."
VapoRub For Acne = No
According to Zeichner, it's best to stay away from VapoRub as an acne treatment because its "greasy base may block the pores and lead to even more acne breakouts."