Camphor

What other names is Camphor known by?

Alcanfor, Arbre à Camphre, Camphor Tree, Camphora, Camphora Officinarum, Camphre, Camphre de Laurier, Camphre Gomme, Camphrier, Cemphire, Cinnamomum Camphora, dl-Camphor, dl-Camphre, Gum Camphor, Kapur, Karpoora, Karpuram, Laurel Camphor, Laurus camphora.

What is Camphor?

Camphor used to be made by distilling the bark and wood of the camphor tree. Today, camphor is chemically manufactured from turpentine oil. It is used in products such as Vicks VapoRub.

Camphor products can be rubbed on the skin (topical application) or inhaled. Be sure to read the label to find out how the product should be administered.

People use camphor topically to relieve pain and reduce itching. It has also been used to treat fungal infections of the toenail, warts, cold sores, hemorrhoids, and osteoarthritis.

Camphor is used topically to increase local blood flow and as a "counterirritant," which reduces pain and swelling by causing irritation. It is important not to apply camphor to broken skin, because it can enter the body quickly and reach concentrations that are high enough to cause poisoning.

Some people use camphor topically to treat respiratory tract diseases and to treat heart disease symptoms. Camphor is also used topically as an eardrop, and for treating minor burns.

Some people inhale camphor to reduce the urge to cough.

Although it is an UNSAFE practice, some people take camphor by mouth to help them cough up phlegm, for treating respiratory tract infections, and for intestinal gas (flatulence). Experts warn against doing this because, when ingested, camphor can cause serious side effects, even death.

Camphor is a well-established folk remedy, and is commonly used. Camphorated oil (20% camphor in cottonseed oil) was removed from the U.S. market in the 1980s because of safety concerns. It continues to be available without a prescription in Canada.

Likely Effective for...

  • Cough.Camphor is FDA-approved as a chest rub in concentrations less than 11%.
  • Pain. Camphor is FDA-approved for use on the skin as a painkiller in concentrations of 3% to 11%. It is in many rub-on products for cold sores, insect stings and bites, minor burns, and hemorrhoids.
  • Skin itching or irritation. Camphor is FDA-approved for use on the skin to help itching or irritation in concentrations of 3% to 11%.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Osteoarthritis. A rub-on cream containing camphor, glucosamine sulfate, and chondroitin sulfate seems to reduce the severity of symptoms of osteoarthritis by about half. Researchers believe it is probably the camphor, not the other ingredients, that relieves the symptoms.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Toenail fungus (onychomycosis). Preliminary research suggests that camphor, in combination with lemon eucalyptus oil and menthol, applied to the toenail area, might be useful for treating toe nail fungus. Applying chest rub products containing camphor such as Vicks VapoRub to affected toenails daily until the infected nail grows out appears to clear fungal nail infections in some people.
  • Low blood pressure after standing up. Early resrach suggests that taking a specific product containing camphor and hawthorn (Korodin-Herz-Kreislauf-Tropfen) by mouth helps prevent big drops in blood pressure upon standing. However, it is not clear if taking camphor alone provides the same benefits, and this product is not available in the US.
  • Warts.
  • Hemorrhoids.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of camphor for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).


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