Vicks for acne: A remedy that shouldn’t work but DOES!

Vicks for acne (Image: Sandhya Raghavan)

“Vicks for acne? What next? Paracetamol for hair loss?” I chuckled to myself when my then friend and now sister-in-law suggested that I spot treat a zit with the balm. “Just put a tiny bit on your pimple before bed and it’s gone by morning. It always works,” she averred. I had no reason to doubt her; she has flawless skin.

I, on the other hand, *sigh* have had a long and acrimonious relationship with acne. At 34, when most women my age are gearing up to combat laugh lines, I am shedding tears over my latest pimple. It’s been a two-decade-long fight, one that I am seemingly losing. BUT then, along came Vicks.

I know what you are thinking: “How can this oily, greasy ointment help acne?” This is the initial scepticism I started with too. Most acne remedies that are hailed by the internet — ACV, aloe vera, toothpaste (yes, that too) — never worked for me. I was certain Vicks was going down that route too.

But heeding my porcelain-skinned sister-in-law’s advice, I applied a dot where a new pimple was taking shape. Lo and behold! By morning, the zit was already retreating. I was elated yet confused. How did Vicks work where benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and clindamycin failed?

Five years later, I always carry a small bottle of Vicks VapoRub in my backpack no matter where I go. Despite my initial scepticism, I realised that this non-descript ointment meant for opening up your airways is a potent, spot-treating miracle remedy for zits.

Why is the pH of soap so important?

How Vicks zaps zips

But like my icecream for migraine discovery, Vicks as acne remedy is not a well-kept secret. Many before me have known about the zit-busting potential of the ointment for ages.

The ingredients in the ointment — camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oil — may have a role to play.

Camphor is commonly used as a fumigant for religious as well as medical purposes. White camphor or Cinnamomum camphora possesses acne-fighting properties, according to this 2017 review in Hindawi

Then comes menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint, which, btw, is a great home remedy for acne. On its own, menthol can numb pain. It helps if you have a painful cystic pimple developing.

Then there’s eucalyptus, which fights gram-positive bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which causes itchy rash-like pimples.

How to use Vicks for acne

In my experience, Vicks works best when you apply it on a still-developing pimple. Zap it before it grows too big.

  • Wash and dry your face before you apply a small amount on the zit.
  • Resist the temptation to go overboard if you have sensitive, irritable skin.
  • Patch test and check for irritation before you apply.
  • Since the balm is oily, it’s best to apply it on your zit before you go to bed.

A word of caution… like always

  • Bear in mind, Vicks VapoRub is not meant for dermatological issues so don’t use it as a face cream.¬†For the same reason, don’t expect miracles.
  • Since it is petroleum-based, it can clog up your pores and cause more pimples. So use it as a spot treatment.
  • Camphor, eucalyptus and menthol are strong ingredients which can be harsh for sensitive skin.