Is it safe to put vicks up your nose?

Ah, the age-old question of whether or not you can safely shove a cotton swab coated in mentholated ointment up your nostrils. It’s something that most people have wondered about at one point or another, usually while bedridden with a head cold and searching for any kind of relief from sinus pressure (not to mention the awful scent emanating from their nose).

The answer is…well, it’s complicated. Like most things in life, there’s no simple yes or no response when it comes to Vicks and nasal passages. However, we’ll do our best to break things down for you so you can make an informed decision.

What is Vicks Vaporub?

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty details of using Vicks on your schnozzle, let’s first address what this product actually is. For those who aren’t familiar with it already (and if that describes you then where have you been living? Under a rock?!), Vicks Vaporub is a topical ointment designed to give relief from congestion and coughing associated with upper respiratory infections like colds and flu.

The active ingredients include camphor (which helps reduce swelling), eucalyptus oil (which has antimicrobial properties), and menthol (the stuff that gives it its signature smell/flavor/tang/bite/whatever-you-want-to-call-it). When applied topically to the chest area or throat (NOTE: not inside the nostrils!), these ingredients work together to create sensations of coolness/warmth that help soothe away unpleasant symptoms.

Why Put It Up Your Nose?

While doctors don’t advise putting globules of VapoRub directly into your nostrils (despite what some crazies might suggest), there are still plenty of people out there who do just that. Why would someone introduce such a harsh substance into their delicate nasal membranes, you ask? Welllll, there are a few reasons:

Nasal Congestion

The obvious one: when your nose is so plugged up with goo that breathing becomes a game of chance rather than an involuntary bodily function, some folks think spreading Vicks around inside can help loosen things up and bring on relief.


Believe it or not, VapoRub has been touted as a potential headache cure by some (personally I’d rather pop an Advil any day but to each their own…). The theory goes that the menthol in the ointment acts as a vasodilator , making blood vessels in the brain widen and thereby relieving pain.

Risks of Putting Vicks Up Your Nose

So what’s wrong with sticking some Vaporub-soaked cotton swabs in your nostrils if it feels good? Is this just another example of overly cautious medical professionals trying to suck all the fun out of life?

Well no (okay maybe); unfortunately there actually are legitimate risks associated with placing anything up your schnoz:


The tissues lining our noses aren’t made to handle harsh chemicals like camphor and menthol on a regular basis. Overusing products like Vicks could potentially cause irritation, redness or inflammation inside your nostrils – which may create more problems than they solve (as if snot-induced frustrations weren’t bad enough already).

Fun fact for ya: using too much mentholated chest rubs could also put you at risk for certain diseases where your skin absorbs too much of it.


Since nasal passages form the first line of defense against all kinds of germs and bacteria floating around in our environment, the last thing you want to do is stick a potentially contaminated object up there. Cotton swabs are not sterile by any means, and inserting them repeatedly into your nose creates an ideal route for introducing harmful microbes.

(More bad news: studies have suggested that using products which contain camphor like Vicks can actually foster bacterial growth inside the nostrils. So…score one for grossness.)

Chemical Burns

Ah yes, perhaps the most terrifying risk associated with shoving things up your nose: chemical burns (shudder). Putting strong substances like Vicks directly onto delicate skin can result in burning pain (unsurprisingly), swelling or blistering – essentially creating a whole other new problem on top of whatever congestion-related ones you started with.


If after reading this far you’re starting to question whether putting VapoRub up your schnozzle is worth it at all anymore (and we wouldn’t blame you if so), take heart! There are still many other effective methods out there that don’t involve turning yourself into a chemistry experiment:


As technology advances and more people recognize its benefits, inhaler devices have become incredibly popular for treating lung- or airway-related issues (like asthma). Anything from portable pocket models to large mainstay drugstore offerings prove that these chest-breathing warriors deliver rapid symptomatic relief deeply and precisely through breathing mechanics.

These may provide easy, safe alternatives without risking irritation or infection from foreign objects shoved deep into your nose – really when was the last time it had a cavity check?

Saline Sprays

Many sinus sufferers turn to saline sprays as a gentle and drug-free way of moistening dry nasal passages, flushing out irritants or allergens in the air or sinuses, reducing inflammation/swelling and providing some modicum of temporary relief. In contrast with Vicks , it will not only provide moisture to soothe that pesky tickle but also lacks hordes of chemicals that might compromise mucosal integrity.


Inhalation is where things get steamy! The use of heat helps combat nasal congestion by promoting facial blood flow which produces increased oxygen concentrations, so you can breathe more easily – without introducing any harsh product into those delicate nostrils. All you need is boiling water (with flourishes like Eucalyptus oil for added comfort), a bowl, and preferably an extensive sense of smell!


So there you have it: everything you ever wanted (or didn’t want) to know about using VapoRub inside your nose. The bottom line is this: while shoving anything up super deep must always be met with caution whatever its medical claims may be; cough & cold medicine companies warning against sticking their products anywhere they don’t explicitly say should tell us all we need to know.

Whatever method/solution brings partial/full relief from symptoms causing breathing difficulty will depend on personal preference and medical history but whether it involves vapor rub or other chemical intervention remains an open question nonetheless adding novelty in life (and tragedy/hilarity during flu season!).

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