When I was little and had a cold, my mama would rub Vicks Vaporub on my chest. I remember hating the smell, but loving how warm it made me feel and the comfort of her hands on my heart. The idea behind 'Vaporub' is that the vapors will relieve nasal congestion and ease coughs. Sounds good, right? But if you read the label, it comes with a warning that says, "Keep safely out of reach of children. Contact Poison Control Centre immediately if accidentally ingested'. Poison control? The label also recommends rubbing it into at least 3 spots on your body, 3-4 times daily. That's right, rubbing in the potential poison concern, frequently and all over the place! Now, call me crazy, but I'd rather not do that. I'd rather make my own all-natural, nasal-decongesting, chest-soothing, cough-relieving Vapor Balm.
Vicks VaPoison Rub
What's in this stuff that makes it so toxic? Let's take a look at the ingredients-
There are 3 active ingredients: Camphor, eucalyptus and menthol.
So far, not so bad. Camphor and eucalyptus are both derived from trees and menthol is extracted from the mint family (although there are synthetic forms as well). There are, however, different types of camphor oil and some are strong enough to be considered toxic.
Here's where we get into real trouble- the inactive ingredients include: Carbomer 954, cedarleaf oil, cetyl alcohol, cetyl palmitate, cyclomethicone copolyol, dimethicone copolyol, dimethicone, EDTA, glycerin, imidazolidinyl urea, isopropyl palmitate, methylparaben, nutmeg oil, peg-100 stearate, propylparaben, purified water, sodium hydroxide, stearic acid, stearyl alcohol, thymol, titanium dioxide, turpentine oil.
There's a lot of toxic junk here that I could rip into, but I'll restrain myself and focus in on the top three poisons - parabens (methyl and propyl), imidazolidinyl urea and turpentine oil.
Parabens are preservatives that are absorbed into our bloodstream through the skin. Once it's in our bodies, it is a reproductive toxin and hormone disruptor. Because hormones are your body's chemical messengers, when they are disrupted, it has really far-reaching effects, from menstrual irregularities to breast cancer. Topically, parabens are skin irritants.
Imidazolidinyl urea is a preservative that works by releasing formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is toxic to the immune system, increases cancer risk and is a skin allergen. And yes, urea, as in urine, which is often derived from animals.
Turpentine oil is an irritant to the skin, eyes and lungs. The Environmental Working Group also classifies it as an organ system toxin. When inhaled, turpentine oil can cause the lungs to spasm. If swallowed, it can cause coma and death. Children are especially sensitive to turpentine oil and as little as a few spoonfuls can kill a toddler.
So, all three of these irritate our skin. One of them is toxic when its absorbed through the skin and two of them are toxic to us when they're inhaled. And this product is sold as something we should rub into numerous places and breathe deeply to unclog our noses. Hmm?
DIY Vapor Rub Recipe
1/2 cup oil (sunflower, olive or safflower work well)
2 Tbsp lightly packed, grated beeswax (cosmetic grade or organic) or candelilla wax for vegan version
25 drops eucalyptus essential oil
20 drops lemon essential oil or pine essential oil (both work as decongestants, choose the smell you prefer)
15 drops peppermint essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
Melt beeswax in a double boiler (cosmetic or organic is preferred as they're cleaner than candle-making wax).
Once melted, add your oil. The beeswax will harden up again when you do this, so let it all melt again. Once it has, remove from heat and add your essential oils. Pour into container to store in, glass is best. Let it harden, throw a label on it and store it for a year or longer.
When you have a cold, rub some of your Vapor Rub on your chest. The eucalyptus, mint and lemon essential oils will help to decongest your chest and open up your nasal passages so you can breath. The lavender oil will help to calm your system down, so you can get a good night's sleep.