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Camphor oil is aromatic and absorbed through the skin. It can provide various health benefits, including pain relief and the easing of skin irritation.

Camphor oil is extracted from the wood of camphor trees, known scientifically as Cinnamomum camphora, and it has a strong aroma. It can also be synthesized from turpentine.

In this article, we describe the purposes of camphor oil, the types, and the risks involved.

a woman dripping Camphor oil onto her hand from a pipetteShare on Pinterest
The anti-inflammatory effects of camphor oil may support skin health.

There are four grades and colors of camphor oil:

  • White: This is the only type used in therapeutic applications. Despite the name, it is clear or very slightly milky in liquid form.
  • Brown and yellow: Both are toxic, containing high levels of the natural plant constituent safrole.
  • Blue: Another toxic color grade.

A person should only use camphor oil that is clear or very pale.

Camphor oil has a variety of uses. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is often an ingredient in vapor rubs, liniments, and balms.

Many people use it to relieve irritation, itching, and pain. As an ingredient in different products, it can also help ease inflammatory conditions and chest congestion.

In addition, camphor oil is popular in cooking, predominantly in India.

Skin issues

One study in mice found that Cinnamomum camphora leaves alleviated pathologic systems of atopic dermatitis, or eczema, and helped in treatment.

Only use camphor oil products with a concentration of 11% or less. Do not apply camphor products to broken or injured skin, due to the potential for toxicity. Always follow the instructions on packaging carefully.

Pain

Camphor oil is a common ingredient in pain relief medications, including topical analgesics. It may help treat muscle aches and pains, while stimulating circulation, by interacting with receptors on the sensory nerves.

Camphor oil can also help reduce chronic muscle and joint pain over longer periods. One 2016 study, for example, showed that camphor oil helped relieve lower back pain.

With dual hot and cold action, camphor oil numbs and cools nerve endings, then warms the painful area as it increases circulation to stiff joints and muscles.

Headaches

Research into the use of camphor oil to ease headaches is ongoing.

Essential oils may help treat headaches, including migraine headaches. Those that contribute to a calming atmosphere may also promote sleep.

A 2019 study in mice investigated the effect of Cinnamomum camphora on migraine. It found that the essential oil could suppress pain-signaling pathways and weaken neurogenic inflammation.

If a person experiences persistent headaches or any migraine headaches, they should contact a healthcare provider for advice.

Coughs and congestion

Camphor oil is popular in aromatherapy, as it helps relieve respiratory congestion. It also has antitussive properties that can help ease coughs in children and adults.

For these reasons, it is an ingredient in common chest rubs sold over the counter.

A person might try applying these products to the chest or feet — in which case it is a good idea to put on socks afterward. Or, a person could dissolve the product in a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam.

Superficial burns

A study from 2015 investigated whether camphor oil and coconut oil could help in caring for superficial burns. The researchers analyzed data from 2,000 people over 14 years.

The results indicated that a mixture of the oils significantly helped with burn care in a hospital setting.

According to the study authors, patients who received the treatment reported improved quality of life and less pain. They experienced no “undue” side effects of the oil combination and spent less time in the hospital than those who had not received the treatment.

Chronic diseases

A 2018 study in mice tested whether white camphor oil had antitumor activity. The results indicated that the essential oil could stimulate immune cell-dependent regression of skin tumors in the animal model.

In addition, authors of a 2013 review found that camphor could help treat or prevent “serious, life threatening diseases.” They called for further research into its potential role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and similar illnesses.

Camphor oil is potentially harmful, and it is crucial to follow instructions for use carefully.

If a person takes it orally, it can cause burning of the mouth and throat, vomiting, and nausea. Also, camphor oil can sometimes cause skin redness and irritation.

Safety guidelines warn against applying camphor products:

  • to wounds
  • to any other broken skin
  • to the eyes or surrounding skin

It is always important to follow instructions for use carefully. Also, consult a doctor before using any product that contains camphor on an infant.

In addition, anyone who is currently taking medication should check with a healthcare provider before using camphor products.

Finally, it is a good idea to test for a reaction by applying the product to a small area of skin first before using it more widely.

Camphor oil is an ingredient in the following:

  • Vicks VapoRub
  • Tiger Balm
  • CBDfx CBD Muscle Balm
  • Biofreeze gel
  • Bengay

A range of camphor products is available for purchase online. However, it is always a good idea to consult a doctor before trying any essential oil as a treatment.

Camphor oil can help treat a range of issues, including some skin conditions and pain.

However, before using a product that contains the oil, it is a good idea to check with a doctor, particularly if a person is taking medication or during pregnancy.

As with any essential oil, it is important to follow instructions for use carefully and consult a doctor about possible interactions.

Also, testing topical camphor products on small areas of skin first can help prevent widespread adverse reactions.