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Does VapoRub work on toenail fungus?

Toenail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, is a common condition that can cause the toenails to become discolored, thickened, and brittle. It is estimated that around 10% of adults in the United States have toenail fungus. While there are prescription medications available to treat toenail fungus, some people look for home remedies like VapoRub to cure their fungal infections.

What Causes Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus is caused by microscopic organisms called dermatophytes. These fungi feed on keratin, the protein that makes up the hard surface of the nails. Dermatophytes thrive in warm, moist environments like showers, locker rooms, and inside shoes and socks. If the toenails are repeatedly exposed to these fungi, an infection can develop.

In addition to dermatophytes, yeasts and molds can also cause fungal toenail infections. People with diabetes, circulation issues, or weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of developing toenail fungus.

Symptoms of Toenail Fungus

Some common symptoms of a fungal toenail infection include:

  • Thickened, brittle, or ragged nail
  • Distorted nail shape
  • Dull, discolored nail
  • Debris accumulating under the nail
  • Nail separating from the bed
  • Foul odor coming from the nail

If left untreated, the infection can spread to other toenails and even fingernails. Seeking treatment early provides the best chance for clearing up a fungal nail infection.

Is VapoRub an Effective Treatment?

VapoRub is an over-the-counter topical ointment made by Vicks that is commonly used to temporarily relieve cough and cold symptoms. It contains active ingredients like camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol that may help open nasal passages and airways when inhaled.

Some people claim that applying VapoRub directly to affected toenails can cure a fungal infection. The proposed reasoning is that the ointment’s vapors contain compounds like thymol and camphor that have antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

However, there is limited scientific evidence that VapoRub is an effective treatment for toenail fungus. Most existing studies have been limited in scope:

  • A 2011 study found VapoRub had antimicrobial activity against toenail fungus in a lab setting.
  • A 2016 study involving only 15 participants found applying VapoRub to great toenails for 48 weeks resulted in complete or partial clearance of the fungal infection.
  • A 2018 study concluded that long-term and consistent use of VapoRub could aid in getting rid of fungal nail infections.

More rigorous, large scale studies are still needed to confirm whether VapoRub can indeed cure fungal toenail infections.

How to Use VapoRub for Toenail Fungus

To use VapoRub for toenail fungus, first wash and thoroughly dry the affected feet. Apply a thick layer of VapoRub over and under the tip of the toenail, up to the cuticle. Put on clean socks overnight to keep the ointment against the nail bed. In the morning, rinse off the VapoRub and dry the feet well.

This can be done daily until the nail fungus clears. Some tips for using VapoRub for toenail fungus include:

  • Filing down thickened nails before applying VapoRub so the ointment can better penetrate.
  • Applying in the evening and leaving it on overnight for longer exposure.
  • Repeating for at least 3-6 months for full results.
  • Combining with other antifungal treatments like tea tree oil or coconut oil.
  • Keeping feet clean and dry to prevent reinfection.

Other Home Remedies for Toenail Fungus

In addition to VapoRub, there are some other home remedies that may help treat toenail fungus. However, keep in mind that most of these have not been scientifically proven effective:

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil contains terpinen-4-ol, which gives it antifungal properties. Apply it directly to the nail twice daily with a cotton swab.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is acidic and may help create an unfavorable environment for fungus. Dilute it in water and soak the toenail for 15-20 minutes daily.

Baking Soda

A baking soda paste helps scrape away debris and may have antifungal effects. Mix it with a few drops of water to form a paste and apply to the toenail.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide releases oxygen when applied to the nail, which may disrupt the growth of fungus. Apply it diluted with water several times a week.

Oregano Oil

Oregano oil contains compounds like thymol and carvacrol that have antifungal properties. Dab it on the infected nail a few times daily.


Garlic has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Crush some garlic cloves and apply the juices directly to affected nails regularly.

When to See a Doctor for Toenail Fungus

While using home remedies for mild nail fungus might be reasonable for some, it is important to see a doctor if:

  • Fungal infection does not improve after 3 months of home treatment
  • Infected nails become thickened, brittle, or distorted
  • Discomfort or pain in the toes
  • Infection spreads to multiple toenails or fingernails
  • Diabetes, poor circulation, or a weakened immune system
  • Signs of a bacterial co-infection like redness, swelling, foul odor

A podiatrist can properly diagnose a fungal nail infection, rule out other potential causes, and provide appropriate treatment options. Prescription oral antifungal medication or medicated nail polish may be necessary to fully cure a moderate to severe toenail fungus infection.

Medical Treatments for Toenail Fungus

Some standard medical treatments for toenail fungus include:

Oral Antifungal Medication

Oral antifungal drugs like terbinafine or itraconazole are the most effective way to treat toenail fungus, with cure rates over 80% after 12 weeks. However, they can have side effects like headache or upset stomach.

Topical Medicated Nail Polish

Prescription medicated polishes with antifungal ingredients like ciclopirox can be painted directly onto affected nails. This helps deliver medication right to the fungus.

Nail Removal

In severe cases, the infected nail may need to be partially or fully removed so medication can better reach the nail bed. The nail will eventually regrow.

Laser Therapy

Laser treatments apply targeted beams of light to help eliminate fungus in the nails. Multiple sessions are required.

Tips for Preventing Toenail Fungus

Some tips to help avoid getting toenail fungus include:

  • Wear shoes in public places like pools or locker rooms
  • Wear moisture-wicking socks and rotate shoes regularly
  • Thoroughly dry feet after bathing, exercise, or swimming
  • Avoid picking at or damaging cuticles
  • Use a separate nail clipper for infected nails
  • Disinfect home pedicure tools properly
  • Avoid sharing towels that may transmit fungus
  • Keep feet clean and clip nails straight across

The Bottom Line

While some limited studies show potential for VapoRub helping treat toenail fungus, there is not enough research yet to confirm its efficacy and long-term safety for this use. It may aid in mild cases when combined with proper foot hygiene and nail care.

However, those with moderate to severe infections are still best seeking professional treatment. This may include prescription oral or topical antifungal medication to fully eliminate the stubborn fungal infection.

With early intervention, most cases of toenail fungus can be cured within a few months. Stopping the progression of the infection as soon as symptoms arise gives you the best chances of getting rid of toenail fungus fast.