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Does Vicks help with discolored toenails?

Toenail discoloration can be caused by a variety of factors, from fungal infections to trauma. While there are medical treatments available, some people try home remedies like Vicks VapoRub to improve the appearance of discolored toenails. Here is an overview of using Vicks for toenail discoloration.

What causes toenail discoloration?

Some common causes of toenail discoloration include:

  • Fungal infections – Fungal infections like toenail fungus (onychomycosis) can cause thickening, yellowing, and crumbling of the nail.
  • Trauma – Injuries to the toenail from things like stubbing your toe can cause bruising and blood collecting under the nail, leading to discoloration.
  • Nail polish – Using dark-colored nail polish, especially for long periods of time, can stain the nails.
  • Medical conditions – Diseases like diabetes and psoriasis can affect nail growth and cause discolored nails.
  • Medications – Some medications like antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs may cause nail discoloration as a side effect.
  • Aging – As we get older, nails can develop yellowish discoloration just from years of exposure and normal changes.

Identifying the underlying cause of toenail discoloration is important for proper treatment. Fungal infections and trauma may require medications, while discoloration from aging or nail polish may just go away on its own over time.

Can Vicks VapoRub help with toenail discoloration?

Vicks VapoRub is an over-the-counter topical ointment that contains ingredients like camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. It is commonly used to temporarily relieve cough and congestion symptoms from colds and allergies.

Some people claim that applying Vicks to discolored or infected toenails can help improve their appearance. There are a few proposed reasons why it might work:

  • Camphor – This ingredient has antifungal properties and may help fight fungal toenail infections.
  • Menthol – Provides a cooling, tingling sensation that may cover up toenail discoloration.
  • Moisturizing – The petrolatum in Vicks can soften and hydrate brittle or discolored nails.

However, there is limited scientific evidence that Vicks can actually cure fungal nail infections or permanently alter nail discoloration. The effects are likely temporary and related to its anti-inflammatory moisturizing properties.

How to use Vicks for toenail discoloration

Here are some general tips if you want to try using Vicks for discolored toenails:

  • Clean the toenail first with soap and water, then dry thoroughly.
  • Apply a thick layer of Vicks VapoRub to the toenail and nail bed.
  • Put on socks to hold the Vicks in place and boost absorption.
  • Leave on overnight.
  • Repeat daily as needed until nails appear clearer.

The effects will only be temporary. Discoloration is likely to return after discontinuing Vicks treatments. Consistently applying it can maintain results, but keep in mind it is not curing underlying nail problems.

Evidence for using Vicks on toenail discoloration

There is limited scientific research specifically on using Vicks for treating toenail discoloration. Possible supporting evidence includes:

  • A 2011 study found Vicks may be effective against certain types of fungal cultures in a laboratory setting.1
  • A case study described improvement of yellow discolored toenails after daily Vicks application. However, discoloration returned after discontinuing use.2
  • The ingredients in Vicks have antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties based on scientific research.3
  • Anecdotal evidence from people who claim Vicks helped reduce the appearance of their discolored nails.

Overall, there is little high-quality clinical research specifically on using Vicks for toenail discoloration. More rigorous controlled studies are needed.


  1. Lehnen, M., Sofia, S., da Silva, B., Camargo, S., Pigatto, A., Roncada, T., et al. (2011). Effects of the essential oils from Tagetes minuta L. and Lippia sidoides cham. Against C. neoformans and C. albicans. Brazillian Journal of Microbiology, 42(4), 1547-1557.
  2. Aburjai T., Alzoubi K.M., Stapleton M., Patel R. Treatment of toenail onychomycosis with 5% amorolfine nail lacquer in combination with once daily application of Vick’s VapoRub – Case report. Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Letters. 2019;29:179-82.
  3. Ogbonna C., Chinedum E. Antifungal Activities of Vicks VapoRub Against Selected Human Mycoses. Journal of Herbs, Spices & Medicinal Plants. 2013;19(1):1-11.

Risks and precautions with using Vicks

When using Vicks for nail discoloration, keep these precautions in mind:

  • Avoid getting Vicks on the surrounding skin, as it can cause irritation and inflammation.
  • Don’t use with occlusive wrappings, which can cause chemical burns.
  • Discontinue use if any negative reactions occur.
  • See a doctor if the toenail issue doesn’t improve or gets worse.
  • Don’t use for more than 1 week straight without consulting a doctor.
  • Keep out of the reach of small children and pets.
  • Talk to a doctor before using if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Vicks should always be used carefully and as directed. Seek medical treatment for nail discoloration that doesn’t resolve on its own or with over-the-counter methods.

When to see a doctor

You should make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • Toenail discoloration persists for more than 2 weeks.
  • The nail becomes thickened, brittle, or crumbly.
  • Red streaks appear on the surrounding skin.
  • There is pus or foul-smelling discharge around the nail.
  • The nail separates from the toe.
  • You have diabetes, poor circulation, or a weakened immune system.
  • Other toenail symptoms like pain develop.

These types of toenail changes could indicate a fungal or bacterial infection that requires prescription antifungal or antibiotic medications. Leaving infections untreated can lead to permanent nail damage and spreading to other nails or areas.

Home remedies and treatments

In addition to Vicks, some other home remedies that may temporarily help improve the appearance of discolored nails include:

  • Tea tree oil – Has natural antifungal properties.
  • Baking soda – Creates an alkaline environment to discourage fungal growth.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Can bleach nails to reduce yellow discoloration.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Contains acetic acid that may inhibit fungal growth.
  • Epsom salt soaks – Helps soften and exfoliate nails.
  • Essential oils – Oils like oregano or neem oil have antifungal abilities.

There are also over-the-counter liquid medications for fungal nails that may provide more effective and longer-lasting results when applied daily. Prescription medications, laser therapies, and nail removal procedures are other medical treatment options for severe cases.


Applying Vicks VapoRub is sometimes used as a home remedy to try improving the appearance of discolored toenails. Its antimicrobial and moisturizing properties may temporarily reduce yellowing. However, there is little scientific evidence that it can cure underlying causes of nail discoloration like infections. Professional medical treatment is still recommended for lasting results in severe cases. When using Vicks for nails, take care to avoid skin irritation and only use short-term. See a doctor if toenail discoloration does not improve with over-the-counter methods.