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What Is Camphor Liniment?

Camphor liniment was once used as an ointment to relieve itching.
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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2014
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Camphor liniment is a medicinal ointment that was once used for a variety of minor external maladies. It is easily absorbed through the skin and was commonly used to relieve itching and skin discomfort. The active ingredient in camphor liniment was considered soothing and made the skin feel cool. The liniment also slightly anesthetic and commonly served as a topical antimicrobial.

In 1980, the federal agency that governs drug ingredients in the United States imposed a total ban on products that were labeled as camphor liniment, camphorated liniment, camphorated oil or camphor oil. The agency also imposed an 11% limit on the amount of allowable camphor in all consumer products. Its topical use in the United States is now limited to medicated powders and salves. Restrictions on camphor liniment use in other countries varies.

Aside from its use in powders and as a salve ingredient, camphor is also typically found in cough suppressants. It also is frequently added to the water in residential room vaporizers to increase the decongestant properties of the vapor. In salve form, camphor infused products are commonly rubbed on a person’s chest to decrease congestion. Some physicians recommend small oral doses of camphor salve to treat minor heart problems and occasional fatigue as well.

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Derived from the wood of one of several varieties of trees in the laurel family or from camphor basil, camphor can also be synthetically produced from turpentine oil. Besides medicinal purposes, camphor is used in cooking, as an embalming fluid and as a moth, snake, reptile and general insect repellent. In crystal form, it is frequently used to fend off live, invading insects from damaging formal insect collections displayed in boxes and books.

Hindu religious ceremonies commonly incorporate the burning of camphor into their rites. Camphor burns cool and leaves no residue, which represents consciousness in the religion. Many temples in India no longer burn camphor indoors to eliminate carbon deposits but still use it in outdoor ceremonies. Camphor scented candles are often used in religious rites and ceremonies as well.

Camphor was once commonly used to flavor many sweet and savory dishes in several countries. For culinary purposes, it is now used mostly to add sweetness to Asian foods and to enhance the tastes of East Indian desserts. Consumers are cautioned to only use camphor labeled specifically for edibility since crystallized camphor used in ceremonies can easily be mistaken for the edible variety and is sometimes toxic when eaten. Toxic reactions to ingestion normally include neuromuscular hyperactivity, irritability, seizures or confusion. Some of these symptoms have also been the result of topical applications of camphor.

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