What is Camphor Ointment?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2019
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Camphor ointment is an over-the-counter topical cream commonly used to ease skin itching, chronic muscle pain, and symptoms related to osteoarthritis. When mixed with menthol and other ingredients, it can also promote easier breathing in people with colds and sinus congestion. The medication works by temporarily easing inflammation in skin and muscle tissue and sedating nerve endings to reduce pain. A person who has chronic joint pain or severe muscle aches should speak with a doctor before using camphor ointment to make sure it is the best choice for treatment.

The benefits of using camphor ointment are well documented by patients and doctors, though strict, official clinical trials have not been able to confirm the medication's actual effectiveness. Additionally, the mechanisms by which camphor works to ease irritation and pain are not entirely understood. It appears that camphor molecules penetrate the skin and combat the naturally produced chemicals that cause inflammation. Itchy skin, tight muscles, and swollen joints tend to subside fairly quickly after the ointment is applied. Camphor may also act as an anesthetic on nerves near the skin, further reducing painful symptoms related to arthritis or injury.


Camphor ointment is available at most pharmacies, supermarkets, and health product retailers. It is sold in many different sizes and concentrations, though doctors strongly urge patients to avoid using creams that contain more than 11 percent solutions. In large amounts, camphor is toxic to the body and can actually worsen symptoms. Ointments that contain menthol have even smaller concentrations of camphor to reduce the risk of inhaling too much of the substance.

Topical ointments are designed to be applied several times a day over irritated skin or sore joints. Cold remedy creams are usually used at bed time and applied generously to the throat and chest. Vapors from the cream are inhaled during sleep to help ease irritated nose and throat tissue and promote mucus breakdown. There are few risks associated with using itch and pain relieving camphor ointments daily over a long period of time, though inhaled creams usually carry warnings regarding long-term use.

The risk of side effects when using camphor ointment is low, especially if a person follows the instructions provided on the container. It is possible to experience an allergic reaction that can cause widespread skin hives, airway constriction, and lip and tongue swelling. A person should speak with a doctor or pharmacist before using camphor to learn more about the risks and benefits.


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Post 5

@ceilingcat - Camphor is pretty smelly. I actually always associate the smell of it with my grandmother. She uses it a lot for her arthritis.

I actually didn't think the use of camphor was very widespread anymore in people under the age of 70! I don't really know anyone who uses it besides my grandmother and other older relatives.

Post 4

I really like to use camphor to open up my sinuses when I have a cold. I hate taking decongestants, so camphor is a nice alternative for me.

But man does that stuff smell strong! My boyfriend hates when I use it because he says he can smell it all the way across the room.

It helps so much, I'm willing to overlook the smell though.

Post 3

I've heard a lot of good things about camphor and menthol ointments for treating cold symptoms. I'm hesitant to try them though because of an article I read in the news.

The article said that camphor can be dangerous for children and doctors even think that camphor ointments can trigger seizures in kids. There were several kids hospitalized recently for seizures and the doctors found out that the one thing they had in common was the use of camphor products in the home. One mom had been using camphor ointment on her son who had a cold.

This sounds really scary. I know that the over-the-counter camphor ointments are FDA approved, but it seems that there still needs to be some more research done on the effects of camphor.

Post 2

I use camphor ointment for the chronic pain in my right ankle. I suffered from an injury several years ago and have had this pain since.

It seems to be working well, but I'm a little unhappy with the cost. It comes in a tiny jar container and costs more than many of the pain relieving ointments in the pharmacy. I think it might have to do with the fact that it is imported from other countries. The one I'm using is from Singapore and I think the previous one was from Thailand.

I guess it might also be because of the cost of camphor. The ointment only has 25% camphor and the rest is other ingredients.

Does anyone know how much pure camphor costs? Where and how can I find cheaper camphor ointments?

Post 1

My mom has carpel tunnel syndrome. It causes pain in her hands, especially when she uses her hands a lot. It's sometimes hard for her to do work around the house and cook because of it. Camphor ointment works so well for this condition.

I rub it on her hands, around the wrist until it absorbs and do some massage towards her arm and the pain goes away in about half an hour. She uses the ointment almost daily. It's so nice that this is a natural product because my mom has really sensitive skin and camphor doesn't cause any irritation whatsoever.

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