What is Tiger Balm&Reg;?

Mary McMahon

Tiger Balm® is an ointment that is designed to treat muscle aches and pains. Applying it creates a feeling of heat in the muscle, encouraging it to relax and easing pain. The ingredients are also supposed to help promote rapid healing. The Tiger Balm® company manufactures a large line of products, including the classic version, an assortment of other ointments and liniments, and cool packs for treatment of inflamed muscles.

Lavender is added to Tiger Balm.
Lavender is added to Tiger Balm.

According to the company, the recipe for Tiger Balm® was developed in the 1870s by Aw Chu Lin, an herbalist who lived and worked in Burma. He marketed his products to the Chinese, especially the Imperial Court, and his children later moved the product and its manufacture to Singapore, where it is now managed by the Haw Par Healthcare Company. Lin's original ointment formed the basis for a large family of preparations aimed at treating a range of conditions.

Tiger Balm's basic recipe can include a base of petroleum jelly.
Tiger Balm's basic recipe can include a base of petroleum jelly.

The basic recipe includes menthol, camphor, clove bud oil, cajuput oil, and mint oil in a base of paraffin or petroleum jelly. These ingredients all create the feeling of heat when they are applied, and some can help to stimulate blood flow as well. The balm also has a very strong and distinctive odor; many people who have used it at some point could recognize the smell anywhere. This basic recipe is used to make Tiger Balm® Red, a product for sore muscles, along with an assortment of muscle rubs, joint rubs, and liniments.

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Tiger Balm® White is a slightly less strong formulation that is sometimes helpful for the treatment of congestion, itchy skin, and headaches. An even more mild version of the product is known as Tiger Balm® Soft, and it uses lavender and mild essential oils that are designed to work on mild muscle aches, headaches, itchiness, and sprains. For people who find the odor of the original a bit intense, this can be a more pleasant alternative.

Most markets and drug stores carry the original ointment, and a few of the products in this diverse family are often available as well. As with any liniment that creates a feeling of heat, Tiger Balm® should be used carefully. It can cause skin irritation when applied in excess, and it can also mask the symptoms of a more serious problem that might require medical attention. It is a very good idea to keep this product away from mucus membranes to avoid an uncomfortable burning sensation.

Tiger Balm is an ointment used to alleviate muscle pain.
Tiger Balm is an ointment used to alleviate muscle pain.

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Discussion Comments


Can you believe this stuff was made in the 1800's? Sometimes new is better, but other times the old stuff was all we needed. I'm a history nut, and I love finding stuff to use that has been around for so long.

I've been looking for a good muscle rub, and I think this is the one I will try!


I have never heard of Tiger Balm ointment before, but it sounds like it may be a very useful product. I am especially interested in the Tiger Balm Soft. My legs have been very itchy this winter, and I've been looking for something to help relieve this discomfort.

What kind of itchiness does this help with? Does it work for allergic reactions, bug bites, dry skin, etc.? And where can I find some? If it works I will be ecstatic!

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