Vicks has been hailed as the new at-home spot cure, but can it really help?

Bathroom friend or foe?

22 Jun 2019

Unless you’re a dermatologist with a dedicated array of high-tech skin solutions at your disposal, what are you meant to do when a spot flares up on your chin on a Monday night? We’re all well versed in this by now. The answer, we've always been told, is to raid the medicine cabinet. Over the years toothpaste, Sudocrem and crushed aspirin have all stood in for spot treatments when we’re in a pinch.

Now, though, Vicks vapour rub is making its way up the ranks as the newest member of the top-shelf elite after hitting the online forums. Read through the comments and there’s numerous success stories from readers who swear by the stuff. “It works!” one commenter insisted on Q&A forum, Quora. “I was skeptical because home remedies never work for my acne, so I was shocked when I woke up in the morning and looked in the mirror,” adds the user who explains it brought her stubborn cystic acne to a head. “From my own experience, I have found Vicks Vapo rub to help,” said another, “I have never had a bad experience, take your chances and be pleasantly surprised if you are on the fence”. While a third maintains “it speeds up the process of the pimple forming and growing a head, so instead of it taking a week or two, it does it overnight and is gone the next day.”

So far, so good, but is there any medical merit to it? Ask the experts and their opinion is divided. Many agree that the formula includes ingredients that are known to be antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory as well as able to regulate sebum production. One Quora user, who marks her profession as a “bioorganic chemist”, notes “the compounds in the menthol take the redness and inflammation away and kills bacteria,” while another, registered as a homeopathic doctor, agrees, “Vicks does contain a lot of anti-inflammatory properties which may be the reason why it helps.”

However, while it does indeed contain antibacterial menthol and oil-balancing camphor, both can actually cause more issues on sensitive or acne-prone skin, since they’re not as easily tolerated as derm-approved alternatives like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Add to this the fact Vicks is blended with petroleum jelly – a heavy emollient that’s been found to clog pores – and it seems it's more likely to exacerbate blemishes in the long run. “Vicks is an occlusive ointment [it blocks air flow], which is the last thing you would want to apply to acne-prone skin, because ointments cause acne,” argued one user listed as a MD at the University of California.

So, should we be dousing our fave vapo rub on brewing blemishes and angry red spots? Probably not. While it may work a treat on phlegmy coughs, when it comes to spots, you’re best off stocking up on a professional treatment.

Here's our guide to the best acne treatments