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Camphor is a powder that originally came from the bark and wood of the camphor tree.

Today, most camphor is synthetic. It's in some products that are applied to the skin, including FDA-approved treatments. It's a common ingredient in remedies applied to the skin for cough and skin irritation.

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Why do people take camphor?

Rubbing a camphor ointment on the throat and chest may help with cough. It's an FDA-approved ingredient in over-the-counter treatments such as vapor rubs.

Camphor is also FDA-approved skin treatment for pain from bug bites, cold sores, and mild burns. It may help with itching.

There's some evidence that a cream containing camphor as well as two other ingredients may help with osteoarthritis symptoms.

There's no standard dose for camphor. Follow the directions on the product or ask your health care provider for advice.

Can you get camphor naturally from foods?

Camphor is not in foods. It's very dangerous if swallowed.

What are the risks?

Side effects. Taken orally, camphor can cause trouble breathing, seizures, and death.High doses of camphor, either inhaled or on the skin, can also be risky. They can cause skin irritation or seizures.

Risks. Swallowing camphor can be deadly -- especially in kids. Camphor poisoning in children is a serious risk. Parents should consider not having camphor products in their homes. Never use camphor on cuts or broken skin. Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use camphor.

Interactions. If you take any medicines regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using camphor supplements.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on January 23, 2015

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