Is It Safe to Use Vapor Rub on a Baby?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 05, 2023
3 min read

When your baby is sick, it can be scary to try to solve the problem without knowing what’s wrong. After all, your baby can’t tell you what is hurting or bothering them, and you would do anything to help them feel better. But is vapor rub safe to use for infant congestion?

Infants are especially susceptible to getting sick because their immune systems are still developing. They haven’t had time to build up antibodies that fight off common sicknesses like the common cold or the flu. Additionally, their sinuses are very sensitive to irritants. 

If you think vapor rub will help ease their symptoms, be sure to buy a product that is specifically formulated for your baby’s age. Read the label and follow the instructions carefully to ensure that you’re actually helping your baby and not putting them at risk. 

About vapor rub. A traditional vapor rub uses the main ingredients of camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol to suppress a cough and as an analgesic for pain relief. You apply the product to your chest and breathe it in, which alleviates symptoms like cough and congestion. You can also apply vapor rub to your muscles for relief of minor aches and pains.

The main ingredients in infant vapor rubs are aloe vera and coconut oil. However, the application is similar. 

One study showed that children who used vapor rub showed much better symptom relief compared with children who used petroleum jelly or nothing at all. While no infants were included in the study, it is still good to know that the product gives results. 

Uses for vapor rub. It is important to remember that vapor rub alleviates the symptoms your baby is experiencing and doesn’t treat any underlying illnesses. While your baby may need additional check-ups and treatments for the cause of their symptoms, vapor rub is a great way to keep them comfortable until they overcome the illness or irritation. 

Causes of congestion in infants include:

  • Common cold
  • Flu
  • COVID-19
  • Allergies
  • Cold weather
  • Exposure to irritants like chemicals or tobacco smoke

Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Chest congestion
  • Itchy or inflamed skin around the nose and face

Instructions for use. Read all packaging before purchasing and using a vapor rub for your baby, including all warnings. If your baby is on the younger end of the recommended age for the vapor rub you purchased, consider applying it to their feet instead of their chest. This way, they still get the benefits without applying it so close to their face. 

If you do apply the vapor rub to their chest, make sure it’s underneath a top or pajamas so they don't get it on their hands while moving around. Reapply as needed per the instructions.

Warnings. Vapor rub is dangerous for infants if ingested. Additionally, you should avoid:

  • Getting it near your infant’s eye
  • Applying it inside the nostrils or around the mouth
  • Using it with tight bandages
  • Applying it on wounds or to damaged skin

If you see redness or irritation on your baby’s skin following vapor rub application, discontinue its use and talk to your doctor. 

Talk to your pediatrician. Before you use any over-the-counter medications, including topical ointments like vapor rub, talk to your baby’s pediatrician. Your doctor will know your baby’s medical conditions and history, and they can help you make an informed decision about treating your baby’s symptoms.

Other solutions. Vapor rub isn’t the only tool for relieving congestion in infants. You can also use a suction bulb to gently remove congestion from your infant’s sinuses. For difficult mucus, use a saline solution first to loosen the buildup. 

A cool-mist humidifier is another great way to loosen congestion and relieve symptoms. If your baby is congested, they may breathe through their mouth. This causes additional symptoms like a dry mouth and sore throat, which a humidifier helps to address.