The Magic of Vicks VapoRub


I: Whenever someone in my family was sick or feeling under the weather, the usual go-to before any over the counter or cough medicine was Vicks VapoRub. It wasn’t necessarily a solve-all, but it was known in my family to make things feel a lot better and it would help you breathe better if you were congested. Funny enough, if I was only feeling a little bit sick, putting some of it on my chest before sleeping would make me feel better the next morning.


The informant is 48, was born and raised in the United States, and whose parents were born and raised in the Philippines. The informant isn’t sure where the use of Vicks to “cure” illnesses came from, but knows that it is a somewhat widely held belief in Filipino culture, and popularly satirized by Filipino-American comedians like Jo Koy. 


Within the informant’s family, the use of Vicks VapoRub is both a cultural inside joke while also acting as a type of folk medicine. While there is no scientific evidence suggesting that Vicks has physical benefits to ailments, the widely held belief that it is soothing during the healing process is passed down between Filipino family members. The reliance on the mentholated ointment may stem from a cultural stigma surrounding healthcare and accessibility to healthcare within Filipino communities. A sentiment shared by our elders was usually: “if you could fix it at home, there was little reason to seek help outside”. Though the sentiment remains, it’s relevance has faded with the newer generations, who look to Vicks not as a miracle drug but as a home remedy that soothes and is nostalgic, but does not necessary solve the problem.