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What is Camphor Oil and What is Camphor Oil Used For?

Reading time: 6.5 Minutes

In this episode of “Name that terpene!” we dive into the many uses and benefits of camphor and camphor oil! We’ll be covering…
  • What is camphor oil?
  • How can your brand use camphor terpenes?
  • Health benefits of camphor terpenes

  • Camphor Oil is a surprisingly common household substance with a wide variety of uses and benefits. In fact, some of its uses are quite surprising.

    Let’s make a bet. Twenty bucks  says you’ve already got camphor oil stashed in your house right now. Don’t believe us? Well, if you’ve ever used Vicks VapoRub to help when you’re stuffed up, you’ve used camphor oil. Camphor oil, and the camphor terpene, has been used for centuries for various purposes, but today it’s mostly used in products like Vicks to aid congestion. That’s not the only product where you’ll find it though...

    Curious about the different health benefits and therapeutic uses for camphor oil and camphor terpenes? Don’t worry, we’ve got all the answers.

    camphor oil benefits camphor leaf abstraxtech terpenes

    What is Camphor Oil?

    Don’t get it twisted:

    Camphor oil, or simply “camphor”, is the main terpene that makes up camphor essential oil distilled from the fragrant camphortree, Cinnamomum camphora.

    Camphor is white and waxy, with a strong aroma. Chemically, camphor is-you guessed it-a terpene.Terpenes are a large class of chemicals found in plants that give them their distinctive aromas and flavors.

    Camphor has a long history of use in China, Japan, and India. In Japan, pyros included camphor in torches and fireworks to make them brighter. In India, clergymen burned camphor as part of religious ceremonies because it doesn't irritate the eyes. And Chinese healers used camphor in Eastern medicine for medicinal properties like the ability to improve blood flow.

    What about in today’s market?

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    How can your brand use camphor terpenes?

    camphor oil terpene vapor rub uses


    These days, brands take advantage of this multipurpose molecule by using it in healthcare products, holistic medicine, and fragrance and flavor agents.

    Since you’re hanging out with Abstrax, you figured out that camphor is part of the molecular family of terpenes. Like other terpenes, people are interested in how it can improve lives. 

    Terpenes may act in combination with specific compounds to counterbalance the intoxicating effects of certain compounds and increase their therapeutic index (2). This has made it a particularly useful substance for potential medicinal uses.

    Studies suggest camphor has antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-insect, and antitussive properties. It's also used in topically applied analgesics and rubefacients for treatment of minor muscle aches and pains and for circulatory stimulation.

    Since camphor is often applied topically to affected areas experiencing joint pain or muscle pain, many manufacturers of topical healing salves include this terpene for dulling aches and pains.

    Health Benefits of Camphor Terpenes

    So, we know different cultures have used camphor over the centuries for holistic medicine. We’ve hinted at its therapeutic benefits in today’s products. Let’s dive into just how many positive effects this one molecule can have on living organisms.

    Camphor May Have Antimicrobial and Antifungal Properties

    camphor oil antimicrobial anti-fungal wormwood mortar pestle

    Camphor can be helpful against bacterial infections, fungal infections, viral infections, and insect bites. Studies suggest an essential oil from wormwood containing camphor demonstrates antibacterial activity against disease-causing organisms Saccharomyces cerevisiae - a bacteria-and Candida albicans - a fungus (3). Scientists believe camphor oil may act best against bacteria and fungi when used in combination with other essential oils (4). Synergy, man.

    Scientists also demonstrated camphor reduces the ability of the virus that causes herpes to spread (5), which we are very grateful for.

    Camphor May Work as an Insecticide

    In addition to fighting off microscopic pests, camphor oil has shown to be useful as an insecticide. Exposure to camphor during incubation killed beetle eggs (6), and it even killed different types of mosquitos (7). Camphor may represent an attractive option for new types of environmentally friendly insecticides.

    Camphor May Help Reduce Coughing and Soothe Respiratory Tract Issues

    Camphor oil may be useful in aromatherapy or in vapor rub or cold rub form for those suffering from common cold congestion. Camphor has antitussive properties (8), which just means it helps reduce your cough. Camphor vapor, like the kind emitted from vapor rubs your mom would put under your nose to help you breathe, reduced coughing frequency in guinea pigs (9) and produces a cooling sensation. Some subjects reported a feeling of increased airflow accompanied the cooling sensation (10).

    Camphor May Treat Muscle and Joint Aches and Pains

    Chinese healers have also used camphor oil to treat joint and muscle pain. Think Tiger Balm. It’s thought to work as an anti-neuralgic by interacting with receptors on the sensory nerves, causing analgesic and numbing effects on nerve endings (11). With its potential to produce a cooling sensation, camphor can also soothe minor burns and other skin irritations.

    Camphor May Increase Blood Flow

    In Chinese medicine, healers used camphor with the intention of stimulating the heart and the peripheral circulatory system (12). Injection of camphor just under the skin caused the skin to flush and increase general circulation to the affected areas, suggesting the potential for camphor to increase general circulation in the body (13).

    Camphor May Enhance the Immune System and Have Anti-Cancer Properties

    Using camphor in your products might be like hiring a squad of disease-fighting ninjas to battle alongside your immune system. One study found camphor enhanced the activity of human cells that fight off disease and infections (14). Another found camphor was capable of causing increased breakdown of carcinogens, or compounds that can cause cancer (15). In addition to carcinogen breakdown, camphor increased the sensitivity of cancer cells to treatment with radiation (16) - kind of like the Robin to chemo’s Batman.

    Camphor Heals Skin and Prevents Wrinkles

    camphor oil health benefits moisturizing anti wrinkle cream close up leaf

    Slathering your skin with camphor-infused creams may promote healing and prevent signs of aging. A scientific study using human skin cells found camphor exposure to human skin cells caused them to produce more collagen- a compound associated with healthy, youthful skin-and multiply. In the same study, scientists exposed mouse skin cells to UV radiation, like the type we get from direct sunlight. Camphor was able to reduce UV-related wrinkle damage in the mouse skin cells (17).

    Camphor May Have Anti-Inflammatory Properties

    Chronic inflammation of the stomach lining causes many health problems related to your gut. In addition, inflammation coincides with some cancers in different areas of the body, like the colon.

    Luckily, studies suggest camphor has general anti-inflammatory properties. A scientific study noted a camphor-containing sage infusion was able to reduce inflammation in human gum cells, indicating camphor may help reduce inflammation associated with sore gums and a sore throat (18). In another study, researchers treated arthritic rats with different compounds from Cinnamomum camphora, the tree camphor essential oil comes from. The compounds showed varying anti-inflammatory properties and reduced joint and tissue swelling in the rats (19).

    Potential side effects of Camphor

    The FDA has approved substances containing 11% or less camphor for use. Most topical analgesics and balms, essential oils, and cold rubs will contain this amount or much less. Like most things-including water-camphor can be dangerous at high dosages (20).

    It’s important for anyone using large amounts of camphor to consult a health care professional who will provide medical advice about the possibility of camphor toxicity. Careful topical use and use in small amounts, however, is FDA approved and may result in the killer health benefits discussed above.

    Camphor Conclusions

    camphor tree in shanghai park

    Camphor oil is a terpene with a lot of commercial versatility and associated health benefits. For those looking to harness the wrinkle-preventing powers of the fountain of youth, you should grab some camphor. And for those stuffed up and coughing, well, there’s camphor.

    There are many terps in the game, but you’re playing a man down if you’ve left out camphor.

    Let us know if you’re wondering how to use camphor in your products. With so many benefits we’re always looking for new ways to use this fantastic terpene.

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