Camphor is a fragrant wood that's been used since ancient times for many purposes. It was used as a fumigant (pest control) during the time of the bubonic plague breakout and has several benefits for skin health and achy muscles.
Today, camphor is most frequently used as an essential oil. It's a very powerful substance that can be highly beneficial when used the right way, but certain grades of the oil are toxic. Knowing more about this potent herb will help you use it safely.
Here's more about what camphor is used for, the benefits of the essential oil, and important precautions you should keep in mind.
What Is Camphor?
Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) comes from evergreen trees native to Japan and Taiwan. They now grow in many other places around the world that have warm climates like Egypt, South Africa, China, Florida, and California.
The bark of the camphor tree is the part used for medicinal purposes. It was also used for a time in construction to build things like ships and temples (China) as well as burned in temples during religious ceremonies (India). The oil likewise has a long history of used in cosmetics, disinfectants, and topical analgesics. (1)
Camphor essential oil is produced by steam distillation of the branches, roots, and wood chips of the trees. It then goes through a filtering process where four different types of it are produced (more on that later).
The finished essential oil has a strong, yet refreshing, fragrance. It's used aromatically and topically but should not be ingested.
Types of Camphor Oil
When looking for camphor oil to buy, there are a few things to keep in mind.
After it goes through the filtering process, four different types of oil are produced. They are distinguished by color: white, yellow, brown, and blue.
White camphor is the only kind you should use, since it's the only kind safe for therapeutic applications. The yellow and brown oils both contain high levels of safrole, a chemical that is toxic in large amounts. Blue camphor oil is also considered toxic.
The good news is that white camphor oil is the only kind essential oil companies will have for sale, so you don't need to worry when buying from a reputable company.
Another point to consider is that camphor oil is also produced synthetically from turpentine. To get true camphor, make sure it has been distilled from the Cinnamomum camphora tree.
What Is Camphor Used For? Top Benefits
Helps Relieve Aches and Pains
One of the most popular ways camphor is used is for pain. You'll find it as an ingredient in sprays, ointments, and muscle rubs that can be applied externally to muscles and joints.
Camphor oil has both heating and cooling action, which is what helps it to soothe nerves and ease pain. It can also calm inflammation and improve circulation, further helping muscle pain. (1)
A few studies have shown that camphor oil can help relieve muscle and back pain when used with other essential oils like peppermint, clove, and eucalyptus. (2)(3) It hasn't been studied on its own yet but has been used for centuries for this purpose.
For soreness and aches, try this Muscle Mend salve with camphor, eucalyptus, menthol, and other natural ingredients.
Calms Spasms and Cramps
Applied topically, camphor oil has an antispasmodic effect that helps ease muscle cramps and spasms along with relieving pain. You can mix it with a carrier oil and use the blend as a massage oil to rub on cramped muscles (and for menstrual cramps).
Because it stimulates circulation, the diluted essential oil will also help with stiffness.
May Help Arthritis and Migraines
Some studies have shown that camphor can help with specific types of pain like migraines and the pain from arthritis. Essential oils like peppermint have already shown promise for helping headaches and migraines. An animal study indicated that camphor also has pain-relieving effects on migraines. (4)
It has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects on arthritis, helping to relieve pain and swelling. (5)
Eases Coughing and Congestion
Camphor oil is also frequently used for its benefits for the respiratory system. You can find it in decongesting chest rubs and aromatherapy blends to use when your lungs need support. Try it with other essential oils like eucalyptus and peppermint for added benefit.
Not only can it help clear congestion, camphor products can also reduce cough frequency. (1)
Antibacterial and Antifungal
Camphor has strong antibacterial and antifungal properties and has also shown antiviral action. It appears to be especially effective against Candida and may help treat toenail fungus. (1)(6) Diffusing camphor oil or a blend containing it can be a good way to purify the air.
Supports Skin Health
The antimicrobial nature of camphor makes it a helpful ingredient for relieving certain skin issues. It's been used for acne, rashes, skin irritation, and eczema. One study also found that it may help minor wounds heal and reduce wrinkles. (7)(8)
Camphor has been used in the past as an ointment to heal burns, though it's generally recommended that you don't apply it to broken skin. (9)
Precautions and How to Use Camphor
The best way to use camphor is to purchase it as an essential oil from a quality company. You won't have to worry about getting a toxic grade or synthetic version of camphor if you buy from a reputable seller.
For aromatic use, it blends well with other strong oils like rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus, and cinnamon.
Always dilute camphor oil before using it, and don't apply it to open wounds. The oil is safe for topical use but can be toxic if taken internally or absorbed in large quantities through your skin. Make sure you keep the bottle tightly closed and out of the reach of children.
Because camphor is so strong, it's recommended that you do a patch test before using it on a large portion of your skin. Dilute one drop of it with 5-6 drops of a carrier oil and apply a dime-size amount to your forearm. If you don't have any reaction, you can try it on a larger area of skin.
Severe side effects of taking a large amount of camphor internally include nausea, vomiting, burning of the mouth and throat, and liver damage. None of these should occur if you use it properly.
Camphor for Aches and More
Despite its potential toxicity, camphor oil has wonderful benefits when used properly. Using it in a muscle rub or chest rub is a safe way to get its soothing power without any problems. You can make your own DIY creations using the essential oil or look for natural products that already contain it.
It's not hard to see why this aromatic wood has been valued for so long!