Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/22/2021
The internet is a powerful tool. It can teach children about the world; it can help people connect with their loved ones. It can even show you everyone’s pets.
But what the internet can’t seem to do, despite constant search queries, is quell the myth that Vicks Vapor Rub® can help with erectile dysfunction.
Despite literally no scientific studies on this topic, internet users are nevertheless constantly searching for answers to the question of whether rubbing Vapor Rub on your dick can make it hard.
We’re not calling the guys googling this dumb—in fact, there’s some scientific merit to this idea that, on paper, Vicks should work. But we’re calling it: this myth is busted. And to show you why we need to understand a couple of things.
To put it simply, you get hard because of two processes: increased blood flow to the blood vessels of the penis, and that blood getting trapped in the corpora cavernosa (two long tubular chambers of blood vessels in the penis itself).
When something turns you on, your brain tells these blood vessels to dilate, so that blood can flow in, and then a muscle closes off the outflow pipe, filling the penis with blood like a primed firehose.
When your erection isn’t lifting off, though, something about one of these processes is going wrong.
Many factors can cause a failure to launch, including stress, obesity, blood flow issues, anxiety, illicit or prescribed drugs and their side effects, smoking, poor diet, hormone imbalances, and more.
An estimated 30 million to 50 million men nationwide experience erectile dysfunction, making it a fairly common condition for adult men.
There are ed medications on the market to treat erectile dysfunction, but as we know, guys tend to avoid talking to doctors (or anyone) about problems with their sex life, and so “home” remedies and non-prescription options are at the top of a lot of lists.
We get why: it can be embarrassing to talk about. And when you’re desperate, anything already in the medicine cabinet is worth trying to avoid those awkward conversations.
So how did Vicks get onto the list?
It doesn’t make sense at first—Vicks is an analgesic and a cough suppressant, and that cold, tingly sensation it given you when applied isn’t most men’s idea of a good time.
But as much as we hate to admit it, there’s one limited correlation between one of the Vicks ingredients and temporarily improved vascular flow: menthol.
In limited studies, menthol has been seen to be what is called a “vasodilator”: essentially something that promoted vascular dilation. The most recent study was a 2017 experiment performed on a small group of men, and the results were positive.
The only problem? The study was for topical application and its effects on cutaneous blood vessels—blood vessels in the skin. Subcutaneous ones (the ones inside your penis) wouldn’t be affected by a topical application.
Furthermore, the trial was performed on an arm, and the men were asked to abstain from alcohol before the trials; there’s very little corollary information to be used here.
To all the guys searching their medicine cabinets for a quick, on-hand, and less-than-obvious erectile dysfunction solution, we’re sorry. This one’s a myth. Vicks is a great tool for some things, but your member is just not one of them.
While the vasodilating properties of menthol may sound promising on paper, slathering a little Vicks Vapor Rub on some or all of your dick just isn’t a solution to the problem.
It’s certainly not a long-term solution, and, from what we know about how Vicks feels on the chest and forehead, it’s probably not a pleasant short-term solution either.
If you’re suffering from ED, here's a bit of necessary tough love: stop googling other treatment options and taking advice from less than safe sources.
The blogs and other media outlets responding to the Vicks for ED question may mean well, but there’s no medical science to back this up. And there’s plenty of medical science to back up other treatments.
Beyond lifestyle changes like improved diet and exercise, and beyond consulting a therapist for any performance anxiety issues or other hangups you may be dealing with, there are prescription medications that are far safer and proven than whatever’s been in your medicine cabinet since Crocs first came out.
The two most popular options are the prescriptions Cialis® (tadalafil) and Viagra® (sildenafil).
Tadalafil and sildenafil (generic Viagra) are both phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, which prolong the dilation of your blood vessels by blocking the breakdown of certain substances in your body.
They work similarly, but depending on your needs may be prescribed differently due to the length of their effects (tadalafil can be taken once daily for 24-hour (or more) effectiveness).
These medications are effective at dilating blood vessels to the point that they can also be used to combat some hypertension, and because of that it’s important to talk to a doctor if you have blood pressure issues or are taking medication for high blood pressure.
If you’re suffering from erectile dysfunction, don’t keep using google as your healthcare provider. Talk to a healthcare professional.
If you’re here in the first place, there’s a good chance you were searching Vicks as a treatment for fear of talking to a doctor, and we really can’t stress enough how unnecessary that fear is. This problem affects so many men—probably more of your friends than you’ll ever know.
The difference between success in the bedroom and failure isn’t whether you can get hard on your own. It’s whether you take the steps to treat the problem.
And ED can be just one symptom of more serious problems, so talking to a doctor isn’t just going to save your sex life, it may save the rest of your life too.