API: Camphor

What Is Camphor and How Does It Work?

Camphor is a terpenoid originally found in the wood and bark of the evergreen Cinnamomum Camphora. The drug is now available as a pure and stable synthetic formulation. As camphor is lipophilic, it is quickly absorbed and transported across mucous membranes with a substantial volume of distribution.

Camphor is FDA approved for topical ointments such as rubs for throat and chest in soothing cold symptoms. The compound is also approved for pain treatment in the case of cold sores, minor burns, and insect bites. In the latter case, camphor may also provide itch relief. Some patients report pain relief from topical camphor ointments in the case of back pain and osteoarthritis. Inhalation may also soothe cold symptoms, although patients should be aware of potential health risks. Ingestion of camphor, even in low dose amounts, is not recommended, although some patients have reported successful oral use as an expectorant, anti-flatulent, and for treating respiratory tract infections. 1

For more information, including a MSDS sheet, please see PNA’s Camphor page.

Approved Indications

Topical Pain Relief: Camphor is FDA approved for topical treatment as an analgesic with a maximum concentration of 11%.

Essential Oil: Many people also use camphor as an essential oil.2 Topically, camphor is commonly used for its anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, deodorizing, insecticide, and hyperemic properties.

Side Effects and Drug Interactions

The FDA has declared that OTC products cannot contain more than 11% camphor.3

There are no known drug interactions with camphor. However, camphor has been associated with high liver enzymes and thus should not be used in conjunction with other substances that may cause liver damage. This includes:

  • Androstenedione
  • Chaparral
  • Comfrey
  • DHEA
  • Germander
  • Kava
  • Niacin
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Red yeast

Side effects of camphor vary by delivery method. Topical use of camphor in approved concentrations typically does not have notable side effects. Some individuals may experience serious side effects, including4:

  • Hives
  • Itching or Rashes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue

These patients should contact their pharmacist or physician right away.

Camphor can be fatal if ingested, even in small dosages, and can be toxic to inhale in high dosages. Patients who experience seizures after ingesting or inhaling camphor should call Poison Control right away.

Latest News and Research

Camphor has a widespread and varied medical history, ranging from ancient times, when it was used to treat epilepsy5, to the recent past in managing inflammation.6 A modern review7 shows that synthetic camphor has a number of medicinal properties beyond indications that are FDA approved, including:

  • Antimicrobial (including bacteria, fungi, and viral)
  • Reduction of sensitivity to painful stimuli of nerve cells
  • Anti-cancer
  • Insecticide

More recent research shows that camphor may also be used to treat certain skin diseases.8 Since camphor is able to penetrate the skin, it may also be used in the delivery of other medicines.

Buying Guide

PNA is a recommended bulk supplier of Camphor and other APIs. You can learn more about Camphor here.

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Show 8 footnotes

  1. “Medicinal Camphor Uses In Ayurveda,” April 25, 2013, www.boldsky.com/health/wellness/2013/camphor-uses-in-ayurveda-033103.html
  2. “Effects and Side-Effects of Essential Oils,” July 1984, http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-009-5137-2_26
  3. “Camphor use entails unique safety concerns,” February 2008, http://www.healio.com/pediatrics/respiratory-infections/news/print/infectious-diseases-in-children/%7B18676741-bc92-4cf9-8549-5593317041f7%7D/camphor-use-entails-unique-safety-concerns
  4. “Camphor topical Side Effects,” http://www.drugs.com/sfx/camphor-topical-side-effects.html
  5. “Herbal medicine in ancient Egypt,” January 18, 2010, http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380374686_Aboelsoud.pdf
  6. “Patented Anti-inflammatory Plant Drug Development from Traditional Medicine, 2004, https://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/23987407/1971198808/name/Darshan_2004.pdf
  7. “Camphor—A Fumigant during the Black Death and a Coveted Fragrant Wood in Ancient Egypt and Babylon—A Review,” May 10, 2013, http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/18/5/5434/pdf
  8. “Copper enriched medicinal herbal treated garments for selective skin diseases,” June 2014, http://nopr.niscair.res.in/handle/123456789/28917