Tiger balm is a topical over-the-counter product used to alleviate pain. It is made from ingredients such as menthol, camphor, clove oil, and cajuput oil, which help relieve joint and muscle pain while providing a cooling sensation.
Tiger Balm itself has been in the market for over a century. It is manufactured and packaged by Haw Par healthcare in Singapore. The company offers different formulations of Tiger Balm including
There are other mixtures of the formula depending on the area it is being applied and is available in various forms such as topical creams, rubs, liniments, ointments, and adhesive skin patches.
Although Tiger Balm isn’t formulated to cure any type of chronic pain-related disease, some studies do support the effectiveness of some of its key ingredients.
Make sure to seek advice from your healthcare provider before using Tiger Balm, especially if you’re already using a prescription or other over-the-counter products to manage pain.
What are the uses and benefits of Tiger Balm?
Most evidence relating to the benefits of Tiger Balm is based on research about its active ingredients.
Some of the benefits of Tiger Balm include:
Cold and congestion
Some ingredients in Tiger Balm may help relieve chest and sinus congestion. They’ve been used for centuries in inhalants, oils, and ointment forms to alleviate congestion from allergies and cold.
Menthol may help ease irritated nasal passageways, helping to clear stuffy noses. Camphor acts as a cough suppressant, mild expectorant, and nasal decongestant.
A 2013 study revealed that people who had inhaled a menthol solution experienced less cough sensitivity when exposed to capsicum, a cough-inducer than people who didn’t.
People looking to relieve congestion and other cold symptoms using Tiger Balm should go for formulas that do not contain clove oil, capsicum, and other cough-inducers.
Not much evidence supports the use of Tiger Balm in soothing joint pain. However, a lot of people use the balm to relieve pains and aches related to osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis occurs as the cartilage in the bones starts wearing down, causing the bone to become brittle over time, which leads to joint pain.
In a 2012 study of over 2,000 people with osteoarthritic knee joint, researchers found that about 13% of the participants used rubs such as Tiger Balm to soothe the pain.
The authors couldn’t figure out how Tiger Balm helped reduce the pain, but its active ingredients may numb the pain and reduce swelling.
Shoulder and neck tension
Tiger Balm may help relieve neck and shoulder pain.
A 2017 research showed that menthol – one of the active ingredients in Tiger Balm – helped reduce neck pain in patients who had applied it to the area before undergoing cervical chiropractic treatment.
A study from 1996 revealed that applying Tiger Balm to the forehead is almost as effective as using acetaminophen (paracetamol) to relieve tension headaches. But while this study is continually cited in medical reviews of alternative headache remedies, more up-to-date research is required.
Aches and strains
Ingredients such as menthol and camphor may help improve the circulation of blood to the muscles, potentially reducing inflammation and boosting healing time.
Camphor also increases the flow of blood to the skin surface, creating a warming sensation that can distract from stiffness and pains.
Other Tiger Balm ingredients like methyl salicylate have analgesic properties that help numb the skin, which may reduce aches, and stiffness.
The Tiger Balm adhesive patches are more useful for muscle pains and strains, as the ingredients in the patch are slowly released over a prolonged period.
Some Tiger Balm variations contain capsicum, an active ingredient found in chili peppers. Capsicum inhibits the nerve receptors that send out pain impulses, creating a warm sensation that can reduce the intensity of muscle pains and strains.
Capsicum can lessen many types of pains, including those from cancer, arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems.
Tiger Balm has also been used to relieve back pain, especially pain in the lower back. Some use certain Tiger Balm ingredients before or after receiving an alternative back pain treatment, including Gua Sha therapy.
Studies show that people who experienced nonspecific back pain and applied a cream containing menthol and camphor before receiving one Gua Sha treatment had noticed reduced pain and improved health.
However, the authors weren’t able to determine if the active ingredients had increased the effectiveness of the procedure.
Tiger Balm has also been used around the house as
- A deodorizer
- Wart remover
- Termite controller and insect repellent
- Adhesive, paint or wax remover
- Antiseptic for wounds
- Fungus remover
- Machinery or furniture lubricant
- Massage oil
- Bath oil
There is no research to support many of these uses; they are only backed by anecdotal evidence.
Risks and side effects
Tiger Balm is unlikely to cause any allergic reaction when used correctly. Tiger Balm should not be taken orally and should not be applied to any sensitive area such as your eyes, ear canals, rectum, or vagina.
Tiger Balm should not be used on an open wound or broken skin, burned skin, on sunburned, irritated or chapped skin.
Before using Tiger balm in any of its forms, test it on a small area of your arm first – preferably inside your elbow.
Check the spot after 24 hours to make sure there’s no reaction before applying to a larger area. Discontinue usage if it causes redness, stinging or burning sensation, or itchiness in the affected area.
In extreme cases, Tiger Balm may cause an allergic reaction with symptoms such as swelling in the throat or skin, skin rash, or breathing difficulties.
Make sure to see a doctor immediately if these symptoms persist for a prolonged period. They may be a sign of other underlying conditions.