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What Is Tiger Balm?

Topical Treatment Option for Arthritis Has Long History

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Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

You may have seen the product on your drugstore shelf or perhaps you have even tried it. Its name, Tiger Balm, sounds tough enough to battle the fiercest arthritis pain.

Tiger Balm has a long and interesting history. How has the topical medication stood the test of time and stayed on the market for so long? How does Tiger Balm relieve arthritis pain? What ingredients are in Tiger Balm?

Tiger Balm Is a Topical Analgesic

Tiger Balm is a topical analgesic (pain reliever) medication made from herbal ingredients. Topical medications can be effective treatment options, especially for people who can't take oral medications. Tiger Balm is recommended for relieving back pain, joint pain, stiffness, sprains, and arthritis. There are also claims that Tiger Balm can relieve headaches, sinus congestion, and discomfort from mosquito bites.

The History of Tiger Balm

Tiger Balm is manufactured and distributed by Haw Par Healthcare in Singapore. Tiger Balm is based on a "secret" herbal formula that dates back as far as the Chinese emperors. Today, over 20 million jars of Tiger Balm are sold each year in over 70 countries.

Available Formulations of Tiger Balm

Tiger Balm contains camphor, menthol, cajuput, oil, and clove oil. It is available in several formulations, including:

  • Tiger Balm Extra Strength Pain-Relieving Ointment - Active ingredients: Camphor 11%, Menthol 10%. Inactive ingredients: Cajuput Oil, Cassia Oil, Clove Oil, Dementholized Mint Oil and Paraffin Petrolatum. Directions: Rub well on affected area. Repeat 3-4 times daily. For children under 2, consult a physician.

  • Tiger Balm Ultra Rub - Active ingredients: Camphor 11%, Menthol 11%. Inactive ingredients: Cajuput Oil, Cassia Oil, Clove Oil, Dementholized Mint Oil and Paraffin Petrolatum. Directions: Rub well on affected area. Repeat 3-4 times daily. For children 2-12 years old, consult a physician. This product contains more pain-relieving menthol than Extra-Strength Tiger Balm and is non-staining.

  • Tiger Balm Arthritis Rub - Active ingredients: Camphor 11%, Menthol 11%. Inactive ingredients: Cajuput Oil, Chondroitin Sulfate, Cinnamon Oil, Clove Oil, Deionized Water, Dementholized Mint Oil, Diazolidinyl Urea, Glucosamine Sulfate, Methyl Paraben, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Propyl Paraben, Propylene Glycol. Directions: Shake well before using. Apply to the affected area and massage gently until cream is absorbed into the skin. Do not apply to affected area more than 3 to 4 times daily. For children under 12 years consult a doctor before use.

  • Tiger Balm Neck & Shoulder Rub - Active ingredients: Camphor 11%, Menthol 10%. Inactive Ingredients: Dementholized Mint Oil, Diazolidinyl Urea, Eucalyptus Oil, FD&C Blue 1, Glycerin, Lavender Fragrance, Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Methylparaben, PVM, MA Decadiene Crosspolymer, Propylene Glycol, Propylparaben, Triethanolamine (TEA), Water. Directions: Adults and children over 12 years should apply to affected area not more than 3 to 4 times daily. Not recommended for children under 12 years of age.

  • Tiger Balm Patch - Active ingredients per patch: Camphor 80 mg., Menthol 24 mg., Capsicum Extract 16 mg. Directions: Clean and dry area where patch is to be applied. Peel off the protective film and apply patch to the affected area once or twice a day. A bandage may be applied to secure the patch. A warming effect soothes aches and pains.

Warnings

There are important precautions you should take for the safe use of topical pain relievers. Tiger Balm is for external use only. Avoid contact with eyes or mucous membranes. If your condition worsens or persists for more than 7 days, discontinue use and consult a physician. The product may cause an allergic reaction in some people who have sensitive skin. Test on a small area before using the product. If severe irritation occurs, discontinue use and consult a physician. Do not apply to wounds or damaged skin. Do not bandage tightly. As with any medication, if you are pregnant or nursing a baby, you should consult with a health professional before using Tiger Balm. Keep the product out of the reach of children. In case of accidental ingestion, contact a Poison Control Center immediately.

The Botton Line About Tiger Balm

Tiger Balm, like many other topical medications for arthritis, can be purchased over-the-counter. The topical analgesic is applied to the skin and the active ingredients are absorbed through the skin. Products that contain contain menthol, eucalyptus, or oil of wintergreen may work by irritating the skin where it is applied. The skin begins to feel warm or cold, possibly serving as a distraction from the pain. Such formulations are called counterirritants and offer temporary pain relief.

Sources:

Tiger Balm. Product Information. CVS. Accessed 03/18/2012.
http://www.cvs.com/CVSApp/search/search.jsp?searchTerm=tiger+balm

Tiger Balm Patches. Product Information. Walgreen's. Accessed 03/18/2012.
http://www.walgreens.com/store/c/tiger-balm-pain-relieving-patches/ID=prod2303517-product

History of Tiger Balm. Tiger Balm UK. Accessed 03/18/2012.
http://www.tigerbalm.co.uk/history.html

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