Reclaiming My Culture: Why I Made My Own Vivaporú
Written By: Merelis Catalina Ortiz
Winter is the time of year that “vivaporú”, also known as Vick’s VapoRub, would be used in ridiculous amounts among my family. Growing up, I saw my Mama (grandma) put vivaporú in her cafecito. Yes. In her coffee to drink in the morning. She even made my siblings and I ingest vivaporú with salt to prevent us from getting sick. My aunt would rub the ointment on her entire face like a lotion every night; my cousin would rub vivaporú in his nostrils whenever he had a stuffy nose. That was until they had ViDAPORÚ. I am sure many of you may also have family members or friends that use this ointment in such diverse and really creative ways that Vick’s Vapor Rub would most likely not endorse.
But when did vivaporú become such a staple in the Dominican and Latinx household? What is the story behind the creation of the infamous ointment? And most importantly how do the ingredients of vivaporú affect our overall health? These are questions I will uncover in this article. In addition, I will share more about ViDAPORÚ, a natural version of vivaporú that I make with amor and intention for my community to heal free from chemicals and toxins that do us harm.
Story Behind the Infamous Ointment
The notorious Vick’s VapoRub, or what many Dominicans and Latinx people refer to as vivaporú or vaporú, is marketed as a topical ointment used to relieve coughs, colds, and muscle/joint minor aches and pains. The creation of vivaporú dates back to the 1890s when a pharmacist, Lunsford Richardson in North Carolina created home remedies named after his brother-in-law, Dr. Joshua Vick. The best-selling home remedy was the Vick’s Croup and Pneumonia Salve, which is known today as Vick’s VapoRub. What once was un remedio casero has ended up a product owned by the multibillion-dollar corporation Proctor and Gamble (P&G).
Staple in the Dominican and Latinx Household
Writing this article, I was unable to find online sources that provided a historical background on the use of vivaporú in Dominican and Latinx communities. In order to find answers and fully understand how this product has become a staple in our homes, I asked elders from Dominican Republic living or visiting New York City to tell me when they were first introduced to vivaporú.
“Yo lo he usado toda la vida,” she responded. Like many others she had also used vivaporú her entire life. Based on conversations I had with people, many Dominicans began to use the ointment in the Dominican Republic. There was a woman eighty-one years strong who shared with me that she was first introduced to vivaporú on the radio in 1950s Dominican Republic. This was at a time when Proctor and Gamble focused on growing their business internationally. By the eighties the company was able to build Vick’s as a global brand . For generations el vivaporú has had a place in our homes where many have found innovative ways to heal loved ones. There are countless articles published that highlight the many creative uses of vivaporú among our community [2,3]. However, there are no articles that emphasize the negative effects vivaporú has on our overall health.
¡Deje el Vivaporú y ponte ViDAPORÚ!
As people of color who live in a capitalist society that constantly marginalizes us, it is important that we take control of our health and be conscientious of the foods and products we put in our bodies. This mindset led me to become informed of ingredients used in vivaporú and its effects on our bodies. Ingredients that make up vivaporú are camphor, menthol, eucalyptus, and petroleum jelly. The first three ingredients are found in specific trees and plants with healing properties that benefit our bodies if used in moderation. Petroleum jelly on the other hand is a byproduct of the oil industry (as are gasoline, jet fuel, Diesel, etc.) and an ingredient our bodies are unable to breakdown. Petroleum jelly is not environmentally friendly or something we want to accumulate in our bodies.
We need to remember our skin is the largest organ in our bodies, so anything we put on it can affect our internal organs. When petroleum jelly is combined with the chemical polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and applied to the skin overtime it can promote cancer . Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found after incomplete burning of coal, gas, and other substances that become soot (black powder formed after burning), pollution in the air. People with skin conditions, such as acne or sensitive skin, should avoid products with the jelly. The ingredient suffocates pores and can dry the skin because it is not able to dissolve in water . Also keep in mind that the plastic bottles that holds the vivaporú comprises of chemicals that may leach hormone-like chemicals and other chemicals we are unaware of . Because of the side effects of the chemicals in this ointment, vivaporú should not be medicine we continue to depend on to heal ourselves and our families when we are sick. In a world where cancer and disease are at such high rates we need to be critical of everything we use, where it comes from, and how it impacts our bodies and our environment.
Babies and children under two would be the most sensitive to vivaporú. There are studies that show that the ointment may make babies and children sicker and affect their breathing . The lead author of a study conducted in Wake Forest University School of Medicine on Vick’s Vaporub effects on children explains “Infants and young children have airways much narrower than those of adults, so any increase in mucus or inflammation can narrow them severely.” Rather vivaporú helping babies and children with respiratory issues it actually causes more harm. Even with rubbing the ointment on the feet of babies and children can be just as harmful for them because oils and chemicals in Vick’s is too strong.
With all this information in mind, one day I decided to search on Google “natural vapor rub recipes” and found one I was able to make my own. I am very intentional with everything that comes with making ViDAPORÚ: the ingredients I use, the jars used to hold the ointment, and my energy and the energy of the space I am making the ointment. My kitchen, the sacred space that it is (herstorically/ historically where our ancestors have been able to work their magic nourishing and healing their communities and themselves) was where I made my first batch of ViDAPORÚ. Before making the natural ointment, I always make sure to prepare the space by bringing in positive energy. I light up a candle to honor my abuela Catalina’s spirit. The light is a way for me to connect with her and for her to guide me while making remedios casero para mi familia y mi comunidad. My Mama Catalina physically left this Earth when my father was thirteen, but her spirit lives on with me and the rest of my family. My father says I am a lot like her as she too made remedios caseros and resisted the use of processed products.
A lot of thought and love is put in every bottle of ViDAPORÚ. When making the ointment I think of how every ingredient and every detail may help mi gente, my community. I specifically chose glass jars to hold ViDAPORÚ because I did not want the chemicals that make plastic to leach into the ointment and cause people an array of health effects long-term. To make the ointment I use different herbs and essential oils that have many medicinal properties. I use a carrier oil, or in other words a base oil like extra olive oil or coconut oil to dilute essential oils or herbal infused oils in the ointment. Extra virgin oil for example has no additives and more of the oils medicinal properties like antioxidants that moisturize dry skin. Extra olive oil is an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, which help kill or inhibit the growth of a virus, bacteria, or fungi. Aside from the base oil, I use essential oils or herbal infused oils that really puts in the “vida” in ViDAPORÚ. Some of the essential oils/herbal infused oils I use are eucalyptus, peppermint, and a little of camphor. Eucalyptus and camphor help relieve respiratory problems. Eucalyptus in particular is great for relieving coughs. Peppermint is an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. La menta is what gives you that cool sensation on the skin when applying ViDAPORÚ. This ointment can be used for adults, children, and babies. However for babies and children it is important you put two to three tablespoons of coconut oil to make the ointment less strong.
Many people have been really supportive and excited about me making a natural and organic version of ViDAPORÚ, which they can share with their families. I believe this is so because people know the ointment is coming from a positive, socially, and health conscious place. If you want to buy a bottle or bottles of ViDAPORÚ you can do so by ordering them at my Etsy page here. The jars are $8 roughly around the same price as the artificial vivaporú. I have different versions of ViDAPORÚ that are mucho más mejor por que los ingredientes son natural y orgánico, como debería ser todo en nuestro mundo.
- P&G. < http://www.pg.com/en_balkans/company/heritage.shtml>
- Arreola, Cristina. 2014. An Ode to Vick’s Vaporub: 8 Surprising uses for the ointment. Latina. <http://www.latina.com/our-issues/vicks-vaporub-uses#7>
- Simón, Yara. Here’s How to Use Vivaporú to fix anything in life. Remezcla. <http://remezcla.com/lists/why-vivaporu-is-life/>
- Adams, Rebecca. 2013. Petroleum Jelly May Not Be As Harmless As You Think. HuffingtonPost. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/21/vaseline-petroleum-jelly_n_4136226.html>
- Hamilton, John. 2011. Study: Most Plastics Leach Hormone-Like Chemicals. NPR. http://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134196209/study-most-plastics-leach-hormone-like-chemicals
- CBC News. 2009. Avoid applying Vicks VapoRub to babies, pediatricians say. CBC News Technology and Science. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/avoid-applying-vicks-vaporub-to-babies-pediatricians-say-1.845457>