Authors: Prof. Dr. med. Peter Altmeyer, Prof. Dr. med. Martina Bacharach-Buhles

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Last updated on: 09.03.2023

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2-Bornanone; Camphor; Camphora; Camphor (INCI)

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Camphor is an ancient Chinese remedy. Arabs brought camphor to Europe around the 11th century.

Camphor is a bicyclic monoterpene that is widespread in the plant kingdom and occurs naturally in various plants from which it can also be extracted, for example from the essential oils of laurel plants, composite plants and labiates.

In East Asia, the monoterpene is extracted from the camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora). Camphor can also be produced synthetically on an industrial scale.

The substance has a characteristic, strong, aromatic, woody, eucalyptus-like odor. The taste is pungent and bitter, also slightly cooling as with menthol.

Commission E-monograph: rheumatism, externally for heart complaints, internally for circulatory regulation disorders, internally and externally for catarrh of the upper respiratory tract.

empirical medicine: blunt injuries

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Camphor is well absorbed by skin and mucous membranes. The placental barrier is overcome. The substance is excreted in the urine as camphor glucuronic acid.

Local effects: Camphor has a local hyperemic and weak anaesthetic effect; camphor applications serve as rubefacients in embrocations (e.g. camphor spirit DAB9), ointments, liniments and plasters. Camphor is used in unctions (concentration about 5%) against colds.

The various The various applications (e.g. ointments or oils) are used for chronic arthritis, tendovaginitis, traumatic swelling, myalgia, bursitis, strains and sprains. Concentrations of 0.1 % have a low local anaesthetic effect and a cooling effect by stimulating cold receptors (see menthol).
Camphor is quickly absorbed through the skin. Camphor passes the blood-brain barrier, the blood-milk barrier and the placental barrier. It is metabolized to carboxylic acids and/or camphor alcohols, partially glucuronidated and mostly excreted via the kidneys.

Systemic effect: Camphor is classified as a less dangerous substance. It acts on the central nervous system, in higher doses also on the respiratory centre. The internal application is rejected today.

Other effects: Camphor serves as arepellent and disinfectant. In bee care, Camphor is used as an active substance approved by the EU against mite infestation

Toxic effects: Camphor is toxic when taken orally in overdose. It causes confusion and twilight states, panic, short-term memory disorders and even amnesia; also epileptic seizures. The lethal dose for an adult is 0.1 g/kg body mass.

Industrial use: Camphor is used industrially as a plasticizer for cellulose ester.

Undesirable effects
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Contact allergic reaction

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Infants and toddlers younger than 30 months of age, children with a history of epilepsy or febrile convulsions, and children with anorectal lesions, history of precancerous lesions in the anus or rectum

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Artosenex® N Ointment, Aspecton® Balsam, Bronchicum® Balsam with Eucalyptus Oil, Bronchodurate® Ointment, Cefarheumin® Ointment, Menthol, Cold Balsam-ratiopharm®, Euflux® N Ointment, Heilit® Rheumatism Oil Bath, Lyobalsam® S Ointment, Metholon Original®, Nervfluis Fides S, Pectapas® Ointment, Piniol® Balsam N, Rheumatism Ointment Lichtenstein, Rubriment®-N Oil, stas® Cold Ointment, Thymipin® N Cold Ointment, Transplumin® Balsam E, Trauma-cyl Ointment, Trauma Ointment Rödler® 301 N, Trauma Ointment Rödler® 303 N, Tumarol®N Balsam, Tussamag® Cold Ointment N, Varicylum® S Ointment.

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A fixed combination of camphor, eucalyptus oil and purified turpentine oil has been monographed by the E Commission for camphor with the indication of catharrh of the airways, muscle and joint pain in non-inflammatory rheumatic diseases.

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  1. Kotaka T et al. (2014) Camphor induces cold and warm sensations with increases in skin and muscle blood flow in human. Biol Pharm Bull 37:1913-1918.
  3. Wenigmann M. (2017) Phytotherapy medicinal drugs, phytopharmaceuticals, application. Urban & Fischer, pp. 92-93