What is tiger balm and how to use it

Despite the name, tiger balm does not contain ingredients of animal origin nor is it made – as some say – with the bones of big cats or other parts of their bodies. It is simply a ointment based on essential oils which owes its name to its origins: “It was created in 1870 by a Burmese herbalist, Aw Chu Kin, and then perfected by his sons in 1908 in Singapore, where Haw Par Corporation was born, the company that still holds the registered trademark »Says the doctor Eugenio Origa, surgeon, specialist in orthopedics and traumatology, naturopath. “One of Aw Chu Kin’s sons was called Boon Haw, which means ‘gentle tiger’, and hence the commercial nomenclature seems to derive. But there are also those who refer to traditional Chinese medicine, in which the tiger represents a Yang animal that symbolizes strength, courage, prosperity and, therefore, the possibility of overcoming obstacles ».

Properties and benefits

Tiger balm is a multifunctional ointment, which acts on pains, inflammation, colds, blisters. Generally speaking, the properties of tiger balm are related to its composition. Inside this ointment there is a mixture of essential oils, to which carriers are added (paraffin and petrolatum in the original recipe) which serve to modulate and prolong the effectiveness of the oils themselves. “Today there are also 100% vegetable imitationseven if the chemical carriers do not involve any danger to health », Dr. Origa reassures.

For example, the menthol it has a refreshing and anesthetizing effect in contact with the skin: «If massaged on the temples, it also mitigates the headache because it works on the nerve receptors, thus relieving tension», explains the expert. “Then there is camphorwhich performs an action anti-inflammatory on the musculoskeletal system thanks to the rubefacient activity, that is, it is able to draw blood to the tissues and this brings oxygen, nutrients and immune cells to the treated area, healing it.

Not surprisingly, Hippocrates argued that where blood flows there is no disease, so the therapeutic power of a product is also measured by its ability to bring “fresh forces” to some area of ​​the body ». This is why camphor can be useful in neuralgia, sprains, rheumatism, cramps and muscle pains. “Another precious substance is theCajeput oilobtained from Melaleuca Leucadendron, “sister” of Melaleuca Alternifolia from which the famous Tea Tree Oil. Cajeput oil is lighter, but capable of carrying out a harmonizing effect and calming on the whole organism, for which it is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, disinfectant, antirheumatic and in massages it invigorates and tones the muscles, even after sports.

Another “ingredient” of tiger balm is thecassia oilChinese cinnamon, which – in addition to acting as natural antidepressant due to its particular fragrance – it acts topically by producing heat, activating circulation and triggering a series of regenerative processes typical of inflammation: “The latter, in fact, is not negative in an absolute sense, because in the acute phase it serves to limit the damage, clean up the area and rebuild the tissues. Cassia stimulates this good “inflammation” and is especially useful as a muscle relaxant ».

Among the indications, we also find the use in case of burns and minor burns. In this case «The only foresight is that of do not spread tiger balm on open cuts or wounds, but the rule applies to any product that is not expressly formulated to disinfect or heal the skin. That is, we can actually use it, but not in the acute phase. When sunburn and burns are already in a repair phase, tiger balm can improve the supply of nutrients to the tissues and thus speed up healing, ”explains the expert.

Why “burns”

The burning sensation felt on the area where it is smeared is due tothermogenic effect of tiger balm, which by increasing the blood flow towards the surface of the skin determines a perception of heat, deliberately “irritating” of the various essential oils, but in a beneficial sense.

Other uses of tiger balm

There are even non-medical uses of tiger balm: it can help remove paint stains from the skin, eliminate woodworms, keep insects away from the rooms of the house, fight bad odors in cabinets and drawers, deodorize areas of the body. more prone to profuse sweating. Is a multifunctional product like this suitable for everyone or can it have contraindications? “In addition to avoiding it in the case of known hypersensitivity to the components or other closely related substances from a chemical point of view, better not to use it during pregnancyduring breastfeeding and in very young children, like any other non-essential product in these delicate stages of life », recommends Dr. Origa.

What is the difference between red and white tiger balm

To the basic mix (menthol, camphor, Cajeput oil and cassia), black currant oreucalyptol: «In the first case you get the red tiger balm, in the second the white one, each with specific properties and therefore not interchangeable with each other», Dr. Origa points out. “The blackcurrant mimics the effects of cortisol, the hormone that regulates the immune system, allows us to cope with stress and modulates inflammation, so it is useful for treating muscle and skeletal pain, rheumatism, long-term contractures. On the contrary, eucalyptol works on the perception of thermal pain, so it is valid in case of burns, irritation, insect bites and skin redness, because it desensitizes the pain receptors. But it is also an excellent remedy for coughs, colds and sinusitis », describes Dr. Origa.

How to use tiger balm

The tiger balm red it should be applied twice a day for at least a week, even if the correct times of the therapy must always be personalized according to the individual sensitivity and the duration of the pain to be treated: if it is long-lasting, it takes more time. “Once the result is obtained, it is good to continue the application for another two or three days to stabilize the effects”, suggests the expert.

“In the case of tiger balm whiteinstead, three or four days are often enough. Among other things, the white version also works on stomach pain, if gently spread on the abdomen, around the navel. And, curiously, it acts on both constipation and diarrhea ».

The application it must always be delicate, exerting a light massage, because rubbing this mix of essential oils too vigorously can create skin micro-lesions: “Tiger balm does not need to be completely absorbed: on the contrary, leaving a veil on the surface creates a sort of protection on the area to be to deal. We always let it dry in the air, without covering the area with bandages, gauze or other covers, because the occlusive effect can cause skin irritation ».

Where to buy

Tiger balm can be purchased at a pharmacy, herbalist’s shop or in health food stores. “We pay attention on the web,” suggests Dr. Origa. “On the Internet, let’s rely on the sites of serious, verifiable and well-reviewed shops to avoid running into products that are” fake “or of dubious origin”.

One last piece of advice: especially in acute inflammatory forms, if after three or four days of treatment we do not observe any evident benefit, it is better to suspend the applications and contact the attending physician to thoroughly investigate the cause of the problem, which may require other solutions.

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