Using Mentholatum on Your Baby is Unsafe, Here is Why

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The rainy season is drawing closer and closer.

You may find it surprising that harmattan is here, and maybe wondering the best way to keep your baby’s skin moist and warm?

This is the period when people fall ill with cold, catarrh and cough because of the wind and dust. As a precaution, sweaters are worn on children; even adults are not left out.

Some parents worry about the cold and turn to mentholatum to keep their babies warm, but they are not aware it offers no benefit in that regard.

Instead, it exposes the baby to harm that may bring down his/her health.

Find out more about mentholatum, why you should not use it on your baby and better alternatives to prevent or treat cold.


What Mentholatum is


Mentholatum is used to treat minor muscle/joint aches and pains (e.g., arthritis, backache, sprains).

They make the skin feel cool and warm to distract you from feeling aches/pains deeper in your muscles, joints, and tendons.  

What Mentholatum is not

  1. It is not a cure for blocked nose,
  2. It is not a cure for catarrh (runny nose)
  3. It does not prevent pneumonia
  4. It does not open congested airway

Why is Mentholatum unsafe for babies?

Pediatricians warn parents not to apply this ointment to children under the age of 5.

It usually contains a mixture of menthol and camphor. The ingredients in this mixture can irritate the airway, causing the body to make more mucus to protect the airway.

Although, the menthol tricks the brain into believing it is easier to breathe by activating a cold sensation, which is processed as indicating more airflow.

It may not be harmful to adults or older kids, can make you feel better but it can’t improve your breathing.

Babies and young children have slender airways compared to those of adults, so any increase in mucus or inflammation can constrict them more severely, leading to respiratory distress.

Other medicated balms like aboniki, rubb should not be applied to their nose or body. If they are showing symptoms you are worried about, see your health provider.

Why do hospitals include ‘mentholatum’ as one of the requirements to be bought in preparation for childbirth/delivery?

It is unclear why some hospitals do this, maybe it is for profit or they are ignorant of the fact that it is of no use to the mother and child after delivery.

How to correctly use Mentholatum

1. Indication of use

It is meant for aches and body pain only.

It is not to be applied on babies or kids younger than 5 years old.

2. Apply on the right spot

Mentholatum is a drug that is intended for skin use only.

It is not meant to be applied on or around the eyes, mouth, nose, or private areas.

Do not apply this medication to damaged or irritated skin (e.g., cut, scraped)

3. Dosage

Apply a thin layer of medicine no more than 3 to 4 times a day to the area affected. Rub in thoroughly and softly.

4. Avoid exposure to heat

Heat will increase the likelihood that side effects (such as itching, temporary skin redness, burning sensation, swelling or blistering) can occur.

Do not use this drug immediately before, during, or after activities that increase the temperature of your skin e.g., Bathing in hot water, swimming, heavy exercise or in hot/humid weather.

Before applying the drug, wait until the skin has cooled.

Do not expose the treated area to hot water bottle, a heating pad or any form of heat.

Do not bandage the area affected or wrap it tightly as doing so can cause the area to heat up but if you need to, cover the area loosely.  

5. Wash hands after use

Unless you are using this drug to treat your hands, wash your hands after applying the medication.

Be careful not to touch sensitive areas such as the eyes, nose or private areas while your hands are on the drug.

Before applying contact lenses, wash your hands well.

Like every other medication, this product comes with instructions. Ensure you follow them, if you have any question or concerns, ask your doctor or nurse.

Alternative methods to treat and prevent cold in babies

To prevent your baby from coming down with an upper respiratory illness such as cataarh and cough, you need to take note of the following;

  1. Exclusively breastfeed your baby to improve immunity
  2. Ensure your baby receives adequate immunization
  3. Keep your baby away from sick people
  4. Sanitize or wash hands before and after feeding or caring for your baby
  5. Properly disinfect frequently touched surfaces, especially when someone in your house is ill

For home remedy of catarrh or clogged/stuffy nose;

  1. Give warm drinks to babies above 6 months of age
  2. Instead of using your mouth directly to suck, gently suction the nose with bulb syringes to remove catarrh/mucus, you may get them here.
  3. If you notice your baby is finding it difficult to breathe and he/she is showing emergency symptoms, go to the hospital immediately.


We admonish all hospitals to remove mentholatum from their antenatal list as it has no therapeutic benefit relating to postnatal care of the mother and child.

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