Allergic to Dogs and Allergies in Dogs Resource

Natural Decongestant Salves

This section on Natural Decongestants and Allergies will now consider what are natural decongestant salves (ointments), how do they work and how are they used/applied, is there such a thing as the ‘best natural salve’ and finally, what ingredients can they contain?

Natural Decongestant Salves (Ointments)

The term salve refers to an adhering ointment with calming, soothing or healing properties that is applied topically to the body surfaces such as the skin or mucous membranes.

Ointments typically have a waxy or greasy, homogeneous and firm consistency (often a 4:1 oil to water ratio) which can be adjusted depending on the intended use for the ointment. For example, an eye ointment will differ in consistency and properties compared to one intended to be used for the nose, chest or back. Such modifications depend on:

  • The choice of the ointment base e.g. beeswax, olive oil.
  • Whether the ointment is to be medicated and thereby serve as more than just a barrier to protect the skin by preventing loss of moisture. Herbs or plant extract and essential oil(s) can be added to provide various active ingredients.

Natural Decongestant Salves

How Does a Natural Decongestant Salve Work?

A salve can help treat congestion and stuffiness, as well as associated nasal or facial pain and discomfort, by helping to open the airways and loosen mucus in the nasal passages, throat and chest. It can achieve this in a number of ways:

  • Active ingredients. The salve may act as a vehicle to deliver aromatic and decongesting ingredient(s) which work to loosen mucus whilst modifying the individual’s mood e.g. peppermint is fresh and invigorating.
  • Emollient (Moisturizer). Salves work to help hydrate and protect the skin. For example, red, inflamed and sore skin can result from frequent nose blowing. The tenderness can be soothed by the action of both the base e.g. beeswax, as well as other ingredient(s) present in the mixture e.g. lavender oil.

Although the primary function of a salve is to facilitate soothing and healing, they may contain other ingredients that make them usable as follows:

  • Act as a lubricant. The oil-base of the salve may act as a temporary lubricant to enable massaging and gentle rubbing of the chest, back or throat. As was noted in Natural Posture, Pressure and Movement  Decongestants, physical activity itself can help relieve congestion, and the tactile nature of being massaged can increase one’s sense of well-being.
  • Counterirritant. The addition of essential oils such as eucalyptus oil, wintergreen oil or menthol are examples of topical analgesic counterirritants. When these are absorbed by the skin, the ensuing irritation results in a warm/cold soothing sensation that also helps to provide temporary pain relief.

Note: Although the last 2 points may apply to certain salves, in contrast and by definition, a balm must be rubbed into the skin in order to work effectively.

How to Use a Natural Decongestant Salve

Although the specific use and application of the salve will be determined by both the combination of ointment base and plant extracts used, as a general guide, the vapors of an aromatic salve may be inhaled directly from the jar but also by:

  • Applying the salve to a paper towel or lint-free piece of material and draping it in the vicinity of the person e.g. near to where someone sleeps at night.
  • Adding it to hot or boiling water (See also: Natural Moisture and Water Decongestants).
  • Applying it to a warm damp compress and placing it on the chest, back or throat (See also: Natural Decongestants and Heat)
  • Rubbing it on the chest, back or throat. The active ingredients may also penetrate the skin and bring localized relief.
  • Applying a tiny dab just below the nostrils. Note that this depends on the composition and strength of the salve used and one must not do this if it irritates the skin or makes breathing uncomfortable. Do not ingest any salve and avoid getting it into the eyes unless it is designed specifically for this use.

What is the Best Natural Decongestant Salve?

There is considerable debate amongst advocates of natural decongestants as to what ingredients give the best salve result. The possible permutations and combinations of the various bases and plant extracts give rise to a huge potential range of different salves. Therefore, given that everyone has their own preferences (e.g. what is deemed acceptable with regard to the greasiness, the aroma and its strength etc.), it becomes a matter of personal choice as to what constitutes the best decongestant salve for your needs. Anyone interested in this topic will have to be prepared to try out a number of salves to find what works best for them.

Ointment Bases

Advocates of natural salves will usually avoid petroleum and paraffin wax hydrocarbon bases and opt for those they considered ‘chemical-free’. Popular bases include:

Almond oil Fruit seed – commonly referred to as a nut Prunus dulcis
Beeswax Wax produced by honey bees Aphis
Coconut oil Kernel from coconut palm Cocos nucifera
Grapeseed oil (Grape seed oil or grape oil) Seeds of grapes Vitis vinifera (common grape vine)
Jojoba Seed Simmondsia chinensis
Olive oil Fruit Olea europaea
Lanolin (Wool Wax or Wool Grease)
The term ‘Wool Fat’ is used sometimes but is a misnomer – Lanolin is a wax.
Sheep wool Ovis aries
Palm shortening Fruit – Palm oil (Not to be confused with the oil derived from Palm kernels) Elaeis (in particular Elaeis guineensis)
Peanut oil (Groundnut oil or Arachis oil)
[Peanut allergy sufferers must not use this!]
Fruit seed (legume pod) – commonly referred to as a nut Arachis hypogaea
Sesame oil (Gingelly oil or Til oil) Seed Sesamum indicum
Sunflower oil Seed Helianthus annuus


Plant Extracts and Essential Oils

Types of plant extracts incorporated in natural decongestant salves vary but herbs and essential oils are very common, such as:

Camphor oil Wood Cinnamomum camphora
Cedar wood oil Wood Cedrus altantica, Cedrus libani, Thuja occidentalis or Juniperus virginiana.
Chamomile oil
(a.k.a. camomile oil)
Flowers There exists a family of chamomile oils e.g. Matricaria chamomile
(German chamomile oil)
Eucalyptus oil Leaves There exists a family of eucalyptus oils e.g. Eucalyptus globulus
Hoja santa (a.k.a. yerba santa and hierba santa) Leaves Piper auritum
Lavender Flowers Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula intermedia
Lemon oil Peel Citrus limon
Menthol Various mint oils and produced synthetically Lamiaceae i.e. mints such as
Mentha Piperita (Peppermint)
Mentha arvensis
Oregano oil Leaves Origanum vulgaris
Peppermint oil Leaves Mentha piperita
Pine oil Needles Pinus pinaster
Rosemary oil Leaves Rosmarinus officinalis
Sage oil Leaves Salvia officinalis or Salvia lavandulifolia
Tea tree oil Leaves Melaleuca alternifolia
Wintergreen oil Leaves Gualtheria promcumbens

Note: Essential oils are concentrated and can be toxic or even fatal if ingested. They must be diluted before they are applied to the skin and it is important always to read the label and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for correct usage. Furthermore, it is possible for certain individuals to experience sensitization or be allergic to a particular ingredient.

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