Camphor oil comes from the camphor tree. Steam is used to extract camphor oil from the tree's bark, wood and roots. Though traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments, camphor oil is toxic when taken internally.
Recognising the toxicity of camphor oil when ingested, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of products containing camphorated oil in 1980. This ban was revised in 1983, when the FDA approved the sale of topical products containing camphor oil in concentrations of 11 per cent or less, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As an essential oil, commercially available camphor oil comes in white, brown and yellow forms. The brown and yellow forms are both carcinogenic and toxic, while the less-toxic white form is used in medications. FDA-approved products containing camphor oil include certain topical anti-inflammatory preparations and decongestant rubs.
Even when used as directed in FDA-approved, over-the-counter topical preparations, camphor oil can cause an adverse reaction in some people. Symptoms include contact eczema and skin irritation. Pregnant and lactating women should never use substances containing camphor oil, says the University of Texas El Paso.
Signs of camphor oil poisoning include skin irritation, burning mouth or throat, convulsions, muscle twitching or spasms, nausea, respiratory difficulties, unconsciousness and pain in the abdomen, among others. Left untreated, camphor poisoning can be fatal.