Is Tiger Balm Illegal? Uncovering the Truth About This Ointment

Tiger Balm is an effective supplement for some people to aid in relieving the tension from sore muscles.

Jamie Bichelman - Author

Jun. 10 2024, Published 4:41 p.m. ET

A jar of Tiger Balm is pictured on a pink and purple blanket.
Source: iStock

The safety, quality, and legality of some health supplements may affect their availability in some countries, while, in other countries, a banned product may still be widely used. For athletes and those with general aches and pains alike, Tiger Balm has been a panacea for everything from neck pain to a sore back and beyond, but it isn't universally available.

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That said, where can you find the Tiger Balm product? For that matter, where is Tiger Balm illegal? We'll answer these questions and more below.

An athlete winces as he places his right hand over his sore muscles on his left arm.
Source: iStock
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Why is Tiger Balm illegal?

If you're in the U.S., Tiger Balm products are still legal to purchase at a convenient location near you. Per the Tiger Balm website, its products do not require a prescription to purchase, and they also "comply with the regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

Cryptic language aside, however, Healthline claims that Tiger Balm is not approved or regulated by the FDA.

As the California-based Kaman Law Firm clarifies, the FDA sets regulations for how much camphor and menthol — two ingredients in Tiger Balm — are allowed in a given product. Tiger Balm with an exceedingly high camphor and menthol concentration will earn FDA scorn, but if the ingredients remain at federally acceptable levels, the product will remain available for purchase in the U.S.

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As VeryWell Health further explains, the FDA permits the sale of Tiger Balm despite its failure to be designated as an FDA-approved product. So long as Tiger Balm complies with FDA regulations, its existence on U.S. retail shelves may continue in perpetuity.

However, compliance has sometimes been an issue for the brand. In 2010, Reuters reported that Haw Par, the Singapore-based maker of Tiger Balm, was under fire for not complying with U.S. regulations for the testing of its products.

A package of Tiger Balm's "Muscle Rub" product is pictured beside a can of the "Sports Balm" product.
Source: iStock
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As to hearsay, conjecture, and the social media-backed rumors that Tiger Balm is illegally sold in the U.S. or that it contains actual tiger bones or opioids, U.S. residents will also be pleased to know none of those claims appear to be trueas of writing.

Per WIRED, the ingredient menthol's reputation for pain relief may be due in part to its interaction with opioid receptors.

While the Tiger Balm website claims most of its products are free of animal byproducts, and they attribute their name to founder Aw Boon Haw's name translating in English to “Gentle Tiger,” a 1995 report from The Independent casts doubt on the accuracy of ingredients in Asian-made balms.

From police raids to "a paste made from tiger bone," the regulatory differences among different countries combined with poor internal oversight means Tiger Balm may continue to have a shaky global reputation.

Is Tiger Balm illegal in the U.K.?

According to Tiger Balm's U.K.-specific webpage, only two products are legal in the U.K.: Tiger Balm Red and Tiger Balm White. Tiger Balm Red is intended to provide relief from muscle pain, whereas Tiger Balm White is intended to be used for both tension headaches and muscle pain.

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