Tiger Balm Red or White: Is It Worth The Burn?

Tiger Balm, the all-in-one balm, is a perennial favorite among the old generation of our parents and grandparents. A childhood item guaranteed to exist in every Chinese household.

Created in the late 1800s by a China-born herbalist Aw Chu Kin, Tiger Balm is essentially a soothing balm that contains nothing related to tigers. Rather, it is a household balm made of menthol, mint oil, clove bud oil, cajuput oil and camphor. Named after Aw’s son, Aw Boon Haw – meaning, Gentle Tiger, who inherited his father’s recipe – turned Tiger Balm into a household name for many generations after.

For most people, Tiger Balm is the go-to balm for pain and inflammation like headaches, muscle cramps and mosquito bites. But when it comes to buying Tiger Balm, you are always going to be faced with two choices: red or white.

While both Tiger Balm white and red offer pain relief for aches, pains, itchiness from insect bites and sinus issues, the main difference is in the balm’s strength.

Tiger Balm White is the original. It is also the milder version of the two. The balm is completely absorbed into the skin when massaged but does not penetrate into the muscles. The good thing about Tiger Balm White is that it does not stain clothes. If you have sensitive skin that gets irritated easily, stick with Tiger Balm White.

Tiger Balm Red has a much stronger penetrative power that goes right into the muscles. The extra bite comes from the additional ingredients of Cajuput Oil, Dementholised Mint Oil & Cassia Oil. These aromatic oils allows Tiger Balm Red to sit on top of the skin and slowly get absorbed over time. While this is highly effective for muscle cramps and aches, it is not good for your clothes as the tainted oils will stain. Also, Tiger Balm Red’s extra bite can cause skin irritation to areas where skin is thinner and more sensitive like nose, throat and forehead (if you are using for sinus relief).

Side note: When I was undergoing my 1-month yoga teacher training course in India, Tiger Balm Red was an essential item I could not live without. I remember our yoga guruji specifically telling us to get the red, not the white – for our daily practice and training. Tiger Balm Red worked effectively for my muscle aches allowing me to continue my training the following days with minimum muscular pain. There was once I finished a jar of red balm and had to switch to the white, it was not even a close contender.

Is Tiger Balm Red worth the burn? When it comes to muscle aches and pains, absolutely! For everything else, best stick with Tiger Balm White.

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