What is Capsaicin Cream?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Capsaicin cream is a topical pain reliever that is applied directly to the skin. The cream is part of the over-the-counter products sometimes referred to as deep heating rubs. Containing capsicum, the component that gives cayenne pepper its heat, the product can be used to ease pain and stiffness in various joints as well as bring a measure of relief to sore muscles.

Individuals with arthritis should choose small, easily squeezed tubes of capsaicin cream.
Individuals with arthritis should choose small, easily squeezed tubes of capsaicin cream.

As with many pain relievers of this type, the soothing action of capsaicin cream is only temporary; this means the product must be applied again after several hours. The effect, however, normally lasts long enough to allow the user to move through the initial pain and stiffness that is sometimes associated with overexertion during the performance of physical tasks or engaging in sports activities. This respite from the discomfort provides time for the body’s natural healing capabilities to kick in and permanently ease any of the temporary inflammation that comes with overexertion of the muscles and joints.

Capsaicin cream provides temporary pain relief where it is applied.
Capsaicin cream provides temporary pain relief where it is applied.

This cream is also considered an analgesic and has properties that help to ease the pain by desensitizing the surrounding tissue. The properties of the capsicum or cayenne warms the area while also lowering the presence of the neurotransmitter known as Substance P. This, in turn, minimizes the amount of pain felt by the user while at the same time giving the skin and the underlying layers of tissue a feeling that is pleasant and warm.

Peppers, a source of capsaicin.
Peppers, a source of capsaicin.

There are a number of muscle and joint conditions in which analgesics like capsaicin cream can be helpful. Many of these ailments are characterized by stiff and painful muscles and joints. People who suffer with bursitis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, general nerve pain, and rheumatoid arthritis often can apply the topical cream, rub it gently into the skin, and experience some degree or relief for several hours.

Cayenne has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for stiff muscles. There are a number of recipes for home made topical creams and poultices that make use of the crushed or dried powder from the cayenne pepper to produce what amounts to a natural remedy version of the cream. Whether using a home recipe or purchasing the over-the-counter product, many people choose to use the cream to ease stiffness in the joints just before retiring for the night, helping to increase the chances for a restful sleep.

Most commercial versions include usage instructions that stress the need to seek professional medical care if the aches and pains persist after a certain period of time. A medical professional can evaluate the origin of the discomfort and provide guidance on whether to continue using the topical cream or if more aggressive treatments are necessary.

Capsaicin is often used in creams to temporarily relieve arthritic pain.
Capsaicin is often used in creams to temporarily relieve arthritic pain.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

@ankara-- I'm using capsaicin cream on my lower back. I have a herniated disc that gives me a lot of pain. I've actually gotten good results with this cream and I do like it.

I think you need to give the cream another try, once is not enough. My doctor said to use it daily and that I would see results after several weeks. I think it works by numbing the nerves in that area, so using it once or twice is not enough.


I've been looking at different capsaicin products. It comes in many forms, as a stick, in gel form, liquid form, cream form. Which is best?


I bought a natural capsaicin cream for my arthritis pain and I wasn't really impressed with it. It wasn't as effective as I expected it to be. All it seemed to do was create a burning sensation on my skin. I think that's how it's supposed to work as an analgesic, but when the burning sensation wore off, the pain was back.

I was also scared of touching my face after rubbing the cream because my hands were burning as well. It almost felt like I rubbed hot pepper on my hands. So I was afraid that I would get it in my eyes. It took a long time for this to go away, I had to wash my hands like ten times.

Overall, I'm not too impressed with the cream. I think menthol cream or camphor cream works better.


Capsaicin cream is great for a topical analgesic, but it's important to remember that there are some side effects that come along with it.

The most common capsaicin side effects are probably what you would expect -- burning on the area where it's applied. That's why it's important to not get capsaicin cream in your eyes or on other delicate areas.

Other, rarer capsaicin cream side effects include inflammation and skin blisters. However, these are rare, and usually only occur with higher dosages of the cream.

To avoid the risk of side effects when using capsaicin cream, make sure to follow all the instructions on the packaging, and do not apply it to broken or irritated skin.

Also, you should not apply capsaicin cream right after you get out of the shower, and you should always wear gloves when applying it, or be sure to wash your hands very thoroughly after applying it if you don't wear gloves.


Can anybody recommend a good topical capsaicin cream for muscle pain? I recently started working out again, and a buddy of mine told me to buy some capsaicin cream for my muscles.

Is there really any big difference between capsaicin cream brands, or can I just pick up any old one that I find at CVS?


I have never been a huge fan of capsaicin topical pain creams -- I'm more of a cooling pain gel type of person, though I will occasionally use a capsaicin cream for my arthritis. I know that my friend swears by using capsaicin cream for shingles. I guess that's just a matter of personal preference.

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