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Everything You Need to Know About Topical Analgesics

Everything You Need to Know About Topical Analgesics

What are topical analgesics?

Topical analgesic products tend to be a lotion, cream, gel, balm, or spray. Typically, they are applied to the skin’s surface to relieve an ailment. You can treat a variety of ailments using topical products.

We are going to focus on topical products that target inflammation and pain. Topical analgesics are pain relievers and are one of the most commonly used topical products.

You may be asking yourself how do topical products work? Can they relieve my pain? It is important to understand how topical products work to relieve pain in order to find a product that will work best for your injury or ailment.

How do topical products work?

Healthcare professionals have demonstrated the benefits of using topical solutions for immediate pain relief and issues of inflammation.

It is believed that pain-relieving mechanisms of topical products cause a ‘counter-irritant effect’ – a process called “gate control” or “gating.” This means that the warming or cooling induced by the solution overrides the injury pain signals traveling to the brain.

Topical products can create either a cooling or a warming sensation. When treating pain and inflammation, topical products that cause a cooling effect are more commonly suggested. Products that produce a heating effect should be used when there is no inflammation and is recommended for chronic injuries.

We know that topical products can be just as effective as other pain-relieving systems. Cooling products like Biofreeze have been found to be just as effective as a TENS system for relieving back pain.

When you walk into any reputable healthcare store, you should find a variety of topical creams and ointments. Each designed to reduce inflammation and pain, but which one is right for you? Now that you know what topical products are and how they work, you should be looking at product labels and considering the active ingredients. Knowing which ingredients are right for your body is just as important as knowing how the ingredients work. Choosing a topical lotion with the right ingredients that best interact with your injury or ailment will provide you with the most effective pain relief.

What are the active ingredients in topical products?

Menthol is the most common ingredient because of its natural cooling properties. You will also find numerous natural ingredients that produce similar effects, such as

  • Methyl Salicylate (wintergreen oil)
  • Camphor
  • Copper
  • Stinging Nettle
  • Arnica
  • Calendula
  • Hamamelis Virginiana (witch-hazel)
  • Peppermint

Always take the time to read product labels for ingredients to determine if the topical product is right for you.

Wondering what these ingredients are, or why they are used? Continue reading for a detailed explanation.

Methyl Salicylate

Methyl Salicylate, also known as wintergreen oil, is a popular compound used in many topical products because it is an effective pain reliever. Studies have indicated that topical products containing Methyl Salicylate are more effective in treating acute pain rather than chronic pain. If you suffer from chronic pain, it will be more beneficial to find a topical product that does not contain Methyl Salicylate as the active ingredient.


Camphor is used in topical products because it relieves pain. Additionally, it will reduce itching and swelling in the affected area. When applied, camphor naturally increases local blood flow and acts as a counter-irritant. Camphor has many beneficial properties, but it should never be applied to broken skin! Please be cautious. If camphor is applied to an open wound, it can reach high concentrations within the body to cause poisoning.


In 1939, a German doctor, Werner Hangartner found that copper miners from Finland never suffered from arthritis, even though rheumatism (muscle and joint inflammation and pain) was rampant. The doctor went on to use copper to treat many of his patients with rheumatism. Therefore, copper is another ingredient regularly used in topical products because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Copper is a beneficial ingredient because of its antimicrobial activity (kills or inhibits dangerous microbes). Copper also has the ability to effectively treat swelling and pain.

Stinging Nettle

Anyone who has come into contact with Stinging Nettle knows that “Ouch, it hurts!” So it may seem counterintuitive to use Stinging Nettle as a pain reliever, but it actually contains pain-relieving properties deep within the plant. Certain chemicals from the Stinging Nettle are isolated and combined with Isopropyl Alcohol to create a pain-relieving formula for arthritis. This exact combination of nettle extract and alcohol causes the body to remove uric acid from the area applied, which causes a cooling and pain-relieving sensation.

Other common ingredients

Additional ingredients you may find in topical lotions are Arnica, Calendula, Witch-Hazel, and Peppermint. Arnica is often used because is naturally reduces muscle swelling. Click here to learn more about the amazing benefits of Arnica. Calendula is used in many topical products because it soothes the skin. Hamamelis Virginiana, also known as Witch-Hazel reduces swelling and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Finally, Peppermint is often included in topical product ingredient lists because of its natural anti-viral properties.

Please note, we recommend consulting with your therapist first to help determine which active ingredients above will work best for you and your condition. Everyone reacts differently to the various active components; therefore, it is important to understand how your body responds in order to find the best pain relief. Always take the time to read the label on each topical lotion to determine the active ingredients, and if the product is the right fit for your pain.

Popular Topical Analgesics

CryoDerm cold therapy uses 100% natural ingredients including Menthol, Peppermint, and Arnica. It comes in a variety of different mediums including spray, gel, cream, and a roll-on. Additionally, CryoDerm offers a heat therapy lotion and roll on. The active ingredient in CryoDerm heat therapy is Arnica.

Biofreeze utilizes the natural power of Menthol and Arnica in its cooling formula. The formula also only uses all-natural ingredients. Biofreeze is available in a spray, gel, or roll on.

Motion Medicine uses Camphor and Wintergreen oil to relieve pain and improve movement. Motion Medicine is perfect for relieving pain in your shoulders, back, and knees. It is also great for sore, overworked muscles. Motion Medicine is only available in a lotion.

Kalaya uses Methyl Salicylate, Arnica, Menthol, Camphor in their formula. Every Kalaya Naturals product is extensively researched, tested, and proven before being released on the market. Kalaya is available as a foot cream, lotion, and roll on.

Anti-Flamme analgesic Herbal Crèmes contain natural and organic ingredients including Arnica, Calendula, and Peppermint. It is only available as a cream.

Medistik uses Menthol, Camphor, and Peppermint Oil in their formulas. Medistik Ice formula is available as a lotion or roll on. The Medistik Dual-Action formula (hot and cold) is available as a spray or roll on.

Try these topical analgesics!