Skip to content
Everything You Need to Know About Topical Analgesics

Everything You Need to Know About Topical Analgesics

What are topical analgesics?

Topical analgesic products come in many forms. They may be a lotion, cream, gel, balm, or spray. Typically, they are applied to the skin’s surface to quickly and temporarily relieve pain. You can treat a variety of ailments using topical products.

An analgesic drug, also called simply an analgesic, pain reliever, or painkiller, is any member of the group of drugs used to achieve relief from pain.

We are going to focus on topical products that are applied to the skin.

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 analgesics 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 Professional Spray have been found to be just as effective as TENS machines 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 client is just as important as knowing how the ingredients work. Choosing a topical lotion with the right ingredients that best interact with your client's injury or ailment will provide them 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 your client's specific condition.

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 and may 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 of the plant's natural defence system. Its leaves are covered with minute needles that contain a powerful irritant. It may seem counterintuitive to use stinging nettle as a pain reliever, but pain-relieving properties can be found deep within the plant. Certain chemicals from nettles 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 treated area, which causes a cooling sensation and relief from pain.

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. Learn more about the amazing benefits of Arnica in our blog article. 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.

Pain is idiosyncratic. That is, everyone experiences pain differently. Likewise, everyone reacts differently to the various active ingredients in topical analgesics. It is important to understand how each client responds in order to find the best pain relief.

Popular Topical Analgesics

CryoDerm Cold Therapy Gel uses 100% natural ingredients including menthol, peppermint, and Arnica. It comes in a variety of different media, 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, and 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.

Previous article Qualities and Methods of Essential Oil Extraction in Aromatherapy

Join our Newsletter List

Be the first to know about our newest articles

Know Your Body Best Therapeutic Supplies Inc.
Price Match Assurance

Wellness Purveyors Since 1991

Body Best Shipping
Free Shipping over $250.00

Fast shipping across Canada

Inclusive community

Support and solidarity

Unmatched customer service
Chat With Us

1-800 881 1681

Compare products

{"one"=>"Select 2 or 3 items to compare", "other"=>"{{ count }} of 3 items selected"}

Select first item to compare

Select second item to compare

Select third item to compare


Enter your password to access this page.

Your password is incorrect.