What Is Capsaicin?

You might not be familiar with the name, but you probably know the taste. Capsaicin is the stuff in chili peppers that makes your mouth feel hot. But it's also got a medical purpose. It's a key ingredient in creams and patches that can give you relief from pain.

Why Should You Use It?

When you put capsaicin on your skin, you help block pain messages to your nerves. Studies show capsaicin creams and patches can help relieve pain that's due to:

Some research suggests it may help improve scaling, inflammation, redness, and pain from psoriasis. It may also help relieve pain from nerve damage that's due to:

How Is Capsaicin Used?

Capsaicin comes in two main forms:

Capsaicin cream. For most types of pain relief, your doctor may suggest you try capsaicin cream, lotion, ointment, gel, stick, film, or ointment. You usually don't need a prescription.

To treat headaches, you'll dab a bit inside your nostrils. Otherwise you'll rub it thoroughly onto your skin in the area where you hurt, several times a day. Wash your hands before and after you use it, and keep it away from your eyes and mouth.

Capsaicin patches. They have higher levels of capsaicin than creams. Your doctor may suggest it for postherpetic neuralgia or other long-term conditions like diabetic neuropathy.

You can only get the capsaicin patch at a doctor's office. She'll numb the area before applying it. Expect the process to take around 2 hours.

The capsaicin patch may help relieve pain for up to 3 months. Avoid touching the patch while it's on your skin.

Side Effects of Capsaicin

Both creams and patches can irritate your skin and cause problems like:

  • Redness and swelling
  • Soreness
  • Dryness
  • Burning and itching
  • Pain

This sometimes gets worse in hot and humid weather, when you bathe in warm water, and when you sweat. It usually lasts for just few days but can continue for 2 to 4 weeks.

Capsaicin can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun and heat, so use sunscreen every time you head outdoors.

Like any drug, it can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Call you doctor if you get itching, hives, swelling in your throat, chest tightness, and trouble breathing

The patch can also cause rare side effects that affect your heart, including a slow or fast heart rate and a change in blood pressure. Let your doctor know if you have a history of heart or blood vessel problems or high blood pressure.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on May 10, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Arthritis Foundation: "Supplement Guide: Capsaicin."

Berger, A. Journal of Pain Systems Management, May 1996.

Derry S. Cochrane, published online Jan. 13, 2017.

British Journal of Anaesthesia: "Repeated intranasal capsaicin applications to treat chronic migraine," "Topical capsaicin for pain management: therapeutic potential and mechanisms of action of the new high-concentration 8% patch."

Mayo Clinic: "Capsaicin: Topical Route," "Shingles," "Postherpetic Neuralgia"

National Health Service: "Capsaicin patch (Qutenza) for peripheral diabetic neuropathy."

National Psoriasis Foundation: "Herbs/Natural Remedies."

PubMed Health: "Capsaicin (On the Skin)."

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