What is capsaicin?

Capsaicin is an external analgesic available in over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that temporarily relieve minor aches and pains associated with arthritis, simple backache, strains and sprains, and bruises. Capsaicin is also the chemical that makes chili peppers taste hot. When used as an active ingredient in topical pain relief medicines, capsaicin produces a warming sensation in the treated area. It can be found in single- and multi-ingredient topical pain relievers.

What is capsaicin used to treat?

  • Minor aches and pains associated with arthritis, simple backache, strains and sprains, and bruises
Common brands containing capsaicin:
  • Capzasin®
  • Store Brands (ex. Walmart’s “Equate” store brand or CVS Health store brand)

How much capsaicin can you take?

Different types of products containing this active ingredient have different strengths. That’s why it is always important to read and follow the Drug Facts label. Most medicines warn against use of an active ingredient for longer than 7-10 days. Stop use and ask a doctor if symptoms persist.

Safety guide for capsaicin

Capsaicin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is safe and effective when used according to label directions. These products are for external use only. After applying a topical pain reliever containing capsaicin, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If you are using the medicine to treat hand pain, you should wash your hands after 30 minutes. These products are for external use only.

Ask a healthcare provider before use if:

  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Talk to a healthcare provider before using the medicine on a child under the age of 18.

Do not use if:

  • You are allergic to chili peppers.
  • Do not bandage, use a heating pad on, or expose the treated area to heat or direct sunlight.
  • Do not apply the medicine before or after strenuous exercise.
  • Do not apply the medicine to wounds, or damaged, broken, or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply the medicine immediately after taking a bath or shower.

Stop use and ask a doctor if:

  • Your condition worsens or if symptoms last for more than seven days or clear up and return again within a few days.
  • Redness is present or irritation develops.
  • A severe burning sensation occurs.
  • You accidentally swallow the medicine, or get it into your eyes or nose mucous membranes. Immediately contact a healthcare provider or the poison control national helpline at 800.222.1222.

What are the side effects of capsaicin?

  • A temporary burning sensation may occur upon application but usually disappears in several days.