Author: Vanessa Ngan, staff writer, 2002.

Capsaicin is a topical cream that has been found to help relieve pain from some arthritic conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and neuralgic pain. Neuralgia is a severe pain which can be severe that comes from the nerve endings near the surface of your skin.

Capsaicin is available as a 0.025% or 0.075% strength cream in 45g tube. The trade name is Zostrix® or Zostrix-HP®.

How does capsaicin work?

Capsaicin is the purified extracted alkaloid from red chilli peppers (capsicums). This is the substance that makes chilli peppers hot. The purified form capsaicin has been found to relieve pain by reducing substance P, which is found at nerve endings and is involved in transmitting neuralgic and arthritic pain signals to the brain. Pain relief is not instantaneous after application as it is the cumulative depletion of substance P over a period of weeks that brings the full effect.

What is capsaicin used for?

Capsaicin is approved for use for the symptomatic relief of pain associated with osteoarthritis (pain experienced in and around the joints when they are being used).

However, it has been used to treat many other types of neuralgic pain including:

How to use capsaicin cream

Capsaicin cream can be purchased over-the-counter from pharmacies. Before using the cream you should carefully read any precautions on the label or package insert. Also, if you have experienced any unusual side affects or allergic reaction to red chilli peppers, then you should alert your health professional.

Capsaicin should be used as follows.

If condition does not improve after a month of treatment or at any time if the condition worsens, see your doctor.


Do not use capsaicin cream on broken or infected skin. Seek medical advice first.

Avoid use near eyes or other sensitive areas of the body. If capsaicin gets into your eyes, flush eyes with water. Wash other sensitive areas with warm soapy water.

Tight bandages should not be applied on top of capsaicin cream.

If you experience any unusual side effects stop the treatment and consult your doctor.

Side effects

The most common side effect of capsaicin use is a feeling of warmth and stinging, or a sensation of burning after application. This sensation is related to the action of capsaicin on the skin and is to be expected. Approximately 50% of patients will experience some mild to moderate stinging or burning. This sensation usually diminishes after the first few days of application and in most cases will disappear with time and continued use.

Methods used to reduce this sensation include:

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