Capsaicin cream is a popular topical pain reliever that can be bought over-the-counter or made at home. Both manufactured and homemade capsaicin can treat joint pain due to arthritis and other painful musculoskeletal conditions. It is considered effective even for deep joints, such as the back, hips, and shoulders.

See Over-the-Counter Topical Arthritis Pain Relief

Capsaicin is derived from chili peppers. Experts believe that when applied to the skin, capsaicin cream:

  • Creates a heat sensation that distracts from pain.
  • Interferes with pain signals to the brain by reducing the level of a chemical neurotransmitter (Substance P) that binds with pain receptors.

One small study found that nearly 80% of subjects experienced arthritis pain relief after using capsaicin cream for 2 weeks.1Deal CL, Schnitzer TJ, Lipstein E, et al. Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial. Clin Ther. 1991;13(3):383-95.

Recipes for Homemade Capsaicin Cream

Interested in making homemade capsaicin cream? Try the recipe in this instructional video.
Video: Reduce Arthritis Inflammation with this Homemade Cream

There are many recipes for homemade capsaicin cream available. Almost all recipes include cayenne powder, which is made from chili peppers, and oils, such as olive oil and/or coconut oil. Some recipes also call for beeswax and a double boiler to melt it.

While making the cream, most people wear gloves to prevent unintentionally spreading the cream to skin and eyes.

Storing homemade capsaicin cream
The oils in a homemade capsaicin cream can go rancid. The time it takes for an oil to go rancid varies widely depending on the type and age of the oil, the type of storage container used, storage temperature, and exposure to light. In general, storing cream in a glass container kept in dark, refrigerated conditions is best.


Using Capsaicin Cream

Capsaicin cream can be used up to 4 times a day. First time capsaicin cream users—whether they are using homemade or over-the-counter products—may want to test capsaicin on a small patch of skin first. Other guidelines for application are below.

  • Apply the cream directly to the skin over the painful area. Use only as much cream as can be absorbed by the skin.
  • Once applied to the skin, the cream will cause a warm or burning sensation. This sensation lessens after a few days of use, and may go away altogether with longer-term use.
  • Use gloves or wash hands thoroughly after applying capsaicin.
  • If the hands are the area being treated, then apply the cream and avoid hand contact with the eyes and mouth. Avoiding touching the eyes and mouth for an extended period of time can be a challenge, so some users suggest washing treated hands 30 minutes after application.
  • Stop using the cream if the skin becomes irritated, red, swollen, or itchy. Also, be aware that these side effects can be aggravated by hot, humid weather, bathing in warm water, or sweating.

Capsaicin cream should not be used on broken or irritated skin or by people who have allergies to capsaicin or hot peppers. Women who are breastfeeding, pregnant, or trying to become pregnant are advised to consult their health care providers before using capsaicin cream.

Sunscreen should be applied over exposed skin when outdoors. Allergic reactions such as trouble breathing or throat swelling require immediate medical care.

  • 1 Deal CL, Schnitzer TJ, Lipstein E, et al. Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial. Clin Ther. 1991;13(3):383-95.

Dr. Kathee de Falla is a licensed and certified pharmacist. She has more than a decade of experience providing medical advice and supplying prescription medications in a retail setting. Dr. de Falla spent several years developing drugs at Abbott Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company where she holds a patent for a drug formulation.