Best OTC Anti-Inflammatory Creams

Inflammation in the body is quite common, especially when we’ve had an injury, suffer from some illness, or have gone through regular strenuous exercise. This condition can lead to a lot of body pain, which is why athletes and elderly people are constantly looking for the right anti-inflammatory cream. Issues such as joint pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or sore muscles are usually induced by inflammation. If any cream, gel, or balm is to work properly, it needs to soothe that inflammation and bring it down to a normal level. 

If you’re also on the lookout for an anti-inflammatory cream, keep in mind that not every kind will work for every person. There are also scores of factors to remember before making a decision on what product to use. Some might be the rub-in kind, while others simply require a gentle application. Alternative options may come in the form of a patch, which slowly releases the medication into the affected area. 

It can sometimes get challenging to choose between the wide variety of anti-inflammatory or pain relief creams on the market. The following guide will hopefully help in making the process easier: 

Main Ingredients and How They Work

Main Ingredients and How They Work

If you’re wondering which ingredients are usually included in an effective anti-inflammatory cream, check out the following list: 

1. Methyl Salicylate

A lot of OTC pain relief creams contain methyl salicylate, which may sometimes be called wintergreen oil. This sometimes gives a minty fragrance to the product and cools the affected inflamed area when applied.

Basically, this ingredient is a counterirritant and is utilized as a distraction for the pain points. It’s usually inside rub on creams and may also be paired with an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). 

2. Capsaicin

This compound is derived from chili peppers; it’s for the purpose of providing a warming sensation for the inflamed area. This element is also usually odor-free. When applied, it can reduce the pain we feel by blocking pain receptors in the skin. It’s mostly helpful for dealing with diabetic nerve pain and joint pain. 

Keep in mind that the burning or tingling sensation from capsaicin will decrease once you get used to applying it. Also, it could take some days or even two weeks to get long lasting relief from using capsaicin.

3. Menthol

This is also called mint camphor, and is derived from peppermint oil or synthetically through the hydrogenation of thymol. With its cooling effect, this ingredient can trick our minds into thinking that our temperature is going down. What it’s really doing is numbing the body’s nerve endings so that arterial blood flow decreases and the pain goes down. 

The table below will give a brief glance at the ingredients usually included in anti-inflammatory creams: 

Ingredient Name Function Derived from  Precautions Usual Products
Methyl Salicylate Relief from minor pains Wintergreen Avoid in third trimester of pregnancy Rub on creams
Capsaicin Gives a burning sensation that distracts from the pain Chili Peppers Do not expose to direct sunlight or heat Gel
NSAIDs Extreme pain relief Organic acids Not to be taken alongside oral NSAIDS Creams and gels
Salicylates Joint pain relief Plants, shrubs, trees, and grasses Not to be overused or in case of allergy to blood thinners Cream, gels, ointments
Lidocaine Numbs pain, might be suitable for use during pregnancy Synthetic, xylidine Might be risky alongside liver issues or heart rhythm medication Gel or patch
Menthol Provides cooling effect Peppermint oil Very strong smell which might affect pregnant users  Any

Why Use a Topical Pain Reliever? 

Why Use a Topical Pain Reliever

A topical pain relief or anti-inflammatory cream might be more effective and safe than an OTC painkiller. Instead of going into the body, the creams work on musculoskeletal pain and help the body to recover in the affected area. 

The following conditions might be alleviated with the use of OTC anti-inflammatory creams: 

  • Minor everyday pains and aches
  • Sore or pulled muscles
  • Strains 
  • Sprains
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer-related pain or discomfort

What Kind of Product to Use?

What Kind of Product to Use

Anti-inflammatory or pain relief products might come in many forms, so which is the best one? There’s no right answer here, as it mostly boils down to a person’s preference. However, so products may not have the ingredients you want; capsaicin, for instance, is usually not available in a spray form. If you want the effect of this ingredient, you’re more likely to find it in the form of a gel. 

Patches are usually only applicable if the affected area is flat enough for its application. If you are suffering from inflammation-related pain in the neck or back, this option is fine. For joints like knees or elbow, however, creams and gels are the better option. 

Are there any dangers of topical anti-inflammatory creams? 

Are there any dangers of topical anti-inflammatory creams

Applying an anti-inflammatory topical cream is usually a matter of trial and error. At times, you will have to decide whether a liberal application is required or just a thin layer. While it’s hard to overuse these creams, it’s still possible. Overusing and misusing any such creams could lead to salicylate poisoning, which might be fatal. Other serious negative side effects may also take place, such as overdrying of the area or a dependence on the product. 

When using these creams, make sure never to mix them with heat (like a heating pad). This might result in extra-quick absorption into the bloodstream, which may not be good for the body. 

Make sure to discontinue use if :

  • The condition worsens
  • The area gets irritated
  • Seven days have gone by with no improvement

Finally most topical painkillers are not recommended if the user is pregnant. A few options might be safe, especially the ones that contain lidocaine but it’s always best to consult a doctor before using them. 

If the pain is just too stubborn, this might be the time to see a doctor. They will be able to tell if the problem is bigger than it seems and recommend a prescription-based pain relief medication instead. 

Quick Tips for Applying Anti-Inflammatory Creams

Quick Tips for Applying Anti-Inflammatory Creams

Once you’ve decided which cream to use, keep in mind the following precautions: 

  • These creams are not for use on broken skin, rashes, or burns
  • Always check the ingredients and read the labels carefully, especially if you have any allergies
  • Always perform a patch test before applying any product the first time
  • Menthol and clove might be irritants to some types of skin, so always wash hands after application; also be careful not to let the cream get near your eyes, nose, or genitals
  • A small spatula is useful for getting out the last bits of cream or ointment in a jar/tin. 

With the large variety of anti-inflammatory creams available today, it’s hard to pick the right one for your needs. Narrowing down the options may help, so here’s a breakdown of the top anti-inflammation and pain relief options for now: 

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
Penetrex Pain Relief Therapy
Topricin Pain Relief Therapy Cream
Aspercreme Pain Relieving Cream With Lidocaine
Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Red Extra Strength
Boiron Arnicare Cream Topical Pain Relief Cream
Dr. Bronner's Organic Magic Balm
Rub on Relief Natural Cream
Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel


1. Penetrex Pain Relief Therapy


Penetrex Pain Relief Therapy

If you want the very best anti-inflammatory cream that’s also easily available over the counter, the Penetrex Pain Relief Therapy option is the way to go. It’s an effective formula for most users, and is also the benchmark for many other companies manufacturing similar offerings. 

This cream is meant to be massaged into the skin until totally absorbed. The effects will begin to kick in quite soon. If it doesn't work, the company behind it offers a 100 percent money back guarantee.

Features

  • Soothes inflamed muscles

  • Loosens up ligaments

  • Relieves pain in joints and tendons

  • Can be used in varying amounts as pain decreases over time

  • Includes natural ingredients such as arnica, Vitamin B6, and Boswellia Serrata 


Pros

  • Fewer applications required when pain is better

  • Relief becomes more long lasting if the cream is used frequently

  • Reported by many users as the most efficient form of relief compared to similarly-priced products 

  • Non-greasy formula

  • Not likely to stain clothes

  • Backed by a money return policy

  • Vegan and cruelty free product

  • Vanishing scent

  • No burning or freezing sensation


Cons:

  • A bit on the expensive side

  • Effectiveness may not be as good when pain is severe



2. Topricin Pain Relief Therapy Cream


Topricin Pain Relief Therapy Cream

This safe non-prescription pain relief cream is a safe option for those who want to calm their inflammation as naturally as possible. It acts fast, lasts for quite a long time, and is applicable whenever you’re feeling discomfort, numbness, or tingling pain. The formula is a deeply penetrating one, along with providing odor-free miniaturization. 

Overall, this option is among the most versatile ones available in the market today. However, it might not be the most effective option for severe conditions. For stronger options, here are the best anti-inflammatory creams for tendonitis

Features

  • Applicable on joints, hands, neck, knees, back, and feet

  • Contains natural biomedicines

  • Viable alternative to OTC oral pain relief medications


Pros:

  • Mostly suitable for all users

  • Can be used for a wide variety of uses such as soreness, tendinitis, heel spurs, and leg cramps

  • Very few negative side effects

  • High quality ingredients

  • Will not interfere with other medications (a doctor’s consultation is always recommended)


Cons:

  • Might not be effective for surgery pain and the resultant swelling



3. Aspercreme Pain Relieving Cream With Lidocaine


Aspercreme Pain Relieving Cream With Lidocaine

A lot of anti-inflammatory creams will only serve to relieve pain for some time, but the Aspercreme Pain Relieving Cream With Lidocaine seems to be a bit different. It actually numbs the pain and acts as a local anesthetic, as it limits the nerves’ pain-sensing ability. At the same time, the user doesn't have to deal with that strong scent that usually accompanies other forms of anti-inflammatory or pain relief products. 

Features

  • Include Lidocaine, which is suitable for use by pregnant women

  • Fast acting formula

  • Relieves pain  at the source

  • Targets joints and muscles

  • Provides temporary relief from muscles strains, arthritis, backaches, etc.


Pros

  • Effectively numbs pain

  • No burning or irritation

  • Has a lotion-like feel; easy to apply

  • No scent of menthol

  • Might be suitable for use by and around pregnant women


Cons

  • Bottle is challenging to open

  • Requires a liberal application each time

  • Can be dangerous if overused



4. Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Red Extra Strength


Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Red Extra Strength

The Tiger Balm Extra Strength Sports Rub is a great budget option for those who want quick pain relief without breaking the bank. In fact, it’s even more pocket-friendly if we buy it in bulk. Some users report that getting five of these at a time is cheaper than buying one and then getting more when needed. When applied, this balm provides an almost immediate cooling sensation. The pain relief follows soon after. 

Keep in mind that this balm actually comes in two colors. The orange/red one we’re discussing here is effective but can risk staining your clothes and upholstery. The white one is just as effective and won’t provide a staining risk. However, it might not be too easily available. 

Features

  • Fast acting formula

  • Easy to apply

  • Works like a counterirritant

  • Distracts from pain with cooling sensation

  • Contains menthol, mint oil, clove oil, petrolatum, cassia oil, and camphor


Pros

  • Lasting effect with a warm sensation

  • Immediately cools affected area

  • Contains several natural ingredients

  • Suitable for those on a budget


Cons

  • Oily texture; might stain cloth, linens, and upholstery

  • Very strong scent that might not suit every user



5. Boiron Arnicare Cream Topical Pain Relief Cream


Boiron Arnicare Cream Topical Pain Relief Cream

This topical gel has a unique approach to pain relief. The first step is soothing the skin and calming inflammation with natural ingredients like arnica. The second step is a cooling effect that acts as a counterirritant. 

Since the gel has a water-based formula, it’s not greasy to the touch and won’t leave stains or incomparable stickiness. All one usually needs is a thin application where the area is most affected. The formula is also a lightweight one, so it can be safely used around three times a day. 

Features

  • Cooling formula

  • Soothes inflammation

  • Water-based gel


Pros

  • Non-greasy formula that isn’t likely to stain

  • Quick absorbing

  • Makes use of natural ingredients such as arnica

  • A rapid yet pleasant cooling sensation when applied


Cons

  • Users report that the pain relief is quite brief with this cream

  • Not too effective if the pain is severe



6. Dr. Bronner's Organic Magic Balm


Dr. Bronner's Organic Magic Balm

At time, you get a product that works really well but also has some undeniable flaws. The Dr. Bronner's Organic Magic Balm is one of them. On the upside, it mostly makes use of natural ingredients which come together to make a counterirritant effect for pain relief. There are also a few other ingredients

Features

  • Formula contains arnica, peppermint oil, menthol, and camphor

  • Very versatile; can be utilized for skin issues as well as pain relief

  • Cruelty free

  • Includes coconut oil for moisturization properties.


Pros

  • Uses several all-natural ingredient

  • Provide moisturization along with pain relief

  • Makes use of counterirritants 

  • Uses arnica for soothing the skin


Cons

  • Very greasy formula; more than most other products

  • The tin packaging might make application messy and increase risk of contamination



7. Rub on Relief Natural Cream


Rub on Relief Natural Cream

This aptly named product is another good option for those who are looking for natural ingredients. It’s also a fast-acting cream, thanks to the inclusion of several active ingredients. The names of these ingredients might sound worryingly like chemicals, but a little research will tell you that they’re derived from natural sources. 

Features

  • Includes anti-inflammatory ingredients such as methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and cetyl myristoleate.

  • Uses arnica to calm the skin

  • Includes camphor and peppermint oil for a cooling effect


Pros

  • Uses a lot of active natural ingredients such as 

  • Easy-use packaging

  • Tube enables contamination-free application

  • Starts showing effect in a matter of minutes

  • Non-greasy formula that won’t leave stains or stickiness


Cons

  • In an expensive price range

  • Strong smell of menthol



8. Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel


Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel

We usually think of arthritis as an old-people disease, but it can affect younger folks too. Some athletes may develop arthritis due to the consistent stress on their joints. Other people may contract the condition or something similar due to their profession if not age. 

With arthritis becoming such a common condition these days, this anti-inflammatory gel could be a necessity in many households. It has a formula that includes diclofenac sodium, which is known to be a very effective NSAID. Along with calming inflammation and relieving pain, this gel also has ingredients that can soothe the skin and cool it. However, some may find this gel to be ineffective unless applied several times a day. Fortunately, it also includes mineral oil as well as propylene glycol–the result being a moisturizing effect without the usual greasiness. 

This gel is intended for use wherever you feel pain on your body. For other issues, you may check out the 10 best bed sore creams available over the counter

Features

  • Specially formulated for people suffering from arthritis

  • Makes use of diclofenac sodium for effective pain relief

  • Makes use of isopropyl alcohol to cool the skin

  • Can be used on the hand, wrist, ankle, foot, knee, or elbow for pain relief


Pros

  • Safe for frequent and consistent use

  • Uses natural ingredients to relieve pain and soothe the skin

  • Might give prescription strength pain relief

  • Can be used as an alternative to oral pain medication

  • Treats the pain instead of just masking it

  • Paraben free and dye-free

  • Easy-twist cap for user-friendly handling


Cons

  • The pain relief is not immediate nor rapid; it requires patience and consistent reapplication

  • Needs application up to four times a day



All these anti-inflammatory creams might be hard to remember and compare. With that in mind, we’ve made up this table so that you can view all the top products in one glance: 

  Penetrex Pain Relief TherapyTopricin Pain Relief Therapy CreamAspercreme Pain Relieving Cream With LidocaineTiger Balm Pain Relieving Red Extra StrengthBoiron Arnicare Cream Topical Pain Relief Cream
Suitable for body areasMostly joints and musclesAlmost any body part (expect genitals and mucous membranes)Joints and musclesjoints, muscles, backJoints and muscles
Main AdvantageAmong the most efficient optionsVersatileIncludes LidocaineBudget option for effective pain reliefUses natural ingredients without greasiness
Main DisadvantageNot effective against severe painNot effective against severe painPakaginging is not user-friendlyRisk of stairs Very strong scentPain relief might be brief
Price rangeHighMediumMediumLowLow
 
  Dr. Bronner's Organic Magic BalmRub on Relief Natural CreamVoltaren Arthritis Pain Gel
Suitable for body areasGentle enough for use on chafed and recently tattooed skinAll joints and musclesAll joints
Main AdvantageLoaded with all-natural componentsUses natural ingredients with active pain relief abilitiesTreats pain at the source
Main DisadvantageA very greasy textureExpensiveNeeds frequent application
Price rangeLowHighHigh
 

Conclusion

Choosing the best anti-inflammatory cream could require a bit of testing and sorting. Some ingredients may not suit every single user. The type of inflammation also matters, so make sure to do your homework before ordering any cream for pain relief or soothing an inflamed area. Reading reviews also helps, especially if a likely option provides a burning or cooling sensation. 

At the end of the day, no one likes feeling aches or body pain all day long. We simply want to do away with the pain, preferably on a permanent level, and get on with our lives. This is why we  should preferably look for an option that seeks to cure the problem at its root. One of these is Penetrex’s Therapy Cream and another is Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel. Both of these are non-greasy and won’t leave stains either, so we recommend considering them first if they match your requirements.