Pain-relieving products applied to the skin, such as Bengay and Icy Hot, can help relieve muscle and joint aches, but in rare cases, they can cause severe chemical burns, the Food and Drug Administration recently warned.
The FDA said it has received 43 reports of people who developed chemical burns after using over-the-counter patches, balms, or creams that contained menthol, methyl salicylate or capsaicin. In many of the cases, severe burning or blistering occurred in less than 24 hours after applying the product to the skin. Some cases required the person to be hospitalized.
The FDA noted that most of the more severe burns were associated with products that contained a combination of menthol and methyl salicylate, often at a high dose--greater than 3 percent menthol or 10 percent methyl salicylate.
Bottom line: To reduce your risk of burns with pain relieving creams and patches, don't use them on skin that is damaged or irritated, and don't apply bandages over the creams or patches. Also, never use heating pads, heat lamps or hot water bottles while using these topical medications, since you could increase the likelihood of being burned. If you develop blistering or burning after applying a cream or patch, stop using the product and contact your doctor.
CR Best Buy Drugs report on treating pain with non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) [Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs]