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What is capsaicin? Why do we need it?

Capsaicin is a chemical compound derived from peppers - specifically, Cayenne peppers. It is extremely hot, somewhat irritating, and pungent.

It can be absorbed through the skin and mucus membranes, and is usually applied topically. Among its active ingredients are several capsaicinoids, volatile oils, proteins and carotenoids.

External applications of capsaicin in the form of creams and ointments are often used to relieve pain and improve circulation in patients with arthritis, and to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and pruritis. Applying capsaicin to the nasal cavity may be effective in reducing cluster headaches and allergic rhinitis. Gloves should be used when capsaicin is applied, however.

How much capsaicin should I take?

Capsaicin should not be administered orally. When applied to the skin, most practitioners use a capsaicin cream or ointment in a 0.025% or 0.075% percent solution.

What forms of capsaicin are available?

Capsaicin is usually available in the form of a cream or ointment, which can be applied topically. Capsaicin injections are also available, but these should be administered only by a licensed health care provider.

What can happen if I take too much capsaicin? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Capsaicin can be extremely irritating to the mucus membranes and the eyes; therefore, it should not be applied to the eyes or used on broken skin. Gloves should also be used when capsaicin is administered topically. Side-effects from capsaicin may include skin redness and burning after application; in these instances, use of capsaicin should be discontinued.

Capsaicin may interfere with some types of drugs. It can increase the incidence of cough associated with ACE inhibitors, increase the sedating effects of some sedative medications, and interact with some types of antihypertensive medications. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking capsaicin or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.


  • Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Med Publications, 1998.
  • Fusco BM, Marabini S, Maggi CA, et al. Preventative effect of repeated nasal applications of capsaicin in cluster headache. Pain 1994;59:321-5.
  • McCarthy GM, et al. Effect of topical capsaicin in the therapy of painful osteoarthritis of the hands. J Rheumatol 1992;19:604-7.
  • Newall CA, et al. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996.
  • Stander S, Luger T, Metze D. Treatment of prurigo nodularis with topical capsaicin. J Am Acad Dermatol 2001;44:471-8.
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