The 13 Best Pain Relief Creams of 2021

The easiest way to keep aches and pains at bay

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Our Top Picks
"This homeopathic, non-greasy, and non-staining cream has soothing ingredients that can temporarily reduce inflammation."
"An affordable balm with cooling ingredients like camphor, menthol, and mint oil to help relieve your pain."
"Water-based, non-greasy, and quick-absorbing, this gel helps calm inflammation and provides a pleasant cooling effect."
"An effective gel solution that provides perfectly targeted pain relief with its smart roll-on applicator design."
"An all-natural balm that uses camphor, menthol, and peppermint oil to cool your skin and relieve your pain."
"This fast-acting gel quickly cools your skin with aloe extract, vitamin E, and menthol, providing rapid pain relief."
"A natural gel that uses witch hazel to warm the skin and menthol and camphor to keep it from overheating."
"This salicylate-based cream intensely warms the skin and then intensely cools it, providing effective pain relief."
"Designed with arthritis in mind, this cream simultaneously calms inflammation, relieves pain, and cools the skin."
"A natural, non-greasy cream that helps reduce inflammation, provide cooling relief, and calm the skin."

If aches and pains are getting in the way of you living your best life, then consider recruiting the assistance of pain relief creams. Pain relief creams can temporarily quell inflammation or reduce pain when applied directly to the skin.

Pain relief creams tend to work in one of four ways. Anti-inflammatory pain relief creams use soothing ingredients like arnica to reduce swelling. Meanwhile, counterirritating pain relief creams draw on ingredients like menthol and camphor to cool the skin.

Some pain relief creams use salicylates, a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), to block a key enzyme in the inflammation process. And other pain relief creams numb the skin with a local anesthetic called lidocaine. 

“Not all pain is the same,” said Susan Bard, M.D., a dermatologist at Vive Dermatology, explaining that different pain relievers meet different needs. Some help reduce inflammation while others are more suitable for open wounds like cuts and scrapes.

Here are the best pain relief creams on the market, based on your needs.

Best Overall: Penetrex Therapy Cream

Penetrex Therapy Cream

Penetrex’s Therapy Cream is loaded with soothing ingredients that can help reduce inflammation. It features arnica, a herb frequently used in pain relief creams to soothe the skin, as well as popular ingredients like vitamin B6 and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane).

Since the cream is both non-greasy and non-staining, you can put it on during the day without worrying about it leaving a mess on your clothes. 

What Experts Say

“I actually like the natural pain reliever arnica,” said Debra Jaliman, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist. Dr. Jaliman likes arnica because it’s both homeopathic and effective. And she recommends opting for all-natural pain relief creams wherever possible—especially if you have allergies or sensitive skin.

Best Budget: Tiger Balm Extra Strength Sports Rub

Tiger Balm Pain Relieving Red Extra Strength

This Tiger Balm rub works as a counterirritant, effectively distracting you from your pain with a cooling sensation from ingredients like camphor, menthol, and mint oil. When you apply the balm to your skin, the cooling effect begins pretty much immediately. This reaction may relieve some of your pain or, at the very least, take your mind off it for a little while.

The balm does contain a few oily and potentially staining ingredients like cassia oil, clove oil, and petrolatum, so be mindful of where you use it.

Best Gel: Boiron Arnica Cream for Pain Relief

 Boiron Arnicare Cream Topical Pain Relief Cream

Boiron takes a two-step approach to pain relief with this gel. First, it uses arnica to soothe the skin and calm inflammation. Second, it creates a cooling effect similar to that of counterirritants.

The gel is water-based, making it both non-greasy and quick-absorbing. Simply apply a thin layer of gel where you want to relieve pain. You can safely use this lightweight formula up to three times per day.

Best Roll-On: BioFreeze Pain Relief Roll-On

Biofreeze Pain Relief Roll-On

The BioFreeze Pain Relief Roll-On is a classic counterirritant. The gel relies on menthol to create a cooling effect that offers some relief (or distracts you from your pain). And since it comes in a roll-on container, you can apply it to the affected area easily without getting it all over your hands.

The lightweight gel is also unlikely to stain your clothes or other fabrics.

Quick Tip

If you have sensitive skin, watch out for creams that contain counterirritants like camphor and menthol. “Camphor and menthol can be irritating for people who have underlying skin sensitivities or conditions like eczema,” said Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist.

Best Balm: Dr. Bronner's Organic Magic Balm

This balm is loaded with all-natural ingredients that calm inflammation and cool your skin. It boasts a blend of camphor, menthol, and peppermint oil, which work together to form a counterirritant to relieve your pain. The balm also contains arnica, which is commonly used to soothe the skin and reduce inflammation.

Because it also contains moisturizing ingredients like coconut oil, the balm may prove a little greasy.

Best Cold Therapy: Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel

BioFreeze’s Pain Relief Gel is a fast-acting counterirritant that cools your skin moments after it’s applied. The gel relies on a blend of menthol, camphor, and isopropyl alcohol to cool the skin, giving you a welcome distraction from your pain. It also draws on aloe extract and vitamin E to soothe the skin.

BioFreeze's formula is relatively lightweight, so you shouldn't have to worry about any unwanted grease or mess.

Best Hot Therapy: Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel

This Sombra gel delivers controlled temperature therapy that will neither freeze nor overheat your skin. Witch hazel, a natural astringent, works to temporarily warm the skin, and then a blend of camphor and menthol provides a cooling effect. The result? A balance of both sensations that results in safe and effective pain relief.

What's more, the gel isn't greasy and doesn't feature any potentially staining ingredients, so you can apply it without mess. 

Best Hot & Cold Therapy: Icy Hot Extra Strength Pain Relieving Cream

 Icy Hot Extra Strength Pain Relieving Cream

Icy Hot’s Extra Strength Pain Relieving Cream does an excellent job of intensely cooling the skin and then intensely warming it. The cream contains 10 percent menthol, which is a higher concentration than most pain relief creams. This potency allows the cream to deliver an intense cooling sensation, which then makes the skin feel warm as it wears off.

The cream also contains a salicylate called methyl salicylate, so you can expect a little extra pain relief from this formula.

What are salicylates?

Salicylates are NSAIDs—non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—that quell pain and inflammation. But you want to exercise caution when using them. Be sure not to pair topical salicylates with oral salicylates like aspirin), and refrain from pairing any pain relief cream with a heating pad, as that can increase the rate of absorption.

Best for Arthritis: Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel

Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel

This anti-inflammatory gel from Voltaren is designed with arthritis in mind. It features diclofenac sodium, an effective NSAID, to calm inflammation and relieve pain. It also uses isopropyl alcohol to cool and soothe the skin.

You can safely use this gel up to four times per day. While it is moisturizing, with soothing ingredients like mineral oil and propylene glycol, it isn't greasy.

Best Natural: Rub On Relief Fast-Acting Pain Relief Cream

Rub on Relief Natural Cream

Looking for an all-natural way to reduce inflammation and pain? Try Rub On’s Fast-Acting Pain Relief Cream. It draws on anti-inflammatory ingredients like cetyl myristoleate and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) to soothe the skin. (Don't worry—the ingredients have chemical-sounding names, but they are naturally found in plants and animals.)

Arnica further calms the skin while ingredients like peppermint oil and camphor work together to cool it off.

Best Dual-Action: Neosporin + Pain Relief Dual Action Antibiotic Ointment

 Neosporin + Maximum-Strength Pain Relief Dual Action Antibiotic Ointment

Leave it to Neosporin to combine a pain relief cream and an antibiotic ointment in a single product. Pramoxine hydrochloride relieves itching and soothes irritation while Neosporin, the non-stinging antibiotic you’ve likely used before, protects minor cuts and scrapes as they heal.

Most pain relief creams are designed to soothe aches and pains exclusively, but this one is suitable for open wounds, too.

Best with Salicylates: Bengay Ultra Strength Topical Pain Relief Cream

 Ultra Strength Bengay Topical Pain Relief Cream

This Bengay product is one of the few pain relief creams on the market that contains salicylates, making it particularly effective in soothing aches and pains. The cream also contains camphor and menthol, so you can expect a cooling sensation every time you apply it as well.

Remember: It is possible to overdo it with salicylates, so exercise caution when using a salicylate-based pain relief cream and carefully follow the product instructions.

Best with Lidocaine: Aspercreme Pain Relieving Creme With Lidocaine

Aspercreme with Lidocaine Maximum Strength

Most pain relief creams will only relieve your pain, but this Aspercreme formula includes lidocaine, which actually numbs it. Lidocaine is a local anesthetic that blocks nerves’ abilities to send pain signals to your brain. This ingredient makes the cream a particularly effective pain reliever.

Similar to salicylates, you can overuse lidocaine, so be mindful when using products containing it and carefully read the instructions on their labels.

Final Verdict

Penetrex’s Therapy Cream is loaded with natural ingredients that soothe pain effectively. And since the anti-inflammatory cream is non-greasy and non-staining, you can apply it without worrying about making a mess. It's also suitable for sensitive skin, unlike creams that rely on counterirritants.

What to Look for in a Pain Relief Cream

Active Ingredients

Different pain relief creams rely on different active ingredients to get the job done. Be sure to select a pain relief cream that suits your specific type of pain. And exercise caution with salicylate- or lidocaine-based creams, as it is possible to overuse these pain-relieving agents.

Natural Ingredients

“Try to stay as natural as possible,” said Dr. Jaliman. Natural ingredients can help you minimize the risk of irritation, especially if you have allergies or sensitive skin. 

Fragrance

“As with any topical product you apply to the skin, be cautious in using products that have fragrances,” said Dr. Zeichner. Fragrances may cause skin irritation, especially for people with sensitive skin.

Why Trust Verywell Fit

As a seasoned health and fitness writer, Lindsey Lanquist understands how vital quality product recommendations can be. She is careful to recommend products that are reliable, comfortable, and genuinely well-reviewed by those who’ve tried them.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Rubbing it in. Updated May 14, 2019.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Topical Pain Relief: What Is It and How Does It Work? Updated September 12, 2019.

  3. StatPearls Publishing. Salicylates Toxicity. Updated July 13, 2020.