The 7 Best Arthritis Creams of 2020

Sweet relief is on its way

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Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Aspercreme Pain Relieving Creme with Lidocaine at Target

"A two-in-one formula that effectively numbs the pain receptors in the skin, helping reduce joint inflammation temporarily."

Best Gel: Icy Hot Vanishing Scent Pain Relieving Gel at CVS

"The aloe vera gel base helps it absorb into the skin quickly, allowing the menthol to relieve aching joints rapidly."

Best Oil: Healing Natural Oils H-Arthritis Formula at Amoils

"If you prefer soothing essential oils over pharmaceuticals and favor natural ingredients, this tincture is worth a try."

Best with Capsaicin: Dr. Christopher's Cayenne Heat Ointment at Swanson

"This herbal ointment is chemical- and filler-free, making it a great option for people interested in using natural products."

Best Anti-Inflammatory: Bengay Ultra Strength Pain Relief Cream at Target

"The ultra-strength formula contains 30% methyl salicylate to address joint swelling and inflammation fast."

Best No-Mess Application: Biofreeze Pain Relieving Roll-On at Amazon

"With this 3-ounce roll-on from Biofreeze, it’s easy to get relief from arthritis pain without making a mess."

Best Homeopathic: Two Old Goats Essential Oil Lotion at Amazon

"The lotion relies on the soothing powers of goat milk and essential oils to provide arthritis pain relief."

Navigating daily life with arthritis is no joke. Persistent aches and pains can rob you of the joy you derive from your favorite activities. What’s worse, when swelling and inflammation are added to the mix, you’re forced to step away from these activities entirely until your symptoms subside. 

Luckily, there’s an abundance of over-the-counter creams, lotions, gels, and oils designed to relieve arthritis pain topically. Research suggests that these products are safe to use as directed on their labels and that they provide effective, short-term relief for people experiencing arthritis pain. Due to their topical application, arthritis creams tend to work best on joints closer to the surface of the skin.

With that said, not all arthritis creams are created equal. Product formulas vary, utilizing distinct active ingredients for different types of relief in unique quantities.

Our Top Picks

1

Best Overall: Aspercreme Pain Relieving Creme with Lidocaine

Aspercreme Maximum Strength Lidocaine Pain Relieving Creme

 Courtesy of Target

This formula is powered by a salicylate (trolamine salicylate) and a topical anesthetic (lidocaine) to tend to persistent arthritis pain. Together, these active ingredients perform double duty, effectively numbing the pain receptors in the skin and helping reduce joint inflammation temporarily.

What’s more, the formula is odor-free and doesn’t leave any greasy residue behind. Aspercreme is also available at retailers nationwide, making it a reliable option no matter where you are.

What Experts Say

“I have a large patient population over the age of 55, and many suffer from arthritis pain. Although there isn’t a single solution that works for everyone, I have recommended Aspercreme Pain Relieving Creme with Lidocaine for many of my patients. Most think it works very well and are happy with the minimal smell." — Dr. James Needell, MD, internal medicine physician at Gastonia Wellness & Long Term Care in North Carolina

2

Best Gel: Icy Hot Vanishing Scent Pain Relieving Gel

Icy Hot Vanishing Scent Pain Relieving Gel

 Courtesy of Walmart

This gel formula from Icy Hot relies on the pain-relieving powers of menthol, a counterirritant well known for its warming and cooling effects. The aloe vera gel base helps it absorb into the skin quickly, allowing the menthol to relieve aching joints rapidly.

This product isn’t odorless because it’s menthol-based, but the gel formula helps the scent dissipate shortly after application, unlike menthol-based creams.

3

Best Oil: Healing Natural Oils H-Arthritis Formula

Healing Natural Oils H-Arthritis Formula

 Healing Natural Oils

If you prefer essential oils over pharmaceuticals, this tincture is worth a try. It relies solely on natural ingredients to relieve discomfort and stiffness associated with arthritis. Because your skin absorbs oil so effectively, the active ingredients (celery and mountain arnica) can begin to provide soothing support very quickly.

This formula is also gentle enough for folks who find products powered by salicylates, capsaicin, and counterirritants to be too agitating for their skin.

A Note About Safety

While all of these products are sold over the counter and online, it’s important to follow the instructions on their packaging carefully and to not exceed their daily use recommendations to avoid potential side effects.

If you experience any irritation or additional discomfort beyond your existing arthritis pain, discontinue using the product. Be sure to always wash your hands thoroughly after applying one of these products to your skin to avoid contact with your eyes or other mucous membranes.

4

Best with Capsaicin: Dr. Christopher's Cayenne Heat Ointment

Dr. Christopher's Cayenne Heat Ointment

 Courtesy of Dr. Christopher's

If you’re ready to turn up the heat, try this cayenne pepper-powered salve. Its pain-relieving properties stem from a hefty dose of capsaicin as well as wintergreen oil, which is a natural counterirritant. The olive oil and beeswax base is absorbed easily by the skin, soothing sore joints quickly.

This herbal ointment is chemical- and filler-free, making it a great option for people interested in using natural products exclusively.

5

Best Anti-Inflammatory: Bengay Ultra Strength Pain Relief Cream

Bengay Ultra Strength Pain Relief Cream

 Courtesy of Target

Bengay uses a combination of salicylates and counterirritants to provide short-term relief of arthritis pain. The ultra-strength formula contains 30% methyl salicylate—the highest salicylate concentration of any product included on this list—to address joint swelling and inflammation.

It also uses 4% camphor and 10% menthol to provide the warming and cooling sensations that temporarily override the skin’s pain receptors. These are fairly high counterirritant concentrations as well, so people with sensitive skin should be mindful when first using this option from Bengay.

6

Best No-Mess Application: Biofreeze Professional Pain Relieving Roll-On

Biofreeze is a trusted brand in the realm of arthritis pain relief, and with this 3-ounce roll-on, it’s easy to get relief without making a mess. Its smooth consistency absorbs fast, and the rollerball helps massage the gel into affected areas. It’s also free of dyes, parabens, and propylene glycol.

The roll-on contains 5% menthol to create the warming and cooling sensations that provide temporary pain relief. Many reviewers report that the relief from the roll-on lasts longer than other Biofreeze formulas.

7

Best Homeopathic: Two Old Goats Essential Oil Lotion

This lotion from Two Old Goats relies on the soothing powers of goat milk and essential oils to provide arthritis pain relief. You won’t find any salicylates or capsaicin in this product. Instead, it uses lavender, chamomile, rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus, and birch bark essential oils—many of which maintain natural anti-inflammatory properties—to soothe sore joints.

The formula is free of dyes, alcohols, and perfumes, and it doesn’t leave your skin feeling greasy like other arthritis creams.

What Experts Say

"I recommend Two Old Goats Essential Oil Lotion to many of my patients. The key ingredient is goat’s milk, but it also contains chamomile, lavender and rosemary essential oils. Many patients think it smells very good and gives them significant pain relief. In a lot of cases, finding the exact arthritis pain relief cream that works best for you requires some trial and error." — Dr. James Needell, MD, an internal medicine physician at Gastonia Wellness & Long Term Care in North Carolina

What to Look for in an Arthritis Cream

Salicylates

This group of chemicals derived from salicylic acid contains the pain-relieving substance found in aspirin. Salicylates help reduce pain by reducing inflammation caused by the swelling and irritation of an arthritic joint. If you’re sensitive or allergic to aspirin, speak with your doctor before using an arthritis cream containing salicylates. 

Capsaicin

An active compound in chili peppers, capsaicin helps reduce arthritis pain by blocking the skin’s pain receptors. The heat-producing ingredient can create a slight burning sensation on the skin, so be aware of this reaction before buying a capsaicin-based arthritis cream.

Counterirritants

Substances like menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil, and cinnamon oil are commonly used in arthritis creams to create hot and cold sensations that temporarily override the skin’s pain receptors. Unless you are sensitive or allergic to one of these ingredients, they are safe to use topically.  

Anesthetics

Some arthritis creams use topical anesthetics like lidocaine to produce a numbing sensation that, in turn, reduces pain. These ingredients are safe to use as directed on product labels.

Why Trust Verywell

As a seasoned health writer, Alena Hall understands how important it is to know exactly what you’re getting in a product intended for medical use. Over the years, Alena has reviewed dozens of products—from athletic recovery aids to homeopathic essential oils to ever-trendy CBD topicals—to assist readers in discovering products that help them live their best lives.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health 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. Jorge LL, Feres CC, Teles VE. Topical preparations for pain relief: efficacy and patient adherence. J Pain Res. 2010;4:11-24. doi:10.2147/JPR.S9492