What Is Icy Hot and How Does It Work?

Icy Hot is a topical pain reliever that is used for minor arthritis pain, aching joints, and sore muscles. Icy Hot is available in several different formulations, but the brand name is best known for being the best-selling over-the-counter medicated back patch, according to the manufacturer.

How Icy Hot Works

The active ingredients in Icy Hot formulations are menthol or a combination of menthol and methyl salicylate. Some formulations also contain camphor. The ingredients cause a cooling sensation followed by a warming sensation that distracts you from the pain by blocking pain signals sent to the brain. The cooling sensation dulls the pain while the warming sensation relaxes it away.

All formulations are for external use only. There are over a dozen formulations of Icy Hot and different ways of applying it to the skin and to the part of the body where you want pain relief. These include patches, cream, gel spray, stick, and sleeve applications.

How Topical Creams Can Relieve Pain

Precautions

You need to read the ingredients on the label before you buy as they are different for similar-sounding Icy Hot products. The warnings on the label of all of the formulations of Icy Hot state the following:

  • Use only as directed.
  • Avoid contact with eyes or mucous membranes.
  • Do not apply to wounds or irritated, broken, or damaged skin.
  • Do not bandage tightly or use with a heating pad.
  • If you are prone to allergy from aspirin or salicylates, consult a doctor before using the formulations that contain methyl salicylate.

The FDA warned consumers in September 2012 that topical pain relievers may cause first-to-third degree chemical burns where the product was applied. The topical pain relievers (creams, ointments, lotions, and patches) may include menthol, methyl salicylate, lidocaine, or capsaicin.

Varieties

Icy Hot continues to innovate its delivery systems. The formulations listed below are likely to change over time, with new ones added, old ones renamed, and less-popular forms discontinued. All formulations are for external use only.

Be sure to read each product before you buy it as there can be different ingredients included for similar-sounding and appearing products. Some have only menthol; others also have salicylates (aspirin) and some have camphor or lidocaine.

You may find store brands that are similar to Icy Hot, such as Walgreen's store brand Cool N Heat products. Compare those products for price and ingredients.

Icy Hot Patches

The Icy Hot Patch has 5 percent menthol on an adhesive pad that is applied to the affected area (external use only). The sizes include those for the back and those for the arm, neck, or leg. A Micro Patch and an Advanced Relief Patch have 7.5 percent menthol. The patches are suggested for relief of minor pain associated with arthritis, simple backache, bursitis, tendonitis, muscle strains, sprains, bruises, or cramps. Adults and children over 12 years old can wear an Icy Hot Patch for up to eight hours. You may repeat but only up to three times daily.

Icy Hot Sleeve

The Icy Hot Sleeve has 16 percent menthol in lotion on a flexible sleeve pad. The sleeve expands to fit 8 inches to 24 inches in circumference. It, too, is useful for arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, muscle strains, sprains, bruises, and cramps. Primarily, the sleeve is used for the ankle, elbow, and knee joints. You can apply a sleeve up to four times daily. You should follow directions for applying the sleeve correctly.

Icy Hot No Mess

Icy Hot No Mess has a handy, no-mess, roll-on applicator. It is quick drying and does not stain. The 2.5-ounce bottle contains 16 percent menthol as the active ingredient. The formulation is to be applied to the affected area, massaged into the skin. You can repeat for a total of three or four times a day.

Icy Hot Spray

Icy Hot Spray is a no-mess continuous spray formulation containing 16 percent menthol as the active ingredient. It is used for the same aforementioned conditions and is sprayed on the affected area. The product dries quickly, so there is no need to massage it in. You can repeat up to three or four times daily. The product carries warnings about it being flammable—do not use when smoking or near heat or flame. Read the label for further instructions.

Icy Hot Power Gel

Icy Hot Power Gel is a fast-acting, quick-drying formula with 16 percent menthol as its active ingredient. It is used for the same conditions. Directions state that the product should be applied generously to the affected area, massaged into the skin and repeated up to three or four times total daily.

Icy Hot Vanishing Scent

Icy Hot Vanishing Scent comes in a 2.5-ounce tube with a sponge applicator. The active ingredient is 2.5 percent menthol. Directions state that the product should be squeezed onto the affected area. Then, using the sponge applicator, it should be massaged in until it is absorbed. It can be repeated up to a maximum of four times a day. The scent disappears quickly after application.

Icy Hot Cream

Icy Hot Cream is a non-greasy formulation that works immediately on contact. The product should be applied to the affected area, massaged in to promote absorption, and repeated up to four times daily. It is used for the same conditions listed under each of the other Icy Hot formulations. The active ingredients in Icy Hot Cream are 10 percent menthol and 30 percent methyl salicylate. It comes in two sizes—a 3-ounce or 1.25-ounce tube.

Icy Hot Advanced Cream does not contain methyl salicylate but instead has 11 percent camphor and 16 percent menthol.

Icy Hot Balm

Icy Hot Balm contains 7.6 percent menthol and 29 percent methyl salicylate. The product is applied to the affected area of the aforementioned conditions, massaged in until absorbed, and repeated up to four times daily. The balm is available in a 3.5-ounce jar.

Icy Hot Stick

Icy Hot Stick contains 10 percent menthol and 30 percent methyl salicylate as the active ingredients. It should be applied to the affected area, massaged in until absorbed into the skin, and may be repeated up to four times a day. It is used for the same conditions listed under the other formulations. It is available in a 1.75-ounce stick.

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