What Is Icy Hot and How Does It Work?

Icy Hot Formulations for Minor Arthritis Pain

Icy Hot can be used to treat minor arthritis pain.
Icy Hot can be used to treat minor arthritis pain.. Lisa Mckelvie/Getty Images

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 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.

Precautions for Using Icy Hot

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 U.S. 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, or capsaicin.

Varieties of Icy Hot

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.

Icy Hot Patches

The Icy Hot Patch has 5% 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% 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 8 hours. You may repeat but only up to three times daily.

Icy Hot Sleeve

The Icy Hot Sleeve has 16% 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 4 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% 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 3 or 4 times a day. It is used for the aforementioned conditions.

Icy Hot Spray

Icy Hot Spray is a no-mess continuous spray formulation, containing 16% 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 3 or 4 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 fast-acting, quick-drying formula with 16% 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 3 or 4 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% 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 4 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 4 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% menthol and 30% 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% camphor and 16% menthol.

Icy Hot Balm

Icy Hot Balm contains 7.6% menthol and 29% methyl salicylate. The product is applied to the affected area of the aforementioned conditions, massaged in until absorbed, and repeated up to 4 times daily. The balm is available in a 3.5-ounce jar.

Icy Hot Stick

Icy Hot Stick contains 10% menthol and 30% 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 4 times a day. It is used for the same conditions listed under the other formulations. It is available in a 1.75-ounce stick.

Sources:

Icy Hot. Accessed 01/11/16.

FDA Drug Safety Communication: Rare cases of serious burns with the use of over-the-counter topical muscle and joint pain relievers. 09/13/2012.

Continue Reading