10 Best Pain Relief Gels & Creams Fully Tested & Reviewed

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Whether you’re a runner looking for a quick solution to cure your delayed onset muscle soreness or someone with chronic pain, a topical pain gel or cream is a great temporary relief option and an alternative to potentially addictive pain pills.

Penetrex
  • Penetrex
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Absorbs quickly
  • Price: See Here
Sombra Warm Therapy
  • Sombra Warm Therapy
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Warming sensation
  • Price: See Here
Biofreeze
  • Biofreeze
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Non-greasy
  • Price: See Here

 

10 Best Pain Relief Gels & Creams

 

1. Penetrex

Penetrex cream can be used all over the body to help with inflammation. It claims to cure the root of the issue instead of using heat or cooling to keep your mind off the pain. The cream acts quickly to help reduce your pain and inflammation.
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Consistency & Ingredients

The cream gets absorbed into the skin quickly, so you're not stuck waiting for it to dry. The company claims it doesn't stain and doesn't go on greasy, either. It does not contain steroids or parabens. Its medicinal ingredients include arnica, glucosamine, B6 vitamin, choline among others. Reviewers liked the consistency of the product. It's in between thick and thin, so it's not gloopy or runny. Some reviewers did find it was a tad greasier than expected but not so much that they stopped using it. Reviewers also liked the use of natural ingredients.

Efficacy & Application

The cream is applied topically and can be used anywhere on the skin where inflammation and pain are occurring. You won't feel your skin start to cool or warm up because this cream doesn't use those sensations to mask pain. To apply, users should massage the cream into the skin to encourage quick absorption. Reviewers were seriously impressed with the cream and found it significantly reduced their inflammation and pain. Many reviewers with severe pain were happy to discover that with Penetrex, discomfort and soreness were nearly gone.

Odor

Penetrex doesn't have a strong odor, so you don't have to worry about putting it on before work or on the go. Reviewers agreed that the odor was not very strong and almost pleasant. Once absorbed, there's barely any smell that lingers. This is in stark contrast to many other pain relief creams and ointments.

Shelf Life

Users seem to use it up quickly, so there's no need to worry about it expiring. The label suggests a 2-year shelf life, so for those with intermittent pain, it can be kept in a medicine cabinet and used only occasionally without having to worry about the cream going bad.
Pros
  • Works extremely well
  • Reduces pain and inflammation
  • Doesn't smell bad
  • Absorbs quickly
  • No residue
  • Natural ingredients 
  • Fast acting 
  • Doesn't stain 
Cons
  • A little expensive 

2. Sombra Warm Therapy

A warming cream from Sombra with a pleasant orange scent. Good for the relief of pain related to inflammation. It doesn't contain any artificial fragrances or dyes. Also suitable for muscle pain and aches. Sombra also sells a cooling gel and different packaging formats for various uses. The gel is also free of animal ingredients so vegans can happily use it when they experience joint or muscle pain. This gel uses a warming sensation to help alleviate pain and inflammation. Users should take care to wash their hands after application to avoid getting it in their eyes or around the eye area.
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Consistency & Ingredients

The gel, reviewers say, is quite thick and needs to be rubbed into the skin to encourage absorption. Reviewers liked the smooth feel of the gel saying that it felt nice on the skin. The thick feel of the gel makes it easy to slather onto the skin. Reviewers liked that the included ingredients were easy to recognize and pronounce. Active ingredients include methol and camphor. Other ingredients include various extracts to provide a pleasant smell and aloe vera extract. Reviewers liked that the gel did not stain or go on greasy.

Efficacy & Application

Reviewers found the gel worked as expected and helped to reduce aches and pains. Many reviewers preferred this formulation over brands like Icy Hot. For the cost, reviewers were happy with the results. The gel comes in a small container and is applied by rubbing and massaging the substance into the skin. Some users preferred the roll-on applicator saying it was easier to handle.

Odor

Most reviewers found the odor wasn't overwhelming and liked that once rubbed into the skin the Sombra gel did not leave an unpleasant scent. Others were not too pleased with the smell of the product. Natural extracts are used, so the gel smells like oranges. Some users found this scent overwhelming. Others felt the gel had a medicinal smell that was too strong for their liking.

Shelf Life

Users found the top of the container a bit difficult to screw closed. Otherwise, the container should last a fair while before it expires.
Pros
  • Works well
  • Pleasant orange smell
  • A little goes a long way
  • Nice warming sensation
  • Small enough to stick inside a purse or bag
  • Doesn't feel greasy
  • Dries fast
  • Works on sensitive skin 
Cons
  • Some found the scent too strong
  • Some found it warmed too much 

3. Biofreeze

This Biofreeze brand gel comes in a small tube of 4 oz, perfect for bringing to work in a small purse or bag. The small tube contains a gel substance that provides a cooling effect to fight aching pain. The popular gel is an excellent choice for those with joint or muscle pain and is the perfect addition to a physiotherapists toolbox. It can be used topically on areas of the body and is easy to apply. It's also inexpensive compared to some other gel formulations on the market. The product has been around for 25 years and is not tested on animals.
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Consistency & Ingredients

The gel-like substance can be purchased in two formats. One features a subtle green dye, so it's easy to see where you're applying the gel. The other goes on clear. Both gels go on without a greasy residue and are free of parabens. The gel contains 4% menthol as its active ingredient and also includes a unique blend of other ingredients including Vitamin E, Arnica, and Aloe Vera. Reviewers liked the feel of the gel, particularly for massaging achy body parts. Some users found the gel a bit difficult to handle noting that the consistency felt a bit like Jello. Users did, however, like that the gel contained natural ingredients. A stronger concentration of menthol was well-received as well. Reviewers appreciated the inclusion of active ingredients that helped reduce pain and inflammation.

Efficacy & Application

Most reviewers were impressed with the long-lasting relief provided by the Biofreeze gel. A few did feel like the gel was not as effective as they would have liked, though. The Biofreeze gel uses a cooling effect in addition to its other ingredients to provide lasting relief. Many reviewers noted that the gel worked quickly, which they liked. It's a good choice for overnight pain relief for those experiencing aches and joint inflammation. The gel is also available in a roll-on form, which many users preferred saying that it was easier to apply in this format.

Odor

Most reviewers liked that the gel did not leave an unpleasant odor once applied to the skin. Others found the menthol smell to be overwhelming at first, but in general, it seems to fade away after a while. If you're self-conscious about using a strong smelling gel, it may be best to find an odorless formula instead.

Shelf Life

Users found the gel lasted longer than other formulations of this type of medicine because of its thick Jello-like consistency. The thick gel is easy to spread into the skin, and only a dollop is required to massage onto the body. Users reported different pain relief periods with most agreeing that the gel worked for a least a few hours to take away pain and discomfort.
Pros
  • Available in green and dyeless options
  • Non-staining
  • Dries quickly
  • Not greasy
  • Works effectively
  • Nice cooling sensation
  • Works fast
Cons
  • Some found gel hard to work with
  • Menthol has a strong initial odor 

4. Outback

A handy roll-on pain relief oil that's easy to handle and apply. It's meant to be used on a regular basis to relieve pain. The formulation comes in a 50mL roll-on and a 300mL pump bottle. This Outback roll-on features only four ingredients and is not tested on animals, nor does it contain any animal ingredients.
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Consistency & Ingredients

Natural ingredients mean that it's impossible to use this oil too much. The roll-on applicator makes the oil substance easy to apply to the skin. The pain relief substance only contains four ingredients. The ingredients are natural, GMO-free, and not animal tested. The anti-inflammatory oils include tea tree oil, vanilla, eucalyptus and olive oil. All stuff you can pronounce and recognize! The oils easily penetrate the skin, too. Some reviewers did note the substance was slightly oily, which is to be expected considering the nature of the ingredients. Otherwise, users didn't find the product messy or uncomfortable to use. Users also appreciated the small list of ingredients that were easily recognizable.

Efficacy & Application

The roll-on is super easy to apply. A roll-on cap means you won't need to worry about getting any of this stuff in your eyes on all over your hands. Unlike other types of pain relief medicines, the Outback formula does not cool or heat the skin to mask pain. The Outback formula is meant to be re-applied frequently with the onset of aches and pains. As the pain dissipates, the intent is to reduce application.

Odor

Unlike other types of pain relief gels, the Outback roll-on gel has a very nice odor. A blend of Eucalyptus and Vanilla emits a pleasant smell that's neither strong nor overpowering. Most reviewers found the smell faded away fairly quickly. Reviewers noted that any lingering odor was very faint and better than the majority of other pain relief creams and gels.

Shelf Life

The roll-on applicator makes it tough to apply too much to the skin. Since the oil absorbs quickly, you'll know when it's time to stop applying. You just need a little bit to work. Once applied, you should expect a minimum of a few hours of pain relief.
Pros
  • No lingering smell
  • Works well
  • Long-lasting pain relief
  • Only 4 ingredients
  • GMO-free
  • Easy to use
  • Mess-free application
Cons
  • Slightly oily consistency 

5. Blue Goo

A reliable option for pain relief, this gel contains just a few ingredients to deliver fast-acting anti-inflammatory action. The gel is suitable for all types of soreness, aches, and pains. Works well for headache relief as well. It's also more inexpensive than competing options.
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Consistency & Ingredients

Blue Goo contains emu oil and aloe vera. Reviewers liked that the gel dried quickly and was not messy to apply.

Efficacy & Application

Some users reported that the gel didn't work as well as they expected it too, while others found it was the only option that worked for them. Most found the product comparable to drugstore brands. Reviewers liked that the goo, once dried and absorbed into the skin, made the skin feel soft.

Odor

Reviewers were mixed on how they felt about the smell of the Blue Goo. Some found the scent pleasant, while others thought it was very overpowering.

Shelf Life

You only need a small coin sized amount to massage into the affected area of the body. Using appropriate amounts should mean that this gel will last a decent amount of time.
Pros
  • Easy to apply
  • Dries quickly
  • Natural ingredients
  • Makes skin soft
  • A little goes a long way
Cons
  • Overpowering smell
  • Not everyone found the gel worked well 

6. Real Time Pain Relief Maxx

A convenient pump makes it easy to get just the right away of pain relief cream for when you need the aching to stop. The formula also comes in a 1.5 oz and 4 oz tube. The formula is made with natural ingredients and works for a variety of body pains.
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Consistency & Ingredients

The formula includes a whopping blend of 18 ingredients! Some of the ingredients include aloe vera, menthol, glucosamine, emu oil, and more. The product does not contain GMOs and is free of artificial dyes and parabens. It's made to go on without a greasy film and isn't supposed to stain clothing. It doesn't warm or cool the skin like other gels or creams. Reviewers appreciated that the Real Time formula contained natural ingredients in addition to menthol that make it work.

Efficacy & Application

Works well for a multitude of ailments. Aches, pains, arthritis, inflammation, bruises, you name it! One pump action provides you with enough of the stuff to rub into your skin. The substance dries quickly, too, and works just as fast. Reviewers seemed to agree that the substance worked as advertised.

Odor

Reviewers didn't mind the odor of the Real Time. Most found it more pleasant than other comparable brands. Users also mentioned that the odor did not linger like other gels or creams. Some users actually liked the smell. It does smell a bit like menthol, but the scent fades away once absorbed into the skin.

Shelf Life

Reviewers liked that the pain reliever pump lasted a long time. The bottle format makes it easy to get just the right amount for application. Users noted that following application directions is the way to go to ensure the substance lasts.
Pros
  • Natural ingredients
  • No artificial dyes
  • Pleasant odor that fades away 
  • Long-lasting
  • Works as advertised 
  • Dries fast 
Cons
  • Some found the menthol smell overpowering 

7. Glucosamine

A great pain relief option for those experiencing aches and pains, particularly joint pain. A roll-on design makes application easy. Get right to the area that's hurting so you can go on with your day. The formula is also made in the USA. It's available in two formats a 9 oz roll-on or 3 oz roll-on.
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Consistency & Ingredients

The gel is easy to apply because of the roll-on and regardless of consistency isn't hard to get onto the skin like some other gels and creams. The formula includes emu oil and Capsaicin. There are more unpronounceable ingredients in this roll-on than other types of gels, though, which some may not like. Users should be careful, too, when applying the gel because of the capsaicin. Wash your hands thoroughly after putting this stuff on to avoid getting the substance in your eyes, nose, or mouth. Doing so could cause a painful burning. Reviewers found the gel a little bit thinner than expected. Some users also reported allergic reactions to the gel. Testing the substance by applying a small amount to a limited area is recommended.

Efficacy & Application

The roll-on applicator makes it simple to get right to the source of the pain and apply the gel where it hurts most. The roll-on also prevents messes that come with tubes and jars. Just open it up and roll onto the skin. Reviewers found that pain relief came on quickly after applying the gel to the skin. Some users though found the capsaicin caused a burning sensation which was very unpleasant.

Odor

Reviewers liked that the gel had no strong odor whatsoever. Unlike other gels, no users had complaints about the smell of the product.

Shelf Life

The roll-on design ensures that you don't overdo it when applying the gel. A simple roll of the tube, rub it into the skin and voila, you're set. You won't have to replace this tube too often thanks to this clever design. A small dab really goes a long way.
Pros
  • Virtually no smell
  • Convenient roll-on
  • Absorbs quickly
  • Long-lasting
  • Works for a variety of pain types 
Cons
  • Some users reported allergic reactions to the substance
  • Not everyone found it worked well 

8. Doctor Hoy’s

This gel comes in three formats including a 3oz roll-on, 4 oz tube, and 8 oz tube. The natural pain relief gel includes time-released ingredients for targeted relief. It dries mess free without stain or residue. It's non-toxic and free of parabens, too. It also won't stink since the odor fades away fast. The gel is also FDA approved and not tested on animals. Its sweat-proof formulation makes it an excellent choice for athletes, and it also works well with Kinesiology tape.
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Consistency & Ingredients

The gel features a cooling sensation when applied. Reviewers liked this sensation and found it worked well on aches and pains. Reviewers also noted that the gel did not feel greasy when applied. Ingredients include menthol, arnica, and camphor.

Efficacy & Application

Reviewers found the gel worked well on their aches and pains. Many users used the gel for post-workout aches and muscle soreness and found the gel to work sufficiently well. Some users found that using gloves helped to reduce the smell and mess.

Odor

Reviewers noted that once dried the gel doesn't have a lasting smell.

Shelf Life

If used as directed, the gel should last an appropriate amount of time. There are three format options that you can choose from 3 oz, 4 oz, and 8 oz so that you can find the right size for your needs.
Pros
  • Cooling sensation
  • Not greasy
  • Works as advertised
  • Great for sore muscles
  • Smells dissipates once dried 
Cons
  • Expensive 

9. Orthogel

Seriously, we're not sure why every company doesn't make a roll-on format for their pain relief gels. It's so much easier to handle and helps to reduce waste! This Orthogel formula comes in a small 3 oz tube that's great for travel or those with the occasional sore muscle or stiff joints.
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Consistency & Ingredients

The gel consistency isn't really noticeable considering the Orthogel comes in a roll-on applicator bottle. The gel is FDA compliant and works well for various types of pain. Some ingredients include menthol, camphor, and Vitamin E. This isn't an all-natural pain relief gel, though, so expect a long list of ingredients that you might not recognize.

Efficacy & Application

Just use the roll-on applicator to get the gel onto the skin in the area where you're experiencing pain. Reviewers agreed that the relief was, of course, temporary but once applied the stuff works very well. Reviewers particularly appreciated how easy and mess-free to apply the gel was thanks to the roll-on design. It makes it a great pain relief product to bring with you on the go. Don't bother messing with creams and gel containers when you're out and about. A simple dab of the roll-on should do the trick.

Odor

Reviewers noted that the Orthogel did have a faint menthol smell but liked that it didn't linger very long and wasn't overpowering.

Shelf Life

Reviewers noted that the pain relief they got from this substance maxed out at about four hours or so. Application using the roll-on means that you use very little of the gel, so you won't find yourself running out too quickly. Those who want more can purchase the gel in larger formats.
Pros
  • Smell isn't overpowering, fades fast
  • Great for travel
  • Handy roll-on applicator
  • Works effectively
  • A little goes a long way 
Cons
  • Users note it doesn't work on all types of pain

10. CobraZol

There's a reason there are so many roll-ons on this list. They're super handy and easy to use. This CobraZol gel provides quick relief that lasts up to 10 hours. It's a good choice for both chronic and acute pain. This gel comes in a 2 oz format. Believe it or not, this stuff actually contains cobra venom. Venom apparently is thought to help de-active pain pathways and reduce pain. This roll-on is a great way to manage pain and help users wean off of more serious and potentially dangerous pain medications.
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Consistency & Ingredients

In addition to the unique ingredient of cobra venom, this gel includes arnica and capsaicin. Some reviewers noted that they experienced adverse effects because of the inclusion of capsaicin. Be careful to test the product before applying to a larger area because some may have allergic reactions to specific ingredients.

Efficacy & Application

Most reviewers seemed happy with the effectiveness of this roll-on gel, though they noted that the effects did not last as long as advertised. Re-application is definitely necessary. Migraineurs also commented on the positive impact of using this roll-on gel.

Odor

Users reported that the CobraZol doesn't have a pungent or awful odor like other pain relief gels. You don't have to worry about any lingering odors or smelling like an old person with this roll-on gel.

Shelf Life

Reviewers found the gel to be worth every penny because of its effectiveness and long-lasting effects.
Pros
  • Contains unique effective ingredients
  • Great value
  • Not smelly
  • Easy to apply
  • Just need a little for it to work 
Cons
  • May cause allergic reaction in some

 

Evaluation Criteria Explained

Here’s how we evaluated our top-ten pain relief gels and creams.

Consistency & Ingredients

We looked at both gels and creams to create our top ten list. How did we evaluate consistency? We looked at whether the substances stained, went on greasy, or were otherwise messy to deal with. Did users like the feel of the gel or cream on their skin? Why or why not? We also looked at whether formulas were quick drying and whether they left a residue. When it came to ingredients, we wanted to select as many options as possible with natural ingredients that were easily recognizable.

Efficacy & Application

Basically, does the stuff actually work. For each gel or cream, we also looked at how long the pain relief effects lasted. For application, we chose options that were easy and mess-free to apply.

Odor

What’s the smell like? Many pain relief substances have a strong odor because of the included ingredients. Menthol, for example, has a strong smell. Some formulas will have a stronger odor than others. For most gels and creams, the smell fades away once rubbed into the skin.

Shelf Life

How much do you have to use at once and how often? Is it easy to apply too much? Generally, roll-on applicators are the best choice for reducing waste since it’s hard to put on too much when using them.

Further Considerations

Most of these gels and creams won’t cure your ailment. You’ll probably run into countless negative reviews of products from people that complain that their pain is not gone. These types of products are not a cure. Pain relief creams and gels are a helpful way to reduce pain. With acute pain, these gels and creams help users get relief until treatment can occur. In the case of a sprained ankle or torn muscle, for instance, using this kind of medicine can be a good alternative to NSAIDs to help reduce pain. For chronic ailments like arthritis, these substances are merely a way to help sufferers cope with pain. They are a band-aid. Some aches and pains may be helped with further treatment but don’t expect miracles with these types of products. Just because they don’t completely remove pain doesn’t mean they aren’t helpful in some instances and for some people.

FAQ

Q. What is Arnica? It’s listed as an ingredient in many topical pain relief medicines. 

A. Arnica is a natural anti-inflammatory, which is why you’ll find it in many pain relief gels and creams.

Q. What is capsaicin?

A. This substance comes from edible hot peppers and helps to reduce a substance in the body that works to produce pain. Be careful with gels and creams that contain this substance, you must wash your hands after using. Some people may also experience adverse reactions to this ingredient.

Q. Is there any advantage to using a gel over a cream or vice versa?

A. Gels are less messy than creams because they tend to be less greasy. Water-based gels are also hydrating for the skin. Creams may be more difficult to get off your hands when you’re done applying but are good for massaging affected areas.

Q. What’s better for alleviating pain– hot or cold?

A. It depends on the pain in question. You could use cooling substances or ice on pain that is caused by an acute injury. Cooling the area helps to reduce inflammation. Heat is better for chronic pain or an injury that isn’t fresh.

Q. What ingredients should I look out for if I suffer from arthritis?

A. For arthritic pain in the hands and knees, capsaicin is your best bet if you want to go the natural route. Otherwise topical NSAIDs work well, too.

Q. Will these types of creams and gels really work if I have migraines?

A. Maybe. They may not completely get rid of your monster headache but they may help relieve some of the aches that come with them. Some migraineurs experience neck and shoulder pain and topical pain relief gels and creams may help to lessen this symptom. Some migraineurs use roll-ons on the forehead or back of the head to induce a cooling or heating sensation to help cope with the pain.

Sources

  1. Jorge et al., Topical preparations for pain relief: efficacy and patient adherence, Journal Article,
  2. Jennifer Acosta Scott, A Guide to Topical Pain Medications, Health Website,
  3. Pharmacy Magazine, Topical pain relief, Website,
  4. WebMD, Topical Pain Relief: Creams, Gels, and Rubs, Website,
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