Inflammation is a double-edged sword. In one respect, it’s your body’s natural defense mechanism against harmful invaders and on the other hand, when it becomes chronic, it can cause a variety of health issues.
The human body responds to potential threats like injury, infection, and allergic substances by stimulating an immune response, in turn instigating an inflammatory healing process. The tell-tale signs of inflammation are pain, redness, swelling, heat, and loss of mobility or function. However, it is also possible to have extensive inflammation in your body and not realize it.
When damage is caused to your cells, whether it is a minor issue like a skin rash or a major physical injury, your body releases chemicals that trigger a healing inflammatory response. Antibodies and proteins are released into your bloodstream, along with an increase in blood flow to the affected area.
Most people associate inflammation with pain because your body sends signals alerting you of an issue that needs attention. This can occur in one specific place but can also be widespread in terms of whole-body inflammation and pain.
It is important to mention that there are two types of inflammation. Acute inflammation occurs suddenly and then subsides once the cause, such as an injury or infection, is under control. This very common type of inflammation is an automatic reaction that attempts to restore the health of the impacted area. In the case of acute inflammation, such as a mild cut or common cold, the inflammation will subside within a few hours to a few weeks.
However, if there is long-lasting or repeated inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, the immune system gets stuck in a constant state of alertness, unable to heal itself. Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to a range of serious health conditions, not to mention constant discomfort.
Sometimes your immune system perceives a threat when there is none and attacks normal, healthy tissues. Conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea are all inflammatory skin conditions in this category. Luckily there are natural anti-inflammatory options that can soothe inflamed skin and even prevent future inflammation.
If you are looking for the best topical anti-inflammatory option out there, CBD should be one of your top picks. Entirely natural, CBD interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system to influence how your body recognizes pain and decreases your inflammatory response.
CBD naturally offers anti-inflammatory properties without the risks and side effects of mainstream medications, which is why it’s a go-to for many people.
Known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, CBD can help with a variety of inflammatory symptoms like joint, muscle, and nerve pain, along with skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.
One of the main benefits of topical CBD creams, ointments, and oils is that they address the inflamed or painful area very quickly. Although ingestible CBD is a good option for whole-body inflammation and a variety of other issues, topical application tends to be more effective for decreasing symptoms at the site of inflammation or pain.
Regarding effective topical anti-inflammatory products, aloe vera is one of the most well-known natural options and works well alongside other topicals like CBD. Chock full of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, aloe vera reduces inflammation and increases moisture levels in the skin.
Aloe vera is the gel found in aloe plant leaves and has been used for centuries as a natural anti-inflammatory topical treatment. Most commonly known as a soothing sunburn remedy, aloe can also provide relief for other inflammatory skin issues like psoriasis.
Arnica is a type of perennial flower in the sunflower family that is used for medicinal purposes across the world. Arnica is best known for its ability to decrease bruising and pain, but the natural anti-inflammatory topical relief it provides is largely due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antioxidant properties.
Studies show that arnica gel or ointment can be just as effective as topical NSAIDs for inflammation and relief. What is Arnica's superpower? First off, it can match the inflammation relief of a topical steroid anti-inflammatory cream. Secondly, it can be used to relieve a slew of issues such as muscle and joint pain, wound healing, post-surgery inflammation, and bruising.
Helping to soothe inflammation by gently cleansing the skin from bacteria and infections, witch hazel is a tried but true natural anti-inflammatory. When topically applied, the anti-inflammatory properties of witch hazel help treat acne and irritated skin.
Witch hazel is often used as a topical treatment for inflammation, relieving pain from injuries such as sprains and strains, joint pain, and bruises. This natural healer is also known for treating persistent inflammatory issues like arthritis.
You may be aware that chamomile contains soothing qualities, making a cup of chamomile tea a great option pre-bedtime. However, a lesser-known quality of chamomile is that it contains powerful natural anti-inflammatory properties.
Chamomile can soothe inflammation and redness when applied topically and has been found to treat skin conditions like psoriasis, rosacea, eczema, and other skin issues.
With high levels of antioxidants and flavonoids, chamomile is a useful addition to your skincare routine because it naturally clears the skin of bacteria, while reducing inflammation, and brightening the skin.
Also known as Vitamin B3, niacinamide is a great tool to have on hand for topical inflammation treatment. This powerhouse vitamin can prevent and treat inflammatory skin issues by repairing the skin's barrier and locking in moisture.
Commonly used in skincare products, niacinamide reduces inflammation of the skin, assisting with the treatment of acne, eczema, and other inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea. By reducing redness and restoring moisture, this is an ideal topical anti-inflammatory vitamin to use on a daily basis.
Green tea is packed with antioxidants making it a useful anti-inflammatory topical treatment when added to creams. The green tea leaf naturally includes properties that reduce redness and decrease acne. As a common ingredient in skincare products, green tea acts as an effective, but gentle natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Made from unfermented tea leaves, this natural medicine contains powerful antioxidants that help protect your cells from damage. In addition to these benefits, green tea has also been studied for its effects on reducing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Vitamin C is an all-around hard hitter when it comes to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits for the skin and body. The antioxidant nutrients found in vitamin C help your body fight free radicals, aka harmful toxins in the environment, and boosts your immune system.
Topical vitamin C can provide healing for the skin, reduce redness, and lessen acne outbreaks by impacting oil production within the skin. Due to its extensive ability to speed up the restoration process of the skin, vitamin C is one of the best topical anti-inflammatory options you can find.
Shea butter consists of fat that is extracted from nuts of the shea tree, naturally containing potent anti-inflammatory properties. When applied to the skin, this topical anti-inflammatory triggers cytokines and other inflammatory cells to slow their production, thus reducing inflammation.
With strong antioxidant content, shea butter also includes significant levels of vitamins A and E, along with other compounds that trigger anti-inflammatory effects. Shea butter is known for reducing swelling, irritation, and redness while keeping the skin moisturized at the same time.
Another benefit of this anti-inflammatory is its natural emollient quality. This means Shae butter automatically contains moisturizing abilities effective at treating dry, cracked, and chapped skin. In addition, Shae butter can reduce discomfort from muscle and joint pain, such as symptoms of arthritis.
Papain is a digestive enzyme naturally found in the papaya fruit. In the scientific world, this is called a protease, which is an enzyme that breaks down proteins into amino acids aiding in digestion.
Papaya enzyme is best known for its anti-inflammatory effects on the digestive system and stomach, improving symptoms like constipation, nausea, and stomach pain.
In your skincare routine, papaya enzymes are used to naturally exfoliate, moisturize, and lower inflammation. Some research suggests that papaya enzymes can be more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs at reducing inflammation and swelling.
Rose oil is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits and regenerative effects on cell tissue. This makes it an ideal ingredient for your skincare routine if you deal with a dry or sensitive complexion.
The natural anti-inflammatory benefits of topically applied rose oil help keep skin moisturized and calm, which aids in treating skin conditions such as redness, acne, and even aging.
Rose oil is packed with nutrients like antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Not only is it a regular ingredient in skincare products, but is also beneficial for issues such as headaches, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory GI issues.
When to Use Topical Anti-Inflammatories vs. Ingestibles
Both anti-inflammatory topicals and ingestibles have their place in the symptom-relieving world, but there is a time and place for each one.
The targeted relief of topical anti-inflammatories makes them work more quickly than ingestible anti-inflammatory options and often provides more effective symptom relief to specific areas of the body.
Ingesting anti-inflammatory medications or natural alternatives like CBD are good options when you are experiencing whole-body inflammation or pain. Keep in mind that in most cases you can combine both ingestible anti-inflammatory and topical products. For example, taking something for arthritis pain while also applying topical treatment can provide optimal relief.
If you have any concerns about interactions with the medications you are taking, it is always a good idea to speak with a medical professional.
FAQs About Topical Anti-Inflammatory Pain Creams
Are allergic reactions common for topical anti-inflammatories?
Side effects from using topical anti-inflammatory creams or ointments are rare. The most common side effect is a mild rash, but other potential reactions include hives, itching, or swelling. If you experience a negative reaction to a topical anti-inflammatory product, discontinue use.
How much anti-inflammatory cream should be applied and how often?
Following the directions on your topical anti-inflammatory product is always the safest course of action. In general, natural anti-inflammatory creams can be applied 2 to 4 times per day, not to be used more than 4 times in 24 hours.
It is important to note that the amount of anti-inflammatory you apply may vary depending on what area of the body you are putting it on. When applying topical anti-inflammatory cream to your lower extremities including feet, ankles, or knees, the general rule of thumb is to apply 4 grams of cream up to 4 times per day.
When it comes to the upper extremities including hands, fingers, wrists, or elbows, the general guideline includes applying 2 grams of the affected area of skin up to 4 times per day.
What are examples of conditions helped by topical anti-inflammatories?
Topical anti-inflammatories are commonly used to ease the pain and inflammation associated with sore muscles, sprains, and strains. Also helpful for joint and nerve pain, anti-inflammatory creams are useful for reducing arthritis symptoms.
FAQs About Anti-Inflammatory Skincare
What are common skin conditions associated with inflammation?
Inflammatory skin conditions are not only uncomfortable but can also cause people to feel self-conscious about their skin. Skin inflammation issues can range from rashes that can cause pain, itching, redness, or dryness, to more severe skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.
Is it more important to apply anti-inflammatory skincare products during the morning or evening?
The skin has a natural cycle of activating rejuvenation and repairing every day. During the day your skin goes into protective mode to guard the outer layer from environmental toxins or irritants.
At night, the skin begins a rejuvenation period which is the perfect time to apply hydrating, anti-inflammatory creams.
What are other ways people can reduce skin inflammation?
If your skin is inflamed, cut back on inflammatory foods like sugar, dairy, and processed foods, along with limiting alcohol. Applying a cool compress can help soothe skin and reduce redness. You can also try taking a warm oatmeal bath, which can help reduce inflammation and protect your skin from irritants.
By Emily Wegener
With a unique background as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Masters Degree in Teaching and experience in Psychology, Emily spends much of her time researching and trying out new holistic healing modalities.