The Betterment Project

Methyl Salicylate: What It is and Why It’s Great For Pain Relief

Check out the ingredients for many popular topical pain creams, and you’re likely to see methyl salicylate listed. It’s a go-to part of the formula for balms, creams, and patches medicine cabinet staples to cutting edge formulas like ASYSTEM’s Radical Relief Gel Roll-On.


But why is this natural ingredient so common and so popular? And why is it such an effective alleviator for so many forms of pain? Let’s take a look and find out. 

A Two-Pronged Approach to Tackling Pain


Methyl salicylate is effective in pain relief because of two factors. Each can be effective by itself, but the combination of the two provides a one-two punch combination in battling pain. 

It’s a counterirritant.
Counterirritants relieve pain through stimulation. A counterirritant, when applied to the skin, causes mild inflammation of the skin. That, in turn, redirects nerve receptors from the initial source of pain towards the new stimuli. Methyl salicylate isn’t alone in the field of counterirritants. Menthol, capsaicin, and camphor are other examples of topical preparations that use the principle of counterirritation to provide some degree of pain relief. 

It’s an NSAID.
Salicylates are a group of drugs that work by reducing substances in the body that cause inflammation and pain. Aspirin is probably the best-known example of these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Applied topically, methyl salicylate is absorbed through the skin and affects the source of pain directly. 


Two Compelling Reasons to Use Methyl Salicylate


You’ve got choices when it’s time to select a pain reliever. Here are two reasons why methyl salicylate may be a good choice for you. 

Attacking pain at the source.
Oral pain medications can be very effective. But, are they always the best choice? It’s not uncommon for pain to be very localized, often as the result of an injury or trauma. Strained muscles, bruises, and sprains are good examples. In these cases, the use of topical pain relievers may be a smarter approach to better target the pain and avoid the GI upset that usually comes with oral pain relievers. 

Reducing the potential for pain killer side effects.
Most common pain issues are tackled with over-the-counter oral NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). But there are issues and potential side effects of taking these medications. Like we mentioned, oral NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal upset. And the prolonged use of oral NSAIDs can lead to a possible increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease and stomach ulcers. Using a topical pain medication for relief can mitigate these risks if used alone, or at least reduce them when used in conjunction with a lowered dosage of NSAIDs. 

Some Clinical Results


The study of the effects of methyl salicylate as a pain reliever is ongoing and there is still much to investigate. But, there are some encouraging study results available. Here are some of the things we know about methyl salicylate from these studies. 

Methyl salicylate patches provided relief to patients with muscle strains.
In a study where patients received methyl salicylate patches or a placebo, those who received the methyl salicylate patch reported significantly more pain reduction than those receiving the placebo. 


The results were comparable, no matter the location of the strain. For localized pain relief from muscle strains, the evidence suggests that using methyl salicylate is an excellent choice. 


Methyl salicylate is clinically reviewed for use in alleviating joint pain.
A 2012 clinical review of the use of pain patches containing 10% methyl salicylate and 3% menthol concluded that the efficacy of the product was supported by two trials. 


The clinical review also concluded that there was no concern for salicylate toxicity even with the use of multiple patches. 


It’s an external analgesic with reduced risk of side effects.
In an article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examining the use and benefits of topical herbal remedies, the authors state that methyl salicylate has analgesic properties when applied to the skin at the site of pain.  


They also concluded that topical treatments using methyl salicylate and other herbal topical treatments are less likely to cause side effects than the use of oral NSAIDs. 

Is Methyl Salicylate a Good Choice for Me?


Now that you know more about methyl salicylate, the important question to ask is whether this natural ingredient is a good choice for treating the pains you may encounter as a result of your day to day activities.


If you’re active, you’re bound to pick up our fair share of bumps and bruises, as well as suffer from the occasional sprain or strain. Methyl salicylate is a great choice for you when this happens. Methyl salicylate absorbs readily into the skin and provides relief exactly where you need it, without worry about side effects or long-term issues you may encounter when taking oral medications. 


Methyl salicylate is a smart addition to your pain toolbox. While the relief it provides may be short-lived, it can be a good treatment for mild persistent pain and an excellent supplement to other medications. 

Try These Tools


Methyl salicylate isn’t the only topical pain relief ingredient available. There are some other promising ingredients, and you’ll often find them used in conjunction with methyl salicylate in many products. Here are a few to keep an eye out for. 

Menthol provides a cooling sensation that feels good against the skin and creates a pleasant diversion away from pain. It’s commonly combined with methyl salicylate. Camphor is another ingredient that has a similar effect and is often mixed with methyl salicylate too. 

This chemical is the active ingredient that provides the burn you experience when eating chili peppers. The burning sensation it provides will certainly take your mind off of pain and may even divert your body’s focus off the pain. Check it out if you want to feel the burn.

Using Methyl Salicylate


Methyl salicylate is considered a very safe and effective medication. But it’s important to use it properly and safely. Keep these important points in mind when using it.  


  • Not all products with methyl salicylate as an ingredient are of the same strength. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label for details on how much and how often to use it. 
  • Don’t use products containing methyl salicylate for longer than indicated. 
  • Methyl salicylate is for external use only. Be sure to keep it away from your eyes, mouth, and sensitive areas of the body. 
  • Don’t tightly bandage areas where you’ve applied preparations with methyl salicylate, or use a heating pad on the treated area.
  • Don’t apply methyl salicylate on an open wound. 

There are some circumstances where you should consult a physician before using methyl salicylate. Talk to them if:


  • You’re allergic to aspirin or other salicylates.
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • You’re considering using it on a child age 12 or under. 

Rub It In, Rub It In


Safe when used properly, and effective at alleviating pain from many causes, methyl salicylate is a smart thing to have handy, particularly if you live an active lifestyle. We all experience some hard knocks now and then, but by smart use of this topical pain killer, you’ll be able to keep going or get back at it sooner.


Check out ASYSTEM’s entire collection of pain relieving aids, including the roll-on we mentioned at the beginning of this article--it’s packed with the pain-relieving powerhouses we talked about!



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