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Health Canada warns of burn risk with menthol pain creams

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Use of certain over-the-counter muscle and joint pain relievers is associated with risk of burns.

Health Canada warns there’s a serious risk of skin burns associated with using some pain relievers containing menthol. 

The products are sold over the counter to put on the skin and are meant to relieve muscle and joint pain. 

They’re sold as creams, gels, liquids and patches. 

“While a minor rash or a burning sensation are a known side-effect, more serious effects like skin burns, pain, blistering or other severe skin damage are not generally expected from the use of these products,” Health Canada said in a safety alert on Monday.

“Health Canada has received 21 reports of serious side effects involving OTC topical pain relievers containing menthol in various concentrations (containing 0.75% to 11% menthol), as a single ingredient or in combination with other ingredients (most commonly methyl salicylate). In many cases, the products were used as directed, with burns, severe swelling and blistering appearing within 24-48 hours of the first application.”

The regulator said it wasn’t possible to tell whether the risk of serious skin burns was linked to any specific brands.

It’s also not possible to tell whether certain formulations, menthol concentration or other ingredients are associated with the risk of burns.

Health Canada plans to update labelling standards for the products to warn consumers to stop using the products and get medical help right away if they experience severe skin reactions.

Stop use if product burns

Health Canada also said consumers should know that all topical pain relievers containing menthol, methyl salicylate or capsaicin produce a warming or cooling sensation where they are applied. They should not cause severe pain or skin damage.

It suggests talking to a health care professional such as a pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns about these products.

Separately in 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned products that may contain menthol, methyl salicylate, or capsaicin were reported to cause rare cases of serious skin injuries, ranging from first-to third-degree chemical burns.

Health Canada said its latest review examined the ingredients methyl salicylate and capsaicin, as well as menthol. But there was only sufficient evidence of an increased risk for menthol.