What is the Chemistry Behind Capsaicin, the Spicy Compound?

Although you may not be familiar with capsaicin’s name, you definitely know its effects. Capsaicin is the spicy compound responsible for making hot peppers, well, hot. But, what you may not know is that the same compound responsible for spicing up your hot sauce actually has many health benefits and applications.

Capsaicin belongs to a category of products called analgesics. Analgesics provide temporary relief from aches and pains associated with a wide variety of conditions and are often applied topically. Common applications include creams, lotions, and patches; and with Nufabrx HealthWear® you can actually wear this pain-relieving medicine for as long as you need it.

If you need temporary pain relief, whether from chronic conditions like arthritis or from acute pain symptoms as a result of exercise or injury, read on to learn about the chemistry behind capsaicin.

What is capsaicin?

Capsaicin is the spicy chemical found in the fruits of plants belonging to the Capsicum genus. Technically, it’s one of six such compounds found in the Capsicum genus, which are collectively referred to as capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is the most well-known capsaicinoid, for two reasons:

First, it is the most commonly occurring capsaicinoid found in nature. Capsaicin is found in about 69% of all capsicum plants.

Second, along with dihydrocapsaicin it is the most pungent of the capsaicinoid compounds. The pungency, or spiciness, of a substance is measured on the Scoville scale, in Scoville Heat Units, or SHUs.

This table shows how commonly occurring each of the capsaicinoid compounds is as well as the heat level of each in its pure form.

Capsaicinoid Name

Relative Amount

Scoville Heat Units



















How do capsaicin products provide pain relief?

When applied topically, capsaicin works by blocking pain messages to your nerves, which temporarily desensitizes you to pain sensations. It was once believed that capsaicin products relieved pain by reducing Substance P, a neurotransmitter that causes you to feel the sensation of pain. However, more recent research shows the more likely mechanism of action is the ‘defunctionalization’ of pain receptors. The reduction of Substance P is now viewed as a consequence of this defunctionalization, not the primary mechanism by which pain is reduced. ²

What types of conditions can capsaicin help?

When applied topically, capsaicin products can provide temporary relief from pain associated with various conditions that affect muscles and joints, including but not limited to¹:

  • Joint conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis
  • Muscle strains and sprains
  • Soreness or achiness from exercise or other physical activity

What types of capsaicin products are available?

Categories of topical capsaicin products include creams/lotions, patches, and more recently, infused fabrics. All capsaicin products belong to a category called analgesics, which are designed to offer temporary relief from pain.

The table below outlines some differences and similarities between types of capsaicin products.

Product Type



Prescription Required?

Average Duration of Pain Relief


Capsaicin creams (or similar topical treatments in the form of lotions or gels) are applied directly to the area affected by pain.

Low (therapeutic)


Maximum of a few hours


Capsaicin patches are often used for the treatment of medical conditions affecting the nerves. They typically contain higher concentrations of the active ingredient.

High (medicinal)

Yes – usually require a physician to prescribe and administer them

Weeks to months depending on application

Infused fabrics (like Nufabrx HealthWear® compression sleeves)

Capsaicin-infused fabrics are a new way to safely and effectively deliver the pain-relieving benefits of capsaicin to affected areas.

Low (therapeutic)


Continuous pain relief while wearing the product

Capsaicin-Infused Fabrics

Capsaicin-infused fabrics, such as Nufabrx HealthWear® compression sleeves, are a new way to safely and effectively deliver the pain-relieving benefits of capsaicin to affected areas without the need for a doctor’s visit.

Unlike capsaicin creams, lotions, or gels, which wear off within a few hours, Nufabrx compression sleeves continually deliver the pain-relieving benefits of capsaicin as long as you wear them.

The other good news? You don’t need to visit a doctor or get a prescription for capsaicin-infused compression sleeves. You can shop Nufabrx’s online store today and start experiencing pain relief as soon as your sleeves arrive!


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