Early and late effects of prolonged topical capsaicin on cutaneous sensibility and neurogenic vasodilatation in humans

Donald A. Simone, José Ochoa

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135 Scopus citations


Cutaneous sensibility and neurogenic vasodilatation (flare) were measured before, during and after long-term topical application of capsaicin in humans. Each subject applied a vehicle cream containing 0.075% capsaicin (Axsain, GalenPharma Inc.) to a 4 cm2 area of skin on one volar forearm and vehicle alone to an identical treatment area on the other forearm, according to a double-blind procedure. Each substances was applied 4 times/day for 6 weeks. Psychophysical measurements of sensory detection thresholds, magnitude of suprathreshold heat pain, magnitude and duration of histamine-induced itch and flare area were obtained before, at 1, 3 and 7 days after the first application, and once a week thereafter for a total of 8 weeks. Capsaicin produced mild burning in all subjects which diminished in magnitude and duration over several weeks. Capsaicin significantly altered detection thresholds for heat pain and the magnitude of pain produced by suprathreshold painful stimuli. Mean detection threshold for heat pain was lowered 1.6°C following 1 day of capsaicin application but subsequently increased to become elevated 3.5°C after 6 weeks of application. In addition, mean magnitude of suprathreshold heat pain diminished progressively after 1 week. Heat pain thresholds returned to or near pretreatment values within 2 weeks after discontinuing application. Detection thresholds for touch, cold sensation and pain induced by low temperature and by mechanical stimulation were not altered by capsaicin. Similarly, capsaicin did not alter the magnitude or duration of itch produced by intradermal injection of 1 μg histamine. However, the area of flare produced by histamine was significantly reduced in capsaicin-treated skin. These studies demonstrate that prolonged application of capsaicin at low concentration selectively diminishes sensations of heat pain and neurogenic vasodilatation, presumably via desensitization of heat-sensitive nociceptors. It is also shown that the decrease in heat pain is temporary and is maintained with repeated capsaicin application. There appears to be a therapeutic role for capsaicin in cutaneous painful syndromes mediated, at least in part, by activity of heat-sensitive nociceptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-294
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1991


  • (Humans)
  • Capsaicin
  • Psychophysics
  • Vasodilatation


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