You may have heard about pepper and the substance that makes them spicy, capsaicin, being used for pain relief. For instance by arthritis sufferers.
By over-stimulating the nerves pepper is claimed to offer mosquito itch relief as well. We are wondering, is this true? Can peppers really make mosquito itch go away. Let’s take a look at what studies say.
Rubbing peppers or applying capsaicin cream on your mosquito welt takes away the annoying itch.
The theory, pepper as an ancient medicine
Peppers have been known for their medicinal properties since the dawn of mankind.
For the Native Americans red cayenne pepper was not only part of their diet but they also used Capsicum annuum or frutescens as a medicine for at least 9,000 years.
Cayenne has also been part of traditional Chinese, Indian Ayurvedic, Korean and Japanese medicines. Among other remedies it was applied to the skin for arthritis and muscle pain. Capsaicin creams are nowadays used to offer relief from psoriasis itch.
Red pepper was also used by indigenous peoples as an aphrodisiac (don’t make the mistake to use it topically for this purpose, since this will probably set you on fire in an unintentional way.)
Red pepper is a painkiller
Nowadays, capsaicin cream is used to treat muscle and joint pain and some people are also using it to treat itching caused by a number of medical conditions.
The University of Maryland Medical Center and other renowned medical sources note that capsaicin helps reduce pain. It should be noted that peppers work for some kinds of pain only.
It’s a relatively safe medication, although one common side effect is itching or burning so it’s a little odd that people are using it to treat just that.
The theory is that capsaicin blocks a chemical in the skin that plays a role in the processes causing pain and itch.
Research shows that peppers deplete your nerves of a pain signaling molecule called substance P.
How does capsaicin reduce pain?
When applied to the skin, capsaicin focuses on substance P and empties the molecule from nerve endings in the so called peripheral tissues. This causes the initial burning sensation. Capsaicin also prevents nerve cells from making more substance P.
Promising research is going on as we speak. Red pepper is currently being researched for its abilities to create a new class of painkillers (so called VR1 receptor blockers ).
The scientists suspect to create painkillers that relief pain more directly with fewer side effects (when compared to traditional analgesics such as morphine and aspirin).
That being nice and all, back to itch.
Do peppers and capsaicin reduce itch?
Beware if you haven’t used a capsaicin containing pain relieving cream before. The active ingredient is the same stuff that makes habanero and other hot peppers taste so hot and spicy.
The substance is used in pepper spray too, although in lower concentrations. Especially the first few uses it can really burn so if you have delicate skin, make sure to apply it carefully and lightly.
Even in low concentrations, they can really burn the first few times you use them. Some people have skin that is simply too delicate, thin, or sensitive to use these kinds of products.
Capsaicin cream induces itching and burning and ultimately may stop itch.
It is theorzied that capsaicin cream can sooth itching too by overstimulating the nerves so that they switch off all together. Again, this is the effect of neutralizing the substance P. molecule.
- The University of Maryland notes that, “capsaicin cream can reduce itching and inflammation from psoriasis.”
Let’s take a look at what other research has to say.
A study made use of six randomized controlled trials on the effects of capsaicin cream. Three of the studies looked at patients who had itching from kidney dialysis and didn’t come up with enough data to make any conclusions one way or the other.
- When capsaicin cream was used on patients with itching of unknown cause (idiopathic itch) it was a little more effective than the placebo, but there was not enough data from this study to draw any scientific conclusions.
Participants with a localized itch called notalgia paresthetica did not note any significant difference between the capsaicin cream and placebo. This type of itch is also called “Hereditary localized pruritus”.
The medical term for itching is pruritus.
The study done on participants with itch that typically occurs on the forearm, called neurogenic itch syndrome of the upper extremitiesn (brachioradial paresthetica) was not performed with good enough conditions to draw any scientific conclusions.
What to make of it..
Doctors are lacking good studies that can conclusively say one way or another whether capsaicin cream can help itching.
The six trails that the above study examined had limited evidence or poor experimental conditions which are why no conclusions could be drawn.
At present, there is no convincing evidence for the use of capsaicin to treat pruritus in any medical condition. Further research is needed, and should attempt to address methodological issues identified through this review including unblinding and the suitability of crossover designs. PubMed.
Nonetheless, based on this particular study, there seems to be no scientific evidence that capsaicin cream can help itching, but there’s no evidence to the contrary, either.
Another study however does show promising results.
- In the experiment test persons who experience itch due to contact with water were treated with topical capsaicin cream three times a day for four weeks. After the treatment the test persons did not experience itch upon exposure to water.
(itch caused by water, in medical terms, is called aquagenic pruritus)
Study findings are contradictory. There is some, although limited, evidence that topical application of capsaicin cream helps prevent itch.
It should also be noted that capsaicin works best upon continued application of capsaicin. Since mosquito bite itch relief is an ad hoc affair this aspect may make it less suitable for this purpose.
Since application causes a burning sensation at first the use of such creams may wrok counterproductive for some people. Prolonged use does seem to reduce these effects.
All in all, whether such creams and peppers themselves are the most effective way of offering mosquito bite itch relief remains to be seen.
This really makes me wonder, has anyone tried capsaicin cream for mosquito bites?
Since, in my case, the itch only lasts for minutes I don’t really need an anti-itch remedy. Which makes that I would love to hear about your experiences. You can share them below.
How to use capsaicin cream or peppers
If you decide to want to try capsaicin cream to reduce the annoying mosquito itch there are a few things to keep in mind.
- First of all, start out with applying just a little bit. Especially if you don’t know how sensitive your skin is to the fiery substance.
- It’s probably best not to apply the cream (or raw pepper) with your fingers. You will forget about having applied it until you rub your eye later. The painful reminder is likely to bring tears to your eyes. Believe me, I have been there because I love to cook with peppers.
- Want to go hardcore? Plan on using the raw pepper on your bumps? Keep in mind that for a commercially prepared cream for topical pain relief is probably safer than doing it yourself. The all-natural way of applying pepper to your skin can cause serious burning and even blisters. Over-the-counter topical creams containing up to 0.075% capsaicin are FDA approved.
If you really need to get rid of the itch systemic therapy, in other words oral medication, may help. Antihistamines show to be able to control itch although not always.
Have you used capsaicin on your skeeter bites?
Image Wikimedia Commons.